The BJP seems to have given up on winning in the UP Assembly polls. Two months ago it had, at least, the pretensions of a winner. Now, it has dropped even those. The reasons are not only apparent, most of them are endemic too. These can be divided into two parts: one part is about the choices that the party made, and the other part is what is happening on the ground, irrespective of what the BJP may or may not want.
First the big picture. This elections to the State Assembly is no longer a UP election. It has fragmented down to regions, districts and even constituencies. Did I miss the word castes? Such a scenario has seldom worked for the BJP. This party thrives when there is an evocative enough issue, or leader, that unifies, to rally people around, across districts, regions and castes.
In 2014, it was the idea of Modi as PM that delivered UP to the BJP. If the Lok Sabha elections are a benchmark, the BJP should be coasting to a sweeping victory. With a 43% vote-share in May 2014, Modi literally routed all the rivals by picking 328 out 403 Assembly segments. To attribute this to a four-cornered contest, leading to a division of anti-BJP votes, is to distort the truth. 2012 Assembly polls were also a four-corner contest. Then, the BJP couldn’t go beyond 47 seats and a mere 15% vote-share. In 2014, an almost three fold increase in the vote-share of the BJP must be attributed to only one factor – Modi.
And, this factor wasn’t something abstract and amorphous that can’t be delineated. Modi represented the anti-thesis of a traditional politician. He was perceived to be squeaky clean. A rotten-to-the-core corrupt UPA regime helped accentuate the contrast and made this factor hugely valuable. Modi also came with a reputation of an uncompromising and hard working doer, with a no non-sense approach. A floundering economy and growing impatience for jobs among the youth turned Modi into just the man they were looking for. Many also saw in him an unapologetic Hindu who was not afflicted by the slime of political correctness.
The voters of UP should be pardoned for thinking that they have already done their job by giving to Modi, in 2014, more than he may ever had expected. In 2017, UP knows that Modi is not going to be their CM. Though an encore from UP may be an indisputable prerequisite for Modi to be effective as a PM, the state doesn’t seem to be bothered enough this time around. And, UP has its reasons.
After May 2014, the BJP had 32 months to prepare for UP. Along the way, Bihar and Delhi had delivered unmistakable warnings too. But, the BJP chose to stay on its default mode. The foremost feature of the BJP’s default mode is that ‘Modi is the only leader’. The party coasted on this plank in the Assembly elections to Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Jharkhand. This gave BJP added reasons to carry on riding the Modi name.
Two big reasons that sustained this Modi-factor had to run out. First was the sheer momentum of the 2014 polls and the second was a completely fragmented opposition. And when they did run out, in the Delhi polls of 2015, BJP realised very late. The disaster, called Kejriwal, was already looming. The party scurried for a Kiran Bedi kind of short-cut and created history. It took the BJP another severe drubbing, in Bihar, before it realised and picked a local leader, in Sarbananda Sonowal, to project, and to lead, the campaign in Assam. In UP, the BJP has slipped back to its default mode on the crucial issue of leadership.
Another, almost equally important feature of the BJP’s default mode is to import candidates. Often, the BJP looks for its candidates in almost every party except the BJP itself. This, even when it is riding a wave like it did in 2014. The BJP isn’t easily deterred even if such a candidate happens to be a spent out discard in his own party. Or, even if he has had bitter feuds with the local BJP units in the constituency and is notorious for using all his might, and the might of the state apparatus available to him, to harass, humiliate and hound the loyal BJP cadre. In the search of a “winning candidate”, the BJP is often willing to trade its future for the immediate. What it does to the cadre, integrity of the party and the credibility of its promises is anybody’s guess. This time the BJP has over 70 such candidates in UP itself.
The third feature of the BJP’s default mode is being ambivalent about who they are and what they stand for. Having shed their core issues such as Akhand Bharat, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code, besides, of course, the Ram Temple at Ayodhya, there is little left, as it is, to distinguish BJP from the rest. On caste-politics, what the other parties practice blatantly is practiced a little hypocritically in the BJP. That is all there is left in terms of the difference. On the issues of Hindus’ interests, it is the collective shunning of the BJP by the Muslims that makes the Hindus mistake BJP for a friend. Otherwise, there is nothing that it does, or doesn’t do, to justify the benefits of reverse polarisation that always accrue to the BJP. What is astounding is that the party, all said and ‘not’ done, still, once in a while takes its chances by casually mentioning the Ram Temple. Therefore, this time again it looks like it is going to be just wages for a party that can’t decide for itself, like a rabbit caught in front of a truck blinded by its headlights.
We can stop here for the first part, which is about the choices made by the BJP. Now, let us factor-in the second part, the ground situation, to find out, how far up will the BJP rise from its low of 15% vote share and 47 seats it got in 2012. Or, conversely, how low will it slide from the 43% vote share of 2014 that delivered to the BJP a windfall of 328 of the 403 seats.