The BJP has growing concerns in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state that votes early next year. In 2014, the party rode a Modi wave to win 71 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats.
But the BJP is fumbling — tackling with a leadership crisis, struggling to keep intact its Lok Sabha gains and dealing with a cadre that isn’t as charged as it was in 2014.
Also at stake is party president Amit Shah’s reputation as a master strategist, which was dented in the Bihar and Delhi assembly polls last year.
His strategy is to keep Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) out of the race, campaign against the Akhilesh Yadav government and create a vibrant network of BJP workers at booth level.
There is logic behind undermining the BSP. The Jatav community forms 12% of the electorate and remains wedded to the BSP. But any shift of the Muslims, who form 18% of the voters, towards Mayawati will strengthen her. If she is seen winning, the 12%-13% Brahmin voters too may go with her, BJP leaders fear. That can reduce the Samajwadi Party (SP) and BJP to double-digit tallies in the assembly.
“For us, the best case scenario is that Muslims vote for SP and the Brahmins for us. That will leave Mayawati with less than 20% votes,” a BJP general secretary told Hindustan Times.
BJP vice-president Om Mathur, also coordinating in Uttar Pradesh, claims more people will desert Mayawati as elections draw closer. On August 1, former BSP leader Swami Prasad Maurya, an OBC, joined the BJP. Its 17 Dalit MPs will campaign in 85 SC reserved seats. Other MPs too will campaign for 10 days outside their constituencies.
The controversy over atrocities against Dalits, however, could spoil the BJP’s plans and strengthen Mayawati.
Playing up the SP as main rival helps BJP polarise the elections. At a rally in Allahabad on June 13, Shah asked people “not to take lightly” the controversy over Kairana, which saw exodus of Hindu families allegedly threatened by Muslim go ons.
Of 1.40 lakh polling stations in the state, the BJP claims to have its units in 85% of them — much higher than 35% booths during the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
“Our campaign has lifted and cadre is getting a sense that we can win UP. That is important to us,” BJP secretary Sidharth Nath Singh said.
Phulpur MP Keshav Prasad Maurya — an OBC — is the new state party chief. On July 9, Shah attended a meeting of Bharatiya Samaj Dal (BSD), a party of Om Prakash Rajbhar who broke away from the BSP in 2001. A BJP-BSD alliance is possible.
The BJP is also attempting to get a foothold in eastern Uttar Pradesh, an SP stronghold. Two new faces from east UP — Anupriya Patel and Mahendra Nath Pandey — were inducted into Modi’s council of ministers recently.
The BJP’s target group for 2014 comprised 80% of the electorate, barring Muslims. This time it has excluded Muslims, Yadavs and Jatavs, which make it nearly 60% of UP’s electorate. But winning a 30% vote share won’t be easy.
The absence of a credible “face” compounds its problem. Its best bet, home minister Rajnath Singh, is not unwilling to become the party’s face in the state.
Until the party BJP gets clarity on its chief minister, the troika of Shah-Modi-Rajnath will hold the fort. Modi will travel to UP every month. He has already visited Bareilly, Saharanpur, Allahabad and Ballia. Shah is spending more time in the state. Rajnath too has been requested to visit the state frequently. Whether these are the “faces” UP will vote for, the BJP will have its answer early 2017.