By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
16 March 2017
How does one understand the humungous win of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections? Surpassing even the expectations of BJP workers, this is the biggest mandate which the party has got in its electoral history. The BJP has conclusively reduced the SP, the BSP and the Congress to shambles. It will take really long for all these parties to recover from such a comprehensive defeat. Much internal criticism needs to be done in order to even begin to understand where and how these parties failed to make a political connect with the common masses of the state. Blaming the voting machines, as Mayawati did, is not going to help. Blaming it on Akhilesh Yadav and his ‘mistreatment’ of his father is not going to help either. Blaming BJP for effecting a communal polarization to win the elections, as the Congress seems to be arguing is a bogus argument to say the least.
At the height of communal polarization during Ram Mandir movement, the BJP could only gather around 220 seats. The mandate of 2017 therefore needs a different set of explanation. These parties need to understand that BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have inaugurated a new grammar of politics which has captured the imagination of people. Without such an understanding, there cannot be any effective challenge to the political juggernaut of BJP.
There cannot be a single factor responsible for such a huge mandate which the BJP has got. Leaders within BJP will be quick to credit Prime Minister Modi and his charisma for this win. Of course, Modi factor did play a part and his relentless campaign bore positive results. But even his personal appeal among the voters cannot explain such a huge victory for the BJP. There were other reasons and certain undercurrents which seems to have turned the tide in favour of BJP.
The most important factor perhaps was the calculated political gamble of demonetization which Modi took just a few months before the assembly elections in UP. While reams of paper have been wasted arguing the positives and negatives of demonetization, what escaped the analysts’ attention was that this was never a move about black money or to positively influence the economic order. It was a thorough political move aimed at transforming Modi into an icon of the poor. While we all saw the recalibration of ATMs to accommodate new notes, what we missed was the simultaneous recalibration of Modi’s image as the messiah of the poor. Politics is about perceptions and till the time Modi is seen as hurting the interests of the rich, he will remain the darling of the masses. It does not matter whether their own objective situation is improving or not; what matters more is the perception that those who were hoarding wealth have been pauperized. Modi was successful in inaugurating a subjective, muted class war of sorts and repositioned himself and BJP as the vanguard of the poor and the oppressed.
What made matters congenial for the BJP was the simple fact that in India, class also has a caste. Poverty and ‘low caste’ status go hand in hand and in the context of Uttar Pradesh, these low castes also happened to be the ones who were left behind despite social justice parties ruling the state for the last two and a half decades. It was a perfect fit: a party with a pro-poor leader championing the cause of low castes and Dalits. With the upper caste left with no alternative but to vote for the BJP, this was a formidable social alliance which was bound to give political dividends. This was social engineering par excellence and all credit must be given to the BJP for cultivating this grand social alliance.
Those who are arguing that Modi-Shah combine have led Uttar Pradesh to a post-caste phase are perhaps jumping the gun. Caste has played a very important role in this election also and has ensured the success of BJP. It is to the credit of BJP that they actively cultivated leaders of those castes who did not experience political empowerment even after Mandal. Therefore, this electoral verdict is definitely not post-caste; rather it will initiate the second wave of Mandalisation by empowering the non-dominant lower castes, something which was done by Nitish Kumar in Bihar.
BJP will do well to realise that it has got one of the broadest possible social alliances which any party can hope for. It is for the party to decide whether it wants to continue in the direction of making a bigger alliance by being more inclusive or it remains content with what it has got. The choice that it makes will have an important bearing on the political future of this country.
Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist and a social and political commentator
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