Takeaway from the Hindi heartland: Akhilesh and Mayawati can outwit Yogi in 2019

The SP-BSP combine can go on to de-root BJP from India’s most politically significant state —Uttar Pradesh.

WrittenBy:Kanchan Srivastava
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On a chilly Wednesday morning, when the entire Bhartiya Janta Party was mourning the loss of three key states in the Hindi-heartland, the monk Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath flew to Nepal to attend a “Sita Swayamvar” ceremony in Janakpur, the hometown of Sita as per legend.

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He informed the Nepali gathering about how the two countries are linked with “Ram Katha”, his government’s move to rename Faizabad as Ayodhya (believed to be Lord Ram’s territory), the celebration of Grand Diwali, Ramleela, and even announced a four-lane highway and railway to connect Janakpur and Ayodhya for better movement of devotees.

Clearly, Yogi, who doubles up as the chief priest of the prominent Gorakshnath Temple in Gorakhpur, would continue his Hindutva agenda for the larger objective of “Ram Rajya” envisaged by BJP’s parent body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh till the Loksabha elections which are likely to be held early next year.

Yogi, who had himself campaigned extensively in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana, holding 70 rallies altogether—a tally more than even Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies—and raked up divisive issues (such as Lord Hanuman is Dalit, promising Ram Rajya, offering the name change of Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar and “You hold on to Ali, we have Bajrangbali with us”), didn’t speak a word when the results of these states were announced.

Nothing yielded a substantial dividend for the BJP. “In Chhattisgarh, which Yogi frequently referred to as Lord Ram’s Nanihal, BJP won only six out of the 21 seats he campaigned in. In Rajasthan, the BJP won only 11 out of 22 seats where he (Yogi) held public meetings. His campaign was most the effective in Madhya Pradesh where the BJP won 15 out of 21 seats Yogi campaigned for,” BJP insiders say.

Yogi would have wanted a happier new year. But accepting setbacks is not his cup of tea. His fans blamed Modi for the party’s poor performance in the “semi-finals to general elections” by putting up colourful posters and hoardings saying “Yogi as PM” and “Jumlebazi ka naam Modi” outside the CM residence in Lucknow on Wednesday morning itself.

Critics within the BJP and on social media were not lenient though. As memes of “rename Congress as BJP” mocking Yogi went viral, the party’s Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Kakade openly lashed out against Yogi’s narrative and urged the PM to stick to his original plank of development in order to win the 2019 elections.

Yogi and BJP not invincible in UP, say experts

Yogi has bagged the CM post after much pressure tactics following a massive mandate to the party in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP started giving him prominence in party meetings and electoral campaigns across India following Modi’s declining popularity

The unfavourable results in most polls Yogi campaigned for raises a serious question mark over his capabilities to win elections and also as the chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh—which holds the key to the national power having a maximum of 80 Loksabha seats. 

“Neither Yogi’s brand of politics nor his administration has impressed the voters so far. People who were made to believe ‘there is no alternative to BJP and Modi’ have now started rejecting the party. The anti-BJP momentum would continue and the party will lose most of its Lok Sabha seats in UP from where it derives its strength,” says Shivsharan Geharwar, a senior journalist in Lucknow.

Political analyst Ramesh Dixit echoes the sentiments. “Bahujan Samaj Party won 10 seats in the three Hindi-speaking states (six in Rajasthan and two each in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh) and Samajwadi Party one (in MP) by defeating mostly BJP candidates. Even Communist party candidates have defeated the BJP contestants. It was a clear mandate against the BJP.”

SP-BSP can capitalise on anti-BJP sentiments

Now, the question is whether the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will be able to cash in on this anger. More importantly, how will UP voters assess the BJP?

As far as the voters’ assessment of BJP is concerned, the saffron party has lost all three key Lok Sabha by-polls in the state in the past year-and-a-half since Yogi took over. This includes his own seat in Gorakhpur and also that of his Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Verma in Phulpur and one in Kairana. These defeats were despite massive campaigns held by Yogi and his entire cabinet in these constituencies, with the Prime Minister’s surrogate campaigns near Kairana.

