Disequilibrium : When Hindu majoritarianism won

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BJP’s success in consolidating Hindu votes and clearly rendering division of Muslim votes redundant in UP is revelatory

Disequilibrium : When Hindu majoritarianism won
The continuing media coverage of the just concluded Uttar Pradesh polls quickly degenerated into a farcical urban legend, for every phase saw a new spin being given to what was happening on the ground. In the tower of babble, one heard that the Jats were upset with the BJP and had voted for other parties in the main SP/Cong in the first phase. After the first three phases, again one heard that the BJP was behind the eight ball. After kabristan and shamshan, the BJP reportedly got a second wind and turned its campaign around. Towards the latter part of the polls, the battle of UP had gone into a concentric circle and become the battle for Varanasi. With the benefit of third hand here say, one now heard that the BJP would squeeze through as the single largest party but would lose face in the PM's parliamentary constituency of Varanasi where long time BJP MLA Dada Roy Chaudhari had not been given a seat and was upset. The cadres were furious over this unseemly development and the BJP was set to lose the majority of the assembly constituencies. Reports in national media continued to suggest that the PM would win the war but lose the battle and so on. Dang!

All this finally proved to be unfounded, once again proving my hypothesis right. That like in 2014, the Hindu vote cutting across all fault lines had aggregated behind PM Modi. Although, I must add a caveat here, BJP insiders also gave the party anything between 220 and 300 with party president Amit Shah confident of the higher number. And mind you, he was proved right. If the vote consolidated behind Modi, as empirical evidence seems to suggest, then what happened to its counter weight; the Muslim vote. Of course, the Muslim vote is approximately 18.6 per cent in UP as a whole and in parts of western UP as high as the mid 40s. The BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate. The town of Deoband that is home to the Dar-ul-Uloom, one of the tallest Islamic seminaries in the world has a Muslim population of 71 per cent. Yet, BJP candidate Brijesh Singh garnered over 102,000 votes with a lead of nearly 30,000 over Bahujan Samaj Party’s Majid Ali. Only 25 Muslim candidates won – 19 from the SP/Congress alliance and six from BSP – down from 67 the last time and 56 in 2007. Another striking statistic was this: When the total vote share for the 42 seats where Muslim population is in excess of 40 per cent was collated, the BJP was found to have bagged 39.36 per cent votes. This was way above 33.73 per cent for the alliance and 18.61 per cent for the BSP.

If one now goes into the granularity, then in the 143 Muslim seats where Muslim population is 20 per cent and above, BJP won 101 seats. The Muslim vote was divided between the SP/Congress and BSP political formations rendering it a non sequitur. Muslim-dominated seats such as Deoband, Chandpur, Moradabad Nagar, Noorpur, Naanpara and Nakur where analysts feel that Muslim votes got divided between Muslim candidates of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Muslim candidates, however, managed to win seats like Meerut, Kairana, Najibabad, Moradabad Rural, Sambhal, Rampur and Suar-Tanda.

In fact, a further sub division of the vote took place where the women voted for the BJP over its clarion call of triple talaq, something that they are miffed about, even as the men folk voted for the other two formations. It is inexplicable but years of appeasement and pandering to a minority community seems to have angered the majority Hindus. Somewhere even a section of Muslims agrees that it is being used as a vote bank through offers of lip service. Consolidation of the Hindu vote phenomenon has happened thrice now in the last three years - general elections of 2014, Assam state hustings and now the UP state assembly polls. My conviction is based on numbers. If one examines the 2014 landslide in UP, then these numbers bear me out:

All told, Muslim candidates won only 25 seats this time round and were routed in most parts of UP. My deep dive validates this postulate –

Take the assembly results of both 2007 and 2012 for a like to like reference point. Traditional Muslim bastion of Moradabad with a Muslim population of 45.54 per cent and 9 assembly seats, which saw Muslim candidates win 5 and 6 seats in 2007 and 2012 respectively or Bahraich with a 30.7 per cent Muslim population with seven seats, which saw a 4 and 2 Muslim winner in 2007 and 2012 respectively or Bijnor with a 41.71 per cent Muslim population with 8 seats where 3 and 3 Muslim candidates won in 2007 and 2012. Equally, Rampur with a 49.14 per cent Muslim population with 5 seats which saw 2 and 3 Muslim candidates winning in 2007 and 2012 respectively.

There are many more examples to substantiate my axiom, but the reality of a Hindu Aandhi sweeping everything before it this time round cannot be ignored. BJP “succeeded in getting votes of Hindu backward castes, Yadavs, Kurmis, scheduled castes probably including Jatavs, upper castes which included Thakurs and Brahmins. In 2017 UP there were 27 seats on which the Muslim candidates from the INC/SP and BSP ended on second or third spot or vice versa. Of these seats, on 23 seats the combined votes of these Muslim candidates was more than that of the BJP while on four seats the BJP candidates polled more votes than the combined votes of these two Muslim candidates.

