Some exit polls had predicted that the BJP would retain most of the 71 seats it won in UP in 2014. Now, with the saffron party leading in at least 50 seats, all caste-based predictions that were projecting the largest number of seats in Uttar Pradesh for the Mahagathbandhan (SP+BSP+RLD) now stand completely demolished.
Though it is early to fully conclude what factors overrode the considerable appeal of caste in the northern Indian state that sends the highest number of MPs to Parliament, what is clear is that it is the BSP among the Mahagathbandhan allies which has benefited the most.
From zero in 2014, the Mayawati-headed party is leading in at least 13 seats. The Samajwadi Party, on the other hand, is struggling to retain the 5 seats it had won last time. The Rashtriya Lok Dal, the smallest ally in the Gathbandhan, too is struggling, with both RLD chief Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary trailing in Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat, respectively.
The Congress, which was not part of the Gathbandhan and had put up its own candidates, is faring the worst, with even its President Rahul Gandhi trailing BJP’s Smriti Irani in Amethi, a Congress stronghold since the time of Indira Gandhi. Unsurprisingly, this has prompted triumphant BJP supporters to assert that they have made inroads into Congress, SP and BSP fortresses in UP, much like their government entered Pakistan -- a reference to Balakot airstrikes -- and destroyed terrorists.
For the BJP, its strategy of dropping nearly 40 percent of its sitting MPs and fielding fresh faces seems to have paid off in Uttar Pradesh as well as other states. The other factor that has played a crucial role in BJP’s success seems to be the sub-optimal transfer of BSP’s Jatav votes to SP candidates. This seems to be emerging as a major factor in the poor overall performance of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance. Even as counting is in progress what can be said is that Muslims have voted en masse for Gathbandhan candidates and the same doesn’t hold true for Yadavs and Jatavs, whose votes have splintered.
The BJP has also successfully retained the support of the non-Yadav OBCs as well the support of almost every other non-Jatav scheduled castes. Despite the opposition’s campaign that the chief ministership of Adityanath, a Thakur, has alienated the backward castes, the results have proven that the successful marketing of the Indian response to the Pulwama airstrikes and schemes like Ujjawala have swung the average voter towards Modi-led BJP.
For the average UP voter, Modi’s appeal seems to be intact, and in fact as some observers have noted, the PM’s charisma has grown much more since the airstrikes. The clever unification of all Hindu castes and sub-castes into a solid vote bank was done on the plank of nationalism and equating the opposition with Pakistan. While not perceptible earlier, the results in UP and states like MP, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh indicate that the electorate has been swayed by Hindu nationalist sentiment instead of issues like unemployment, farm distress, demonetisation and economic slowdown.
Though it was widely expected that the BJP would lose most of its 71 seats in UP, this astounding performance has propelled the party way past the majority figure of 271 in the Lok Sabha. The opposition was hoping that the Mahagathbandhan would damage the BJP tally in UP and thereby open the possibility of a non-BJP government at the Centre. That remains a pipe dream for at least the next five years.
The only silver lining seems to be that the opposition’s illusion of relying solely on caste-based arithmetic stands shattered and one can only hope that this would lead to serious introspection among parties that want to take on the BJP and its brand of hard Hindutva politics in the future.(Valay Singh is a freelance journalist. Views expressed are personal.)