The UP electoral verdict is a watershed moment in the annals of political history of India since independence & heralds the emergence of BJP as a central pole of Indian politics. Seldom has a state election campaign been witness to an array of high profile events like the feud in the Yadav family, Central Government’s “Opportune” demonetization gamble being unleashed during the critical first phase of the election campaign and the Indian National Congress and Samajwadi Party forming a coalition just prior to the elections.
Notwithstanding the multiplicity of socio-economic and opportunistic political narratives, numerous exit polls and heated newsroom debates, the outcome of this battle and the clean sweep by BJP has been unpalatable to both politicians and political commentators alike. There have been umpteen debates on the core elements that worked in BJP’s favour in this crucial election and unsurprisingly the predominant left-liberal discourse has been polarization on communal lines and consolidation of Hindu votes. In a complex and large geography like UP with a chequered history of strong identity driven politics, this argument would have definitely cut ice few years back. But today with increased mobility and access to information, the fallacies of a rhetoric driven campaign become evident and a campaign harping only on identity politics without any real groundwork is bound to fail. Secondly, courtesy their blinkered vision and singular focus on identity centric politics, our ivory tower academics and intellectuals have failed to capture the interplay of the concept of development gaining precedence and the significant groundswell in share of voice of the digitally empowered neo-youth of the state (~22% of total voters, 3.8 Crore voters) who have played a pivotal role both in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the 2017 state election.
With great power, comes greater responsibility. The litmus test for BJP begins now & they have an opportunity to justify this historic mandate through their actions or squander it away as they have done in the past.
With this backdrop, we try to demystify the ingredients of the victorious campaign of BJP as perused from a common man’s perspective:
Development Takes precedence
The core communication strategy of the BJP was on the development plank “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” and in a state plagued by serious infrastructural issues, lack of industrial development in most parts, poor administration and wide-spread disparity between regions within it; this was music to the ears of the electorate. The campaigners also highlighted the success-stories to reinforce their commitment to development goal, a case being the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) i.e. one of the most successful social-sector projects of the Narendra Modi-led central government. Interestingly, since the launch of the scheme in May 2016; UP has been the largest beneficiary 4.5 million people benefiting from the scheme which translates to a lion’s share of 30% of the total pool of beneficiaries. Through this mandate, the electorate has also discarded the lip-service model of development wherein a slew of projects are announced or inaugurated prior to elections and forgotten post elections. Furthermore, the Congress party and the Samajwadi party represent a virtual serfdom and exemplify dynastic politics to the core. This identity does not resonate with the vocal middle class who demand accountability with responsibility and detest inherited authority and elitism sans credentials. In this context, the Jugalbandi of Rahul Gandhi & Akhilesh Yadav was bound to fail.
Collectivist Society & Yadav family feud
In a collectivist society like ours, reverence for elders is non-negotiable with numerous references to this facet in popular Hindu mythology. The ill-timed tussle in the Yadav family between the two factions, one led by Samajwadi party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav with brother Shivpal by his side and the other faction led by his son and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav with his uncle Ramgopal Yadav had an acute negative impact on the overall prospects of the party. The aftermath of the bitter feud wherein the son dismantled his father from his position and openly disparaged his uncle was a bitter pill to digest for the majority of the electorate, old and young alike. The timing of this feud left the organization cadre confused and embittered at the same time. Furthermore, the carefully crafted youth imagery & brand equity of Akhilesh Yadav & his impassioned plea of his mission of clean politics etc. were lost in the din of the fracas. Emboldened by the turn of events, BJP’s campaigners used all these masala to fan the angst within the electorate and annihilate the major opposition.
Information Asymmetry – A thing of the past
All political parties have benefitted from the huge information asymmetry that existed in the past. Since the access to information was controlled, pure rhetoric driven campaigns like “Garibi Hatao” banking solely on the strong charisma and imagery of the leader worked magnificently in the hinterlands. In an interconnected world, access to information has become easier and not surprisingly political battles are now being fought on social media and real-time digital messenger platforms like Whatsapp The veracity of all information available in public domain (be the vitriolic speech in political rallies or the unviable claims in a manifesto) are subject to intense scrutiny and often the fodder for fiery localized debates on the digital platforms. In the current context, opinions are formed on the digital platform which is primarily open-access based and sans any censorship or editorial control/biases thereby making information asymmetry irrelevant.
Appeasement and Vote Bank Politics Rejected
In a bid to create a permanent vote bank, Samajwadi party antagonized the majority and vilified the institutional machinery of the state to appease a miniscule percentage of minorities at the cost of other classes/religion. Be it the poor law & order situation or recruitment in government posts, there was always an appeasement angle to it. In a state, where government job is revered, there were widespread instances of caste based selection bias in a premier body like UP Public Service Commission (UPPSC). Each constituency had its own tales of nepotism tactics employed by Samajwadi Party to benefit its core voter base. This created deep-rooted resentment amongst rest of the dominant social groups. The other opposition parties namely Congress and BSP have also played the same game under the guise of Social Engineering and projected themselves as messiahs of the marginalized, vulnerable and the asset-less class. Negativity pertaining to this narrative only unified the core target group of BJP and possibly explains its high vote-share of 40%.
Conjectures and anecdotal explanations set aside, data available in the public domain currently is inadequate to provide any empirical evidence to understand the impact of demonetization on political parties and whether Muslims — constituting around 18% of UP’s population — voted for or against the BJP.
With great power, comes greater responsibility. The litmus test for BJP begins now & they have an opportunity to justify this historic mandate through their actions or squander it away as they have done in the past. As the PM said post the victory at New Delhi “The polls have made it clear that the BJP’s ideology is being accepted, appreciated and supported by more and more people in the country. It is great for democracy,” As the contours of the political landscape get redefined by the dominant political force of our time; the dance of democracy continues to enthrall us and the common man awaits the grand finale which culminates with the 2019 General elections.