Confused? Polarisation played an equal part to the parallel theme of the Muslim vote’s division. To corroborate this, let me give a couple of examples – in Aligarh the Muslim vote was bifurcated between SP/Cong 98312 and BSP 25704 totalling 124016 while the BJP polled 113752, in Bulandshahr SP polled 24119, while BSP polled88454 and the BJP walked away with the honours with 111538 votes, in Shahbad SP polled 15767, BSP 95364, but the BJP polled 99624 votes.

Now for some counter arguments to the narrative presented by national media in Delhi. The first phase was a washout for the BJP - Bah! Of the 73 seats that went to polls in western UP or the badlands as they are called, BJP won an astonishing 66 with a strike rate of 90 per cent. In the second phase, the BJP was reportedly a distant third, while in reality of the 67 seats, BJP won 50 with a strike rate of 75 per cent. In the third phase, of the 69 seats, BJP won 55 with a strike rate of 80 per cent. So, at the end of the third phase, all told 209 seats had gone to the polls out of 403 and BJP was supposedly embattled. The 'bedevilled' BJP then turned it around in the following four phases - hogwash. Of the 209 seats in the first three phases, it won a staggering 171. Of the next four phases, it actually did 'poorly' in comparison to the first three. In the 194 seats, it won only 154. Fact check: It was always winning in UP, from phase one. All myths have been debunked with these performance parameters. All off and leg spin bowled by spin doctors coming to naught. Once again confirming that nobody in Delhi's air-conditioned offices and studios had a clue till the exit polls came about. And even there, the variance was confusing, leaving everyone perplexed. Except, PM Modi and Amit Shah who were confident and yet they left no stone unturned campaigning tirelessly and indefatigably. Now let us come to Varanasi where the SP/Congress coalition had purportedly thrown a curve ball at the Prime Minister. Final outcome with 8-0 in favour of the BJP and its allies. BJP’s success in consolidating Hindu votes of various castes, clearly rendering any division of Muslim votes redundant in the backdrop of Uttar Pradesh’s complex and layered socio-religious configuration. Repeating the performance of 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the 2017 assembly polls wasn’t easy, particularly given the electoral reverses that the party suffered in the assembly elections of Bihar and Delhi, when the main rival parties stitched together an alliance.

The 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw a carefully crafted social inclusion strategy, where Shah took a significant step by offering tickets to 28 candidates from the backward castes. In the same elections, forming an alliance with Apna Dal was part of the same strategy to cast the net wide to include more and more politically disadvantaged sections into the BJP’s fold.

On the other hand, Shah sought to give the Dalits a stronger sense of belonging by giving them important organisational roles with focus on ground-level political strategy implementation. The crushing defeats in the UP by-elections of 2014 and the Bihar Assembly elections held out an important learning: the new votes that had swung towards the BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections were showing signs of moving away. This presented a big a challenge to strike the most optimal socio-political equilibrium ahead of UP’s assembly elections.

The appointment of Keshav Maurya was the first significant step Shah took. His appointment, a member of an extremely backward class (EBC), was part of a detailed strategy that also demonstrated Shah’s understanding of social engineering in UP’s political firmament. Maurya enjoyed acceptance among other backward classes and also the forward castes, enhancing his role in stitching together a stronger intra-party caste alliance within the BJP’s broad political framework in UP. Shah followed this up by successfully managing to bring into the BJP’s fold several key leaders of SP and BSP from OBC and EBC communities, thereby increasingly establishing SP and BSP as parties representing only the Yadavs and Jatavs. He strengthened the so-called rainbow coalition by striking a pre-poll alliance with the Rajbhar party and ensuring a ministerial berth for Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel.

The move to give tickets to 140 persons belonging to EBC was part of the broad strategy to send a strong message about the BJP’s intent for social inclusion in the state. The non-Jatav Dalits were also feeling extremely deprived because of lack of education and low legislative representation. Unlike the Jatavs, they also were not the primary recipients of the reservation policy. To a large extent, these communities were expectantly looking for a political identity and a sense of belonging. Shah rightly analysed this sense of growing alienation that offered 70 tickets to Dalits as part of a plan to dent Mayawati’s traditional vote bank.

In addition, the BJP president gave political primacy to a host of other Dalit leaders like RK Chaudhary by bringing them into BJP’s fold. The scale of BJP’s spate of recent electoral success would have made any other political leadership overconfident. Shah, however, demonstrated remarkable political maturity by not only strengthening the alliance with Apna Dal, but also forging new relationships with Bharatiya Samaj Party, sending out a loud and strong message to the EBCs and OBCs about the BJP’s commitment towards their political rights.

Elections are episodic and not incremental, but the manner in which Hindu majoritarianism has melded together to back the PM and BJP is revelatory. At the same time the manner in which analysts, pundits, psephologists and media got the Hindu mandate wrong is a shame. It is only two of the exit polls, which presented the actual picture.

@sandeep_bamzai

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