'Both the BJP and SP have workers and cadres across the state, and now it will boil down to which party manages booths smartly and gets its voters to come out.'
Rajesh Singh, secretary, Motilal Memorial Society -- an educational and cultural Lucknow-headquartered institution founded in 1935 by Chandra Bhanu Gupta, later an Uttar Pradesh chief minister -- and a veteran observer of UP politics, explains to Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com how he thinks the assembly election will play out. The first of a two-part interview:
Is there anti-incumbency against the Yogi government?
There is no anti-incumbency against Yogi Adityanath as the leader of the UP government, but against a majority of BJP MLAs. Yogi has created an image of a very aggressive government.
There is no anti-incumbency against Yogi because of the kind of development narrative he has created in the state; then there has been no serious riot during his tenure as CM and his tight grip on the law and order situation has helped boost his image as a tough leader.
The most important reason for Yogi's popularity is the kind of huge freebies he has offered to the people without any discrimination against anybody. They gave free housing, free groceries and rations in the last two years, pensions for senior citizens and widows, farmers are already getting direct benefit transfer into their Jan Dhan account from the Union government.
Are farmers from UP not angry?
There is a clear geographical division where the anger against the three farm laws is seen in the state.
The demography of eastern and central UP is totally different from western UP.
In the first two geographies there is concentration of marginal and landless farmers who are in no way majorly affected by the political economy of MSP and mandis. Their farm produce is absorbed by local mandis and traders.
But in the west division comprising of Agra, Meerut, Saharanpur, and Bareilly farmers with huge landholding are seriously angry with the Modi government's farm laws and one can see a serious dent in the BJP's vote share from this region in the forthcoming assembly election.
Voters in Awadh and Purvanchal will in no way be affected by how they vote in the context of the three farm laws.
How do you look at the UP election 2022?
If you were to look at issues that really affect the people, then there is strong resentment among people against rising inflation.
There is an environment of hopelessness since the last two years because of Covid.
People are angry because the Yogi government has failed to generate employment opportunities.
In UP, the Muslims and Yadavs have always been affiliated to the Samajwadi Party, but the dominant castes among the most backward classes have shown a formidable tilt towards the BJP.
Add forward castes to this equation and these two sections provide a huge bulk to the BJP's electoral vote share.
In states like Bihar and UP, it has always been caste-based politics that helps swing political fortunes. This has been the cases since 1968.
And that's the reason why -- while the BJP successfully engineered alliances with small caste-based political outfits in 2017 -- you will see a strong push this time by the SP in allying with small, small caste-based outfits.
Someone is getting into coalition with a Rajbhar, some with a Nishad, or a Kurmi -- all of these form most backward classes. These parties will definitely have a role to play in the 2022 elections.
Will caste polarisation be the king-maker in 2022? Which party is in a better position to take advantage of caste divisions?
Definitely, the first-mover advantage is with the BJP in this respect.
The problem with the SP is that it has failed miserably to create a narrative against rising prices, covid mismanagement, corruption, atrocities against Dalits and scheduled castes. Instead, they have trapped themselves in the religion-based narrative and consolidation so smartly exploited by the BJP. The SP too followed the BJP template of aligning with small, small MBCs.
You cannot compete with the kind of Hindutva politics popularised by Modi or Yogi. If you (SP) too start doing the rounds of Hanuman mandirs, or start worshipping Parshuramji (a deity revered by Brahmins), then that is not going to cut any ice with the voters.
SP is known to be a secular and Socialist party, but by trying to compete with the BJP's Hindutva you have diluted your credentials. SP should have remained loyal to its philosophy and ideology, in which it has failed.
The BJP laid a caste and Hindutva trap for you and SP and others jumped straight into that trap.
The BJP knows well that caste and Hindutva politics can help it overcome anti-incumbency and they are playing these cards to its advantage.
Has Yogi succeeded in creating a Modi-like Hindu hridaysamrat image in UP?
Like Modi has his following in India, Yogi has also built his image in UP as a Hindutva icon. He has been able to sway at least one-fourth of UP's electorate because of his Hindutva strongman image. Most of his followers come from the 20 to 40 age group.
Call it market pressure or the pressure of the New Economic Order (post liberalisation of India's economy by Dr Manmohan Singh in 1991) or geo-political tensions beginning with 9/11 in the US, the rise of terrorist organisations like the Taliban or ISIS, has affected this age group across the rural-urban spectrum. They are the ones who find themselves espousing the Hindutva politics of India's polity.
The BJP's IT cell too has played a substantial role in granularising this narrative.
Given this reading of what's happening in UP in 2022, would you give Yogi a second shot at forming the government with as big a majority as the BJP had in 2017?
UP 2022 is a different game. It's a neck-and-neck between the BJP and SP.
The BJP's biggest advantage in 2022 is its success on digital platforms.
Both the BJP and SP have workers and cadres across the state, and now it will boil down to which party manages booths smartly and gets its voters to come out.
Again, the BJP leads here as it has done its due diligence right up to panna-pramukh level; SP lags in this department.
Despite all these advantages, I will give BJP between 225 and 250 seats from the 325 it won in 2017, if the elections were to be held today.
Won't the construction of the Ram Mandir, agitation for Mathura janmabhoomi help BJP?
That impact will be there and that's why they will get 225-250 seats. It is only because of these issues that the BJP will be able to form the next government in UP.