On the other hand, law and order under Yogi has not improved , with crimes  against women having gone up by 25% in 2017-18 His 2018-19 budget pegs UP’s growth at 8 per cent this fiscal, which is considered as satisfactory, but the state has slipped in GDP and employment generation in the last fiscal as well.

Professor of Indian Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, and also the chief priest of Sankatmochan Temple, Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, says “Hyper-nationalism, fake Hindutva, insult of past PMs, white lies and non-inclusive development won’t yield a dividend for long. The writing is on the wall.”

The possibility of a January alliance 

Observers say that the combination of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, if any, could capitalise on the anti-BJP sentiments in the state.

The SP has made overtures to the BSP numerous times in the past one year. However, Mayawati had never reciprocated. But the victory of a common candidate in the Kairana Loksabha by-poll in May earlier this year made her realise that pooling together of resources may be the only way they can hold off the BJP, which has held complete sway over UP.

In the course of backdoor talks that took place a few months ago, the BSP sought to contest 47 seats, leaving just 33 seats to the SP. Besides, on 30 Lok Sabha seats, their vote share was similar to posing a hurdle in the seat-sharing.

Insiders from both parties say talks will resume soon and the announcement of their alliance is expected in January.

No grand-alliance with Congress?

The Congress hasn’t given any indication of a grand-alliance in UP so far, despite the insistence of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati.

Now, however, the scenario has changed. The Congress is full of confidence and would not like to play second fiddle to regional parties in UP where it is already on the verge of extinction.  

SP and BSP both were quick to offer support to the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, but the latter hasn’t responded to their gestures yet.

Geharwar says: “Being India’s main opposition party, Congress is expected to take the BJP head on. Besides, the grand-alliance would help SP-BSP to further grow in the state at the cost of Congress. Therefore, Congress might prefer to contest LS polls independently in UP.” 

“The party had never allied with anyone in the LokSabha elections in Uttar Pradesh. Our alliance with SP for Assembly elections 2017 was rejected by the people,” says Congress spokesperson Anshu Awasthi, adding that the central leadership will take a call in this regard soon.

SP-BSP combine can defeat BJP in 2019, says mathematics

With Modi’s “charisma” and Yogi’s “hardline Hindutva” losing steam, and given the Congress’ rising popularity in the crucial Hindi-heartland, BJP’s job in UP and elsewhere has become tougher now, say observers.

A senior BJP leader says that the “party would lose half of its current Loksabha seats if all opposition parties come together. Otherwise, we are likely to lose one-third of the constituencies.”

BJP, along with Apna Dal, has swept India’s most populous state in the 2014 general elections—with a whopping 42.6 per cent vote share—that saw them clinch 73 out of 80 seats.

But the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samajwadi Patry (BSP) vote shares in that election added up to 42.1 per cent — almost the same as BJP’s—that too when the Narendra Modi wave was rolling. However, the SP had won only five seats, and the BSP, none. The Congress had won only two seats with a 7.5 per cent vote share.

In the 2017 Assembly polls, BJP won 312 out of 403 seats, with a vote share of 39.7 per cent. The SP-BSP combined vote share was 46 per cent. The Congress had got seven seats and a 6.3 per cent vote share.

“SP and BSP have maintained their core vote bank over the years. They can limit the BJP to 25 seats in UP. If a grand-alliance with the Congress is formed, the BJP will be decimated to 15 seats,” speculates Ramesh Dixit.

The BJP’s campaign in UP concentrates on Hindus who constitute around 81 per cent of the state’s population. Of this, SP (Yadav 9 per cent) and BSP (Jatav and chamar 12 per cent) hold around 21 per cent; they also have a strong base among Minorities which constitute roughly about 19 per cent.

A senior BJP leader explains: “BJP had managed to woo non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits. They might go back to the  SP, BSP and Congress again. Even the upper castes who always rally behind BJP are angry since the Amendment in SC/ST Act. They believe that the party has gone far away to woo Dalits.”

Small outfits make a difference

Shivpal Yadav and Raja Bhaiya have launched their outfits recently with the resolve to oust BJP. Besides, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, the BJP ally at present which holds the key to some constituencies in eastern UP, has announced to contest separately in 2019.

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