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'The BJP Is An Ocean'

Last updated on: March 04, 2024 11:42 IST
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'You are one of the drops that make that ocean, but when you leave it makes no difference to the ocean.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at a public event to inaugurate and launch development projects in Varanasi, his Lok Sabha constituency, February 23, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

"When a politician from the Opposition joins the BJP, her/his options of quitting are nullified. You can join the BJP, but you can never leave -- and even if you leave, you don't leave with your electorate. Your voters become a part of the BJP's vote bank," observes Dr Shilp Shikha Singh, assistant professor at the Giri Institute of Development Studies in Lucknow.

Dr Singh's areas of interest include politics of marginalities and governance, changing electoral dynamics among marginalised communities in UP and Indian government and politics.

In a detailed conversation with's Archana Masih, Dr Singh discusses the political landscape in UP in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections -= the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance, Jayant Singh's new partnership with the BJP and the BJP's effective Muslim outreach.


Can the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance in Uttar Pradesh throw a challenge to the BJP?
Has the Congress extracted a good deal from the SP in terms of the 17 seats it will be contesting?

17 is just a number. The Congress can only give a fight in 5-6 seats.

A few seats like Saharanpur, Rae Bareli, Amethi, Sitapur, Barabanki, Kanpur were important for the Congress and they were able to get those seats.

In some of the remaining seats like Ghaziabad, Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura, even if one were to look at the caste composition, the SP-Congress together will not be able to give a strong fight to the BJP.

More important than the number of seats is whether they can keep their vote intact. In UP, the Muslim vote is important for the Opposition parties.

If the SP-Congress deal had not worked out, then the Muslim vote would have been divided. The Bahujan Samaj Party is not a contender for the Muslim vote and is not part of the alliance, therefore the Muslim vote will remain with the INDIA bloc, at least in UP.

How different would the contest in UP be if the BSP was also part of the alliance?

Then there would have been a fight in UP. Out of these 17 seats, there are many seats where the BSP will be the spoiler.

In UP's electoral battleground, one can't see a big fight. When there is no fight, there are no frontiers and the water is very still -- flowing at its own pace.

Many believe that the alliance and the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra are both very delayed and should have happened much earlier?

The alliance and the yatra are both happening very late. There was a good tempo picking up before the state election, but it frizzled out after the defeat [in 2022]. There was frustration among the Opposition ranks and they could not pick up momentum.

However much as we criticise the Opposition, it is not easy to withstand the might of the BJP. They have money, technology, state apparatus and their style of functioning is such that in the last 10 years they have become a formidable force and reached every nook and corner of the country.

Therefore it is a challenge for the Opposition parties.

IMAGE: Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav joins Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for the party's Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Agra, February 25, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Many Congressmen are joining the BJP as the election approaches because they perhaps realise that there is no future for themselves and the party?

Shivam Vij recently wrote that the BJP has become like the old Congress. But I don't think so.

No matter how many Congressmen join the BJP, the moment anyone from the Congress or any party joins the BJP, s/he becomes their face. The new joinees don't add any colour to the BJP; instead the BJP puts their colour on the new entrants.

The BJP inculcates a homogenous culture within and without the party. They don't like any diversity of voice. The moment a politician from the Opposition joins the BJP, her/his options of quitting are nullified.

You can join the BJP, but you can never leave -- and even if you leave, you don't leave with your electorate. Your voters become a part of the BJP's vote bank.

The BJP is an ocean, you are one of the drops that make that ocean, but when you leave it makes no difference to the ocean.

What does the RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal) bring to the table for the BJP?

The BJP had wanted to co-opt Jayant Singh for a long time. The Jats were divided between the RLD and BJP and the alliance is a double plus for the BJP.

50% Jats were already with the BJP and now that the RLD has joined them, the RLD's voters and BJP voters are all the same now.

In the future if Jayant Singh is dissatisfied with the alliance and wants to quit, he will come out alone with a handful of supporters.

The politics of the RLD was the alliance between the Jats and Muslims. The RLD joining the BJP actually reverses that. The RLD was trying to build this politics for many years and by allying with the BJP, the entire constituency that Jayant Singh was trying to build is dismantled.

Everybody wants to be on the winning side. Jayant Singh's personal politics is finished.

With the BSP fighting it alone -- many Dalits are already siding with the BJP. Now with the RLD as a partner the BJP is in a strong position in Western UP which was their weak point in the assembly election.

IMAGE: Modi with UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Varanasi. Photograph: ANI Photo

Will the farmers agitation have any bearing on the polls in UP?

In UP it will not have any affect. The UP farm leaders are trying to separate themselves from this agitation. Last time even when there was such hue and cry about Lakhimpur Kheri, the BJP was able to retain that seat.

There is no party to give traction to the discontent and a sense of anti-incumbency among people after 10 years. People need leadership and in the absence of that there is no one to give the BJP a fight. The Opposition parties are hobbled by different reasons -- internal differences, lack of resources, ED raids etc.

The BJP has successfully given welfare schemes to beneficiaries across religious or caste lines. What benefit will it bring the party in terms of garnering Muslim votes?

Field work among Pasmanda Muslims shows that there are some leaders who seem to be ready to join the BJP in UP.

Their big issue is electricity tariff because they are mostly weavers and their looms run on electricity. Their bills have increased compared to what they paid when the Samajwadi Party was in power. They say if the BJP handles the issue to their satisfaction, they will vote for them.

Now people are looking for little bargains from the BJP because they don't see anybody replacing the BJP. This is happening with Dalits, Muslim and with other sections.

For a voter what matters is that her work should be done, or that s/he should get a job or that someone should be there to do liaison work -- and if that person is a BJP member, so be it -- ideology really doesn't matter.

They feel if they are getting excluded because of being Opposition voters then they would like to keep that face hidden, but if the BJP is enabling their work and addressing their concerns then they won't shy away from helping the BJP.

Everybody is looking for little bargains and the BJP is smart and strategic in bringing all this together and counting each and every single vote.

They are always in election mode and consistently work on it.

IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi clicks a selfie with Akhilesh Yadav. Photograph: ANI Photo

How do you think people among the Pasmanda Muslims who support the BJP reconcile with the use of bulldozers and incidences of violence against some Muslims?

Nothing is permanent. When an incident like Haldwani happens they throw away their orange gamcha and pick it up again later.

Politics is about being practical, being emotional or ideological no longer plays in Kalyug.

If they have an option like in the last assembly election where there was a fight at the level of narrative and campaigning, they then they join the Opposition, but when that is missing, they prefer to be practical and remain with the BJP where work gets done.

At the end of the day, we are all selfish. Why expect morality, rationality from the Muslim voter only? The burden of carrying forward secularism in India should not only be on the shoulders of Muslim voters.

So the assumption that Muslim en masse will vote against the BJP is not correct, right?

The BJP is trying very hard to break this. It has been opening the doors for everybody. The BJP has been picking up and accommodating everybody in their fold.

No one wants to waste their vote, so we can't say that 100% or 90% Muslims will side with the Opposition camp.

The BJP is on the constant lookout for additions and that compensates it if some block decides to move away from it. They are constantly working with the Muslims too.

They have to show that they are democratic and accommodative, even to the international community -- so they are on the constant lookout for accommodating Muslims as well.

There are multiple welfare schemes targeting Muslims and Dalits. People receiving these schemes are poor and say that the BJP is doing things and acknowledge it.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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