In UP, a realignment of not just parties, but also communities - Hindustan Times
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In UP, a realignment of not just parties, but also communities

ByBadri Narayan
Feb 08, 2022 08:42 PM IST

In many ways, it’s not only a political phenomenon but also a social one — this is why every party organises a Dalit meeting, a prabudh warg conference or a samajik samvad

Assembly elections matter in a democracy because they determine the future trajectory of a state, the fate of its people, and, therefore, the nation. The stakes become even higher if the state in question is Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous province and an electoral highway to the singhasan (throne) of power in Delhi. This has been an unusual election — held in the shadow of the pandemic, with muted physical campaigning and a focus on social media.

Assembly elections matter in a democracy because they determine the future trajectory of a state, the fate of its people, and, therefore, the nation (PTI) PREMIUM
Assembly elections matter in a democracy because they determine the future trajectory of a state, the fate of its people, and, therefore, the nation (PTI)

And yet, at its core, the election will be determined by the clash of two age-old narratives. The first is performance and development, pivoting on the claims of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of having delivered on its poll promise of Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas (equitable development for all). The Opposition will hope to convince the electorate that the BJP failed to control price rise, provide jobs to young people and curb atrocities and crimes, especially against women and marginalised communities. The suffering wrought by the second wave of Covid-19 will be a looming factor — the deaths in families is certainly a part of people’s memories — but it is still unclear whether it will translate into anti-incumbency at the local or state level.

The second narrative is a battle between Hindutva and caste. The BJP is projecting “samagra Hindutva (inclusive Hindutva)” to mobilise all Hindu castes under a religious umbrella while the Opposition is trying to corral support under caste-based political identities, first developed during the Mandal moment in the 1990s. Though important, this Mandir vs Mandal narrative appears to be supplementary to the development narrative and not the main determinant in deciding the voter’s choice.

Both sides are trying to expand their social alliances — the BJP by projecting Hindutva and the Opposition on caste identity-based mobilisation. The Congress is attempting a third form of mobilisation, based on social identities such as gender, but the effort appears nascent and needs time to evolve.

The BJP has organised its campaign around Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Yogi Adityanath) factor by projecting the former as the development messiah and the latter as the strong-on-law-and-order administrator. The Samajwadi Party (SP), which is seen as the main challenger, hopes to burst the second myth by saying that only some communities bore the brunt of the punitive action. Even if this sticks, it may help the BJP because some Hindu communities may appreciate such selective action, and see this as part of the Hindutva appeal.

In the past five years, the BJP created a large pool of support by efficiently delivering welfare to people, keeping in touch with them, and hoping to transform them from grateful, but politically fickle, beneficiaries to loyal vote bases. If the BJP succeeds, it will be on the basis of this new configuration in electoral politics.

The challenge for the SP, hamstrung in previous polls by its limiting social coalition of Yadavs and Muslims, is more conventional. It is hoping to attract smaller backward communities by stitching alliances with smaller caste-based outfits such as Rashtriya Lok Dal, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, Mahan Dal, and Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), and welcoming rebel BJP leaders to the party.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is contesting this election on a bahujan to sarvjan strategy (adding other communities to its traditional vote bank of Dalits and some backwards) and will hope to not lose its loyal base, even if it doesn’t add more to it. The party has yet not been able to create any hawa and that might be due to its relatively weaker social media and digital footprint.

Every election creates its compulsions, and forces realignments of not just parties but also communities. So, in many ways, it’s not only a political phenomenon but also a social one — this is why every party organises a Dalit meeting, a prabudh warg (proxy for Brahmin and other upper castes) conference or a samajik samvad (for middle and occupational castes). March 10 will tell us which party has managed to convince the largest number of communities to entrust their fate in their hands.

Badri Narayan is director, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Prayagraj

The views expressed are personal.

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