Beyond the news: How poll outcome may reshape UP politics | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Beyond the news: How poll outcome may reshape UP politics

BySunita Aron
Jun 07, 2024 04:07 AM IST

The resurgent Samajwadi Party not only captured the prestigious Faizabad seat but also demolished the BJP’s precious Hindu vote bank

The Bharatiya Janata Party suffered a major political embarrassment by losing the Faizabad seat (Ayodhya is part of the district) after the spectacular opening of the grand Ram temple on January 22, but the party has actually lost more than just the prime seat.

UP CM Yogi Adityanath and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.(File)
UP CM Yogi Adityanath and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.(File)

The resurgent Samajwadi Party not only captured the prestigious Faizabad seat but also demolished the BJP’s precious Hindu vote bank built over the course of the three- decade long temple movement. The BJP ended up with 33 seats, and the SP, 37.

Back in the early 1990s, the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; the party’s ideological parent) leadership sought to consolidate the Hindu vote under the Hindutva banner. To shed its image of the Brahmin-Bania party, the BJP’s ideologue Govindacharya advised the party high command to change its “chola, chal and charitra (outfit, functioning and character)”.

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The BJP put up OBC (other backward class) chief minister Kalyan Singh to lead the temple movement in the state, gave prime positions to OBCs and Dalits in the organisation, invited a Dalit to lay the foundation stone of the Ram temple in 1989 , and another RSS affiliate the Vishwa Hindu Parishad organised ‘ Dalit bhoj’ at the Dom Raja’s house in the early 1990’s.

But Hindutva was effectively checked by the proponents of Mandal (social justice parties such as the SP and the Rashtriya Janata Dal) through the 1990s and even the 2000s. By the 2010s, though, both in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the huge chunk of OBC votes was ripe for fragmentation -- especially because less-dominant OBCs in both states believed (not unfairfly) that most of the benefits went to the Yadavs. The BJP used this to its advantage, leveraging Hindutva as well as welfare, to build a consolidated Hindu vote that spanned castes and classes (but was predominantly Hindu). The party made further gains after Narendra Modi, an OBC himself, became Prime Minister in 2014 and by 2019 reached the vote share of 50 % .

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It is this base that the SP ate into in this election, largely through smart candidate selection, which saw it eat into the BJP vote and regain support of less dominant OBCs. The party also managed to attract some of the Dalit vote.

The immediate challenge for the BJP is to rebuild the Hindu vote .

From raising fears that the opposition would, if victorious, demolish the temple, “put Babri tala (lock) on the Ram temple”, the BJP sought to reignite a Ram frenzy ahead of the 2024 general elections.

It failed.

Instead, the voters bought into the narrative raised by the opposition -- that the BJP would, if victorious, use its brute strength in Parliament to amend the constitution and take away the benefits of reservation.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Faizabad, where sitting MP, Lallu Singh of the BJP, rashly said the BJP was hankering for 400 seats because it needed “two-third majority to amend the constitution”.

The remark was the last straw for people who had lost their homes, shops, land to the infrastructure boom the temple town and the district had seen, and for young people worried about jobs.

PDA vs Hindutva

Voters found an alternative in the Samajwadi Party even though BJP leaders kept reminding them about the firing on kar sevaks by the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government in 1990. Yadav passed on in October 2022; the party is headed now by his son Akhilesh Yadav; and voters seemed to be ready to forget the past, especially because their concerns were more contemporary.

SP’s master stroke was the selection of candidates under the party’s much-touted PDA (the Hindi acronym for backwards, Dalits, and minorities) formula according to which due representation was given to all castes in ticket distribution.

The winner from Ayodhya, Awadhesh Prasad, who defeated two-term MP Lallu Singh, is a Pasi(a Dalit) whose promise to protect the Constitution sounded credible to voters.

Incidentally, SP’s Tej Narain Pandey defeated Lallu Singh in the party’s first victory from Ayodhya in the 2012 assembly elections. Mulayam was then alive and famously said: “ Ayodhya has forgiven me, I ordered firing to save the country and the Constitution.”

In 2024, his son Akhilesh Yadav also fought on the platform of saving the Constitution.

Breached

The PDA formula breached the BJP’s Hindu vote bank, and the SP’s vote share jumped from 20 % in 2019 to 33.59% this time even as the BJP’s fell from 49% then to 41.37%.

The SP fielded 15 Dalits, 30 OBCs ( which included only five Yadavs), 4 Muslims, and 9 upper caste candidates. It contested only 62 seats in the state; the other 18 were contested by its INDIA bloc partners the Congress (17) and the Trinamool Congress (1).

This formula could well help the SP in the next assembly election in 2027. Its strategy is to grow leaders from these other OBCs, instead of aligning with existing caste-based outfits.

The party has already found a Jat leader in Harendra Malik, who defeated Sanjiv Baliyan in Muzaffarnagar.

Senior party leader Ambika Choudhury, who worked closely with Mulayam Singh Yadav, said Akhilesh Yadav has come into his own . The party also believes that the PDA strategy will prevent the BJP from rebuilding its consolidated Hindu coalition.

BJP may go slow on temple movements

The defeat in Faizabad ( Ayodhya) is a major political embarrassment for a party now focusing on what it terms the” liberation” of the Kashi and Mathura temples. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said as much at an election rally in Mathura on April 4: “Now with Ayodhya, Kashi done, our full focus will be on Mathura.” But it is likely that the setback could compel the BJP to go slow on these movements, just as it is likely that it could encourage the party to rein in its more hardline elements and tone down its attack on minorities.

The future of the Congress-SP alliance

Political analyst Sheetal P Singh, who called the state correctly, expects the alliance to continue. “ There won’t be any clash between the two parties. The SP will consolidate its position, and the Congress will create its organisational infrastructure (in the state); in this election, the party depended heavily on SP cadre.”

” Rahul and Akhilesh have developed a good understanding,” echoed Choudhury.

The Congress’s showing, six seats and over 9% of the votes, is its best since around 6.5% both in 2014 and 2019.

Sheetal P Singhsaid the two parties gained from each other as Jatavs , who were reluctant to vote for a Yadav party, were willing to support the Congress. And their alliance consolidated the Muslim vote that would have otherwise been split between them.

Akhilesh Yadav has previously been accused of complacency, perhaps even inertia. Now any longer, though. The win in Uttar Pradesh has washed away memories of his three previous defeats, in 2022, 2019 and 2017. All five Yadavs fieled by the party, all part of the family, have won. That includes Akhilesh Yadav, who will now have to yet again take an important call: does he move to Delhi or stay in Lucknow?

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