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How BJP rode to victory in UP without any lehar?

How BJP rode to victory in UP without any lehar?

BJP’s massive win in Uttar Pradesh seems to have shocked everyone. From common people to analysts and even the BJP leaders themselves, it was something that they had not anticipated. The highest number of seats that pollsters had given to the BJP in exit polls was around 285. And the pollsters who gave the saffron party close to two third majority in exit polls were mocked by others for being too generous to the extent of being flatterers.

The BJP win defies every logic in a state where the party had merely 47 MLAs in the outgoing assembly. For the last close to fifteen years, the party was increasingly marginalized by Mulayam Singh Yadav led Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The poll pundits are all the more amazed given the fact that the BJP victory has come at a time when there was obviously no lehar (wave) in favor of any political party. Instead of the BJP, in the initial phases of election, BSP was said to be the favorite to emerge as single largest party as no other block was expected to reach the magic mark of 203 seats on its own. Later, pollsters said that the SP was set to do better due to its alliance with the Congress. But all of them were completely taken aback by the sort of results that started pouring Saturday morning. By the afternoon it was clear that the BJP had proved the pollsters wrong, defied every logic and won a landslide in UP that not even most ardent BJP supporters had imagined.

Nonetheless, probe a little deeper and the victory may not look as astonishing as many people believe. There was a massive anti-incumbency factor playing against the incumbent chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and the Samajwadi Party. The intra party differences were too strong to be brushed under the carpet, despite all the efforts by Akhilesh Yadav’s massive PR machinery. Mulayam Singh Yadav and his powerful brother Shivpal Yadav, both of whom had built the party over the last two and half decades, were unceremoniously removed by the 43-year old chief minister and Mulayam Singh’s cousin Ram Gopal Yadav.

There was a vertical split in the party in many places and rebel candidates by Shivpal Yadav camp were put up in most of the constituencies in central and eastern parts of the state, where Yadavs make substantial chunk of the population.

Alliance helped SP, but decimated Congress

Alliance with the Congress certainly helped Samajwadi Party win more seats than Mayawati’s BSP despite having polled lesser number of votes in the state. SP’s vote share in the assembly election was just above 21 percent while BSP’s vote share was above 22 percent. While it helped the SP, the Congress had to pay a heavy price for its alliance with the SP and bear an unlikely burden of anti-incumbency factor.

The Congress party that had touched a nadir in UP assembly elections in 2007 had never expected to do worse than its performance a decade ago. The party could win only 22 seats when the BSP had won a simple majority in the state assembly. Rahul Gandhi led Congress had worked hard for the last two years and its campaign had been planned by famed poll strategist Prashant Kishore who had scripted Modi success in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Bihar’s secular Mahagathbandhan later. The rout for the Congress wouldn’t have been as bad had it gone solo or allied with the BSP as there wouldn’t have been any anti-incumbency factor in play against the grand old party.

Marginalization of Muslims in state politics

The shock for Muslims of the state is as huge as the win for the BJP. The community that makes around 20 percent of the population in the state and should ideally have around 90 MLAs in the state got merely 22 members elected to the state assembly. In the last assembly election there were 68 Muslim MLAs, elected on SP, BSP, Congress other parties’ ticket.

Apparently this is the lowest in the history after the Partition. In 2007 assembly elections, 56 Muslims were elected to the assembly, while in the year 2002 there were still 38 Muslim MLAs in the state assembly. With the latest loss, the marginalization of Muslims in state politics of the cow belt is complete. The state sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha and in the entire state, not a Muslim was elected to Parliament in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 when BJP won a record 73 seats from the state.

Demonetization was a non-factor

Despite the shock that the notebandi had caused across the country, and in this largely poor state, the party created a narrative and was largely successful in convincing the voters that it broke the backbone of terrorism and terrorism supporters. The massive propaganda machinery, which the saffron party dexterously deployed in the state, was able to successfully sell the narrative and convince the voters. It also convinced the voters that the notebandi took care of the ‘scourge’ called black money in much of the country.

The SP-Congress alliance or for that matter the BSP couldn’t come with a counter narrative to counter the talisman surrounding the notebandi and exploit the unprecedented trouble that the decision caused to poor and marginalized people.

BJP’s return to the Hindutva roots

The saffron party, that didn’t put up a single Muslim candidate from across the state, has once again proved that it doesn’t need Muslim votes to win elections. The party had initially tried to project its ‘development’ face, but later resorted to the same old formula that it used in previous elections to win. Someone rightly said that by not giving a single ticket to the Muslim community, BJP president Amit Shah gave clear indication to its core vote bank in the state that it has not mellowed down towards the community.

Even Prime Minister Modi talked of Qabristan and Shamshan and claimed without any evidence that electricity supply during Eid was better compared to Hindu festivals. In Western Uttar Pradesh, the baseless theory of Hindus’ expulsion from Kairana and other Muslim populated pockets certainly played a role. Though Naheed Khan of the SP won from Kairana itself, the narrative swayed the Hindu electorate in favor of the BJP. Similarly Yogi Adityanath and others campaigned almost everywhere and in the same old rabidly communal style that the ‘Hindu Hriday Smarat’ is famous for.

Division of secular votes

Division of secular votes was partially responsible for the BJP landslide. Nonetheless, the fact that BJP polled close to 40 per cent votes in the state, makes it clear that the saffron party would have won, even if the Muslim vote had not got divided between different competing blocks.

BJP was able to corner most of the Muslim dominated seats as there were multiple Muslim candidates fighting on different party symbols. BJP won as many as 30 seats in the six districts including Moradabad, Amroha, Bulandshahar, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur. These are those districts where Muslims make large proportion of the population. In the last assembly election the BJP had got merely 5 seats from these districts.

Similar was the case in Eastern UP where on many Muslim majority seats, the BJP candidates emerged victorious, simply because of the multiple Muslim candidates and division of Muslim votes.

That said, the BJP would have still won a majority, had there not been a division of Muslim votes in such constituencies. Only a Bihar type Mahagathbandhan including SP, BSP, Congress would have stalled the saffron bandwagon in UP.

(Syed Ubaidur Rahman is New Delhi based columnist and author. He is also executive editor of

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