Modi’s outreach bested Akhilesh Yadav’s caste calculus in UP’s eastern reaches
Senior BJP leaders credited rallies by PM Narendra Modi in the eastern parts for turning the sentiment in the BJP’s favour.
In Uttar Pradesh, it is often said that elections are won or lost in the eastern reaches of the state – the 110-odd seats that are spread across some of the most desperately poor districts of the country, where basic amenities are often missing, where jobs are hard to find, and where the second wave of Covid struck impoverished families hard.
In this Purvanchal region, which stretches eastwards from Varanasi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) coalition of small backward and Dalit groups was most pronounced in the 2017 assembly election. Yet, in the months leading up to the 2022 elections, there were rumblings of discontent. In hamlets and villages, young people had no jobs. Families had been ravaged by Covid, and smaller castes hadn’t seen the kind of development they were promised five years ago.
In early January, the SP made an early move to break away the backward groups from the BJP. Senior minister Swami Prasad Maurya and 11 other leaders from other backward classes (OBC) groups made high-profile exits from the ruling party and made their way to the SP. Akhilesh Yadav’s hope was that especially in Purvanchal, these defections would help the SP rise above its image of a Yadav-Muslim party -- and help craft an agda-pichda (forward vs backward castes) narrative for the polls.
That was not to be. In results announced on Thursday, the BJP and its allies won 81of the region’s 139 seats while the SP-led coalition won just 53 The Bahujan Samaj Party, an erstwhile influential player in this region, won just one in the entire state in the easternmost district of Ballia.
How did this happen?
Senior BJP leaders credited rallies by PM Narendra Modi in the eastern parts for turning the sentiment in the BJP’s favour. They admitted that the fight was tough for the BJP in a region, where there was widespread consternation against chief minister Yogi Adityanath with many local leaders complaining of being overlooked. They also admitted that local dissatisfaction and friction within the party was creating a lacklustre campaign, till Modi stepped in and started making personal connections between his appeal and that of the targeted welfare delivery that helped many families stay afloat during the last two years.
“After the rallies that the PM addressed in Deoria, Sonbhadra, Ballia and other places the mood changed significantly. People put aside their grievances and came out to support the party, the credit for the BJP’s win here goes entirely to the PM,” said a leader from the eastern region, requesting anonymity.
Also of great help to the BJP’s campaign were its two small but influential allies – the Apna Dal (Sonelal), which won 12seats and the Nishad Party, which won 6seats – that mopped up support among impoverished but spatially concentrated castes. In seats with close contests, these communities help the BJP triumph.
But most of all, the BJP’s decision to play on the front foot helped shore up the campaign and take the fight to the SP. The result in Padrauna, the home seat of Maurya, exemplifies this. Days after Maurya’s high-profile defection, the BJP inducted sidelined Congress leader RPN Singh, the former Union minister whose family is traditional royalty of the region, and sent him to head the local campaign. Suddenly, Singh hit the ground, going door-to-door, and strengthening the BJP’s narrative. “In the Congress, RPN Singh was a Raja. In the BJP, he has become part of the praja, and is going house to house,” said Kushinagar SP district secretary Wajid Ali.
The response was almost immediate. Maurya shifted out of Padrauna to neighbouring Fazilnagar. This helped create a sentiment that he was afraid of a fight in Padrauna, and diminishing his stature as a pan-UP leader. Eventually, Maurya lost face and Fazilnagar, the SP lost Padrauna, and eastern UP.