At around 11am on February 11, a senior BJP leader called party colleague and human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar. The minister was told to address a press conference at party headquarters in the Capital’s power district.
Voting for the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, covering 73 seats in volatile western part of the state, had opened barely four hours ago.
Javadekar reached BJP’s Ashoka Road office at around 12.30pm and told mediapersons “we are winning more than 50 seats”.
His final tally rested at 53. Not even 25% voters had reached polling booths when the BJP declared itself victorious. The final turnout would be 64.2%.
The hurry to announce a BJP sweep was driven by panic as initial trends suggested the party was losing sway over the Jat community.
The presser, party sources said, was a desperate bid to bolster the morale of the cadre and influence voters who had not made up their mind.
Heavy polling in Jat- and Muslim-dominated areas of the 15 western UP districts, perceived to be a stronghold of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), signalled trouble.
An internal assessment at the end of the voting day confirmed the fears – the overwhelming support it got in the 2014 Lok Sabha election from the influential land-holding community was missing.
“The Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh gained ground. On seats where it was a RLD versus BJP fight, even Muslims voted for Singh’s candidates,” a leader involved in BJP’s electioneering in the first phase told HT.
The relationship between the Jats, who account for around 20% of western Uttar Pradesh’s population, and the BJP has been turbulent after the 2014 bonhomie.
The demand for quota in government jobs and education and cases against Jat youth following widespread violence in Haryana during the last year’s reservation agitation have turned the community against the BJP.
Several community leaders talked about teaching a lesson to the party in the run-up to the polling day.
The party’s decision to install a Punjabi chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, in Jat-dominated Haryana, too, didn’t go down well.
The BJP sensed trouble long back. In a meeting with community leaders at the residence of union minister Birender Singh, who is a Jat, in Delhi last week, Shah pleaded for their support. “We have no reason to treat you badly...you have no other option,” sources quoted Shah as saying. But, the BJP chief’s request for votes seemed to have cut little ice with the community.
The BJP’s assessment is it has done well in Gautam Buddha Nagar (Noida) and Ghaziabad districts, while the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party has done well in Agra and Aligarh. In rest of the 11 districts, it is in a multi-cornered fight.
Its star candidates such as Sangeet Som (Sardhana), Mriganka Singh (Kairana) and Suresh Rana (Thana Bhawan), viewed as hardliners, are said to be on a sticky wicket.
The BJP swept Uttar Pradesh, including the western parts, when it won the 2014 national election. It was the so-called Modi wave and a consolidation of Hindu votes that saw the BJP win 71 of the state’s 80 seats with huge margins. It won 10 of the 11 Lok Sabha seats covered in the first phase.
But, voters this time were less enthusiastic and also there was no Hindu consolidation, sources said.
The indifference of the Baniya community, the trading class considered the support base of the party, too, has the BJP worried.