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How BJP Won UP

By Radhika Ramaseshan
March 12, 2022 13:11 IST
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The BJP campaign highlighted Yogi's persona as a tough-as-nails leader and an incorruptible man with no nest to feather; Modi's charisma which was turned on full blast in the penultimate phases; Amit Shah's ground work; a well-oiled party organisation, and the RSS's back-up.

IMAGE: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath interacts with students evacuated from war-torn Ukraine in Gorakhpur, March 9, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo.

Uttar Pradesh voted conservatively to retain the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Yogi Adityanath, thereby breaking a 37-year jinx which never allowed a sitting chief minister to return for a second term even if an incumbent party was voted back to power.

In fact, Narain Dutt Tiwari of the Congress was chief minister of undivided UP in 1985 when the state went to election. The Congress won and so did Tiwari who went on to retain the post for the second term on the trot.

In the process, the BJP consolidated its position across UP, which houses Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Lok Sabha constituency, Varanasi, and a state from where the party draws its bench strength in Parliament.

It lost 59 of the assembly seats won since 2017, but increased its vote share from 39.67 per cent to 41.9 per cent, proving that anti-incumbency had not caught up in a big way with its governance.

The big takeaway from the BJP and Adityanath's rerun in Lucknow is that it restored UP's pre-eminence in the BJP's national scheme after 2004 when the last leader from the state, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was voted out.

Although Modi represents a seat from UP in Parliament, he is still identified with his home state, Gujarat.

The victory also places 49-year-old Adityanath, a favourite of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh despite his independent streak, as a contender for the BJP's national leadership in the not-too-distant future.

The BJP and Adityanath were up against several odds when electioneering began.

The UP party organisation was 'upset' with him for allegedly remaining inaccessible to the legislators, members of Parliament, ministers, and functionaries; complaints to the effect surfaced during the second wave of COVID-19 that hit the state brutally.

The farmers agitation in western UP threatened to erode the BJP's base among the prosperous Jat farmers, while the overall agrarian distress -- spurred by the increased cost of agricultural inputs and lower returns on the produce, a fertiliser and urea crunch on the eve of the sowing season last November, an uneven irrigation spread, the absence of micro-irrigation facilities, and rogue cattle devouring crops -- impacted small and marginal farmers who formed the BJP's backbone.

The trading and business community, hit by demonetisation, suffered losses after the pandemic and complained the government had not 'compensated' them adequately.

On top of these problems, the departure of certain sectional leaders from the BJP soon after the election schedule was announced threatened to fray the social engineering fabric of the backward castes and Dalits woven before 2014.

These impediments were overcome with a multi-pronged approach, which accentuated Adityanath's persona as a tough-as-nails leader with 'zero tolerance' for crime and wrongdoing and an incorruptible man with no family to pander to and no nest to feather; Modi's charisma and credibility which were turned on full blast in the penultimate campaigning phases; Home Minister Amit Shah's ground work; a well-oiled party organisation, and the RSS's back-up.

It must be emphasised that Yogi's targeting of Muslim 'offenders', who included politicians like Ateeq Ahmed, Mukhtar Ansari and Azam Khan, helped integrate the Hindus in towns and villages into a large constituency.

The government used bulldozers to raze their properties to the ground and the bulldozer became a mascot for Adityanath -- a warning to his opponents.

In part, the propaganda unleashed by the BJP against the Samajwadi Party, its principal adversary, as an entity controlled by a 'dynast' and his family and known for 'patronising' Muslims and 'criminals' worked against SP leader Akhilesh Yadav's endeavour to broaden his appeal among a constituency transcending his core Muslim-Yadav electorate.

Akhilesh might go down as the unsung underdog of an election dominated by Adityanath. However, he added 64 seats to his tally of 47 from 2017 and increased his vote percentage from 21.82 per cent to 32.06 per cent.

Akhilesh sought to expand his social base by striking alliances with smaller parties such as the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party to attract Jat votes from the RLD and the backward caste Rajbhar votes from the SBSP.

Akhilesh's allies do not seem to have added much to his tally. The SP's gains came largely on its own steam.

Indeed, even the defectors from the BJP, such as Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan -- regarded as 'influential' backward caste leaders in limited spheres -- brought nothing, with the former even losing to the BJP's S K Kushwaha.

On the contrary, the BJP and its, the Apna Dal-Soneylal and the Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal, gained mutually by complementing each other's votes.

The Bahujan Samaj Party was down to just one seat, after Mayawati's Dalit votes went to the BJP and the SP in varying measure.

If there was a lesson for the SP, it was it ought to have taken its role in the Opposition more seriously than bestirring itself into action just months before the polls.

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Radhika Ramaseshan in New Delhi
Source: source