The landslide BJP win in Uttar Pradesh at the expense of the Congress and two leading caste-based regional parties -- the SP and the BSP-- makes Prime Minister Narendra Modi look unassailable. The enhanced mandate makes him comparable with the late Indira Gandhi at the national level and with Charan Singh for having woven a tapestry of competing social groups around his persona.
The sole difference apparently is that Modi’s the unquestioned assimilator of the majoritarian sentiment, the Muslims having largely stayed away or been kept away by his party. Empirical evidence of the anatomy of the saffron storm will emerge in due course. But the BSP’s near-complete decimation is proof of the Modi lure having taken in its embrace vast sections of the forward, middle and backward castes barring perhaps the Yadavs and to some extent Mayawati’s captive base of Jatavs.
The outcome in UP that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha besides a wholesome share in the Upper House -- where the BJP sorely needs numbers -- is a repeat of the BJP’s 2014 show. It had then won 328 assembly segments with over 42% vote and 71 Lok Sabha seats.
What clicked for the BJP was an amalgam of the PM’s political savvy and his major domo Amit Shah’s social engineering. Established by Brahmins and for long regarded as a defender of the Brahmanical order, the BJP today doesn’t resemble its Jana Sangh avatar or the AB Vajpayee edition that first brought it to power in the 1990s.
Unlike in the general elections when Modi leaned on the AB Vajpayee legacy, he had little use for it in the battle for the assembly. He was the BJP’s sole mascot, and Shah the sole manager.
Organisationally, Shah built upon the party’s 1991 formula. The BJP had, at the time, propped up Lodh leader Kalyan Singh as the CM of its first full majority regime in UP.
The OBCisation of the BJP was complete when it entered the fray to recapture UP after 26 years. As is evident from the results, the strategy that irked the party’s forward caste base (that held fast for want of attractive options) got considerable traction across castes.
An enabling factor in the broadening of the BJP’s social base was the Modi-Shah combine’s Hindutva plank, the seed of which lay in their refusal to give tickets to Muslim candidates. Looking back, one’s tempted to conclude that the exclusive approach showed up their professedly secular rivals as less caring of Hindu concerns.
Widespread media reportage of incidents of railways sabotage and the cracking of a terror module in Lucknow added to the majority’s incipient fears and distrust of Muslims and consequently the votaries of their cause. It all happened midway through electioneering.
Another value-addition to Modi’s appeal was the demonetisation gamble. He projected it as a litmus test of his pro-poor policies, prompting caste identities on the social and economic margins, to rally around him. Some did it out of hope, some out of class retribution.
In sweeping aside the two-pronged challenge of the SP and the Congress, the PM more than avenged his defeat at the hands of the Congress-inspired grand alliance in Bihar. The emphatic dislodging of Harish Rawat in adjacent Uttarakhand means his BJP controls the whole of undivided UP.
On the decline since the 2014 drubbing, the Congress can draw some comfort from wresting power in Punjab where a high-decibel AAP challenge fizzled out rather tamely. The ruling Akali-BJP combine there has been reduced to a rump, giving Capt. Amarinder Singh a legislative heft that’s as overwhelming as the BJP has in UP.
Uttar Pradesh is undoubtedly the trophy; Punjab merely a consolation prize. But, it will boost the Congress’s morale. It is a sizeable victory it finally has after a string of defeats.
At the national level, the UP mandate will embolden the BJP to take radical policy initiatives. Besides improving its numbers in the Rajya Sabha, it will push it closer to the electoral-college votes it needs to install the President and the Vice President of its choice later this year.
So, rather than resting on its Punjab oars, the Congress needs to assess its strengths and weaknesses. One reason why it has been performing poorly in the states is the lack of the cogent social base it had till the 1980s when Mandal destroyed it all. The BJP came up with the counter Kamandal politics. But the Congress just twiddled its thumbs.
About time therefore that Rahul Gandhi and his team began focusing on electoral bouts before the 2019 polls in BJP-ruled Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Elections will also be held in Himachal and Karnataka, where the Congress is in power, before the big-ticket fight.
In politics, organisational absenteeism can be self-destructive, as was writ large in the BJP sweep in the local bodies’ polls in Orissa. The Congress has a base in the BJD-ruled state -- but not the leadership or the will to bring it alive.
Given the need for a national alternative to the BJP, one cannot but help recall what CPI leader M Farooqui told a Congress-organised seminar shortly before suffering a cardiac arrest: “When we in other parties make mistakes, our parties pay a price. When Congress makes mistakes, the nation pays for it….”