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The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 Parliamentary elections has taken everyone by surprise. The most surprising part was its performance in Uttar Pradesh (UP) where it won 71 out of 80 seats, wiping out the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress. What were the social and political strategies of the BJP which led to its success in this state that was the stronghold of SP and BSP?

It was widely accepted that there was a Modi wave—one might call it an anti-Congress wave—all over the country. What exactly is this phenomenon? I believe that, in the context of this election, there were many stray or floating voters who voted swayed by the media which projected the wave. They are beyond caste, religion and community and, going by past elections, they generally comprise 4% to 5% of the total voters. However, in the 2014 election there might have been an increase of 25% over the last elections which resulted in the BJP winning 71 seats in UP.

From where did the BJP obtain this 25%?

It is a fact that the number of young voters has increased and they have mainly voted for the BJP. Alongside, a large percentage of the traditional voters of the SP, BSP and Congress also voted for the BJP. In 2009, the BSP won 42% votes and 20% seats while this time it obtained only 19.6% votes and ended up without a single seat in UP. The SP too did not win many seats and registered a fall of 1.5%. It is believed that not just the upper castes but a large population of the backward castes and Dalits voted by for the BJP this time. This population comprises around 50% of the total population of UP and without their support it would not have been possible for the BJP to win so many seats in UP. So how did they pull it off?

The BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) combine, with Amit Shah as the coordinator of the UP chapter, adopted a special strategy for appropriating the Dalits and backward castes in the BJP. This included participating in caste associations, pushing forward the backward and Dalit faces, indulging in Hindu polarization in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots, and spreading fear among the Dalits and backward castes that the BSP, SP and Congress are polarizing Muslims and have no concern for Hindus. The BJP and RSS combine also spread the idea that for the first time a member from the Other Backward Classes (OBC) would become the prime minister of India. The Dalits were told that Mayawati, who heads the BSP, was indifferent towards them. At the same time, the BJP and RSS campaign also appropriated Ambedkar and other Dalit heroes, promised a Bharat Ratna for Kanshi Ram (founder of the BSP), launched a social harmony project, and organized meetings in Dalit hamlets with the help of social organizations such as Sewabharati and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, linked with RSS.

Apna Dal comprising Lodhs with Anupriya Patel as their leader, was in alliance with the BJP and in her rallies the backward (Lodh) faces of the BJP such as Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti were given importance. In total, 27 backward caste leaders were given tickets. In addition, two backward caste leaders Satyendra Kushwaha and Rameshwar Chaurasia were roped in to strengthen the organization of the BJP in UP. It was also promised to the backward castes that the Social Justice Committee report would be implemented and that reservations would be made in education and jobs according to their population size.

Tickets were distributed to BJP leaders keeping in mind their social stratification. For example, Uma Bharti was given a ticket from Jhansi, Kalyan Singh’s son Rajbir from Eta, Mukesh Rajput from Farrukhabad, and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti from Fatehpur. These candidates won the support of their castes, and the backward castes from the SP stronghold regions were linked with the BJP. As the results show, this strategy proved successful.

The Dalit population in UP, the BSP’s base, is 21.6% and by itself would not have won Mayawati many seats. In the first phase of BSP, Kanshi Ram had tried to bring together the most marginalized, backward communities and Muslims together under one party. However, because of the social conflict between backward castes and Dalits, this did not work at the ground level for very long. Having realized the inner conflict between the Dalits and most marginalized castes, RSS had been actively trying to appropriate both these communities for many years.

Several political strategies were adopted and the results were visible in these elections. Representatives from Pasi, Sonkar, Rawat communities and other Dalits were given tickets to bring together nearly 60 most marginalized Dalit castes in favour of the BJP and against the BSP.

Over the last few years the villages and cities of UP have completely changed due to the expansion of the new economic policy, spread of the market and increase in the size of consumerist groups. TV, mobile and Internet have made inroads into both rural and urban areas in a big way. A dominant middle class has developed among the backward castes, which tried to strengthen itself politically through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The BSP has lost connect with this society while the BJP and Narendra Modi directly communicated with them through social media sites.

Narendra Modi’s backward caste card and Amit Shah’s Hindutva card, together with the creation of a mixed package of Hindutva heat, caste equations, mirage of development and air time politics, led to the Modi storm in UP, in which the SP and BSP lost their traditional voters to the BJP.

Badri Narayan is a professor at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

Comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com

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