Rahul wins 'round one'
If with 14 ministers from Uttar Pradesh (UP) in Narendra Modi’s Council of Ministers, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) president Amit Shah thinks that the victory for his party in the forthcoming Assembly polls in the state is just a few yards away, he is bound to realise by the end of this month that he has miles to go before his dream fulfills. An internal assessment of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s ongoing Kissan Yatra done by Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) has alerted BJP leadership about the rough road they are going to face in coming months.
BJP in UP is struggling with a serious leadership crisis. State party leader Keshav Prasad Maurya is neither a caste leader nor a mass leader. He is an unknown face even for the BJP cadre. In the past few months of his tenure, Maurya has not displayed any grip over the party or state related issues. Home Minister Rajnath Singh is the probable face for chief ministership from BJP, but he has been showing reluctance because of the past weeks have seen a shift in Thakur community from BJP to Congress. Brahmins have also shown strong signs of shifting from BJP and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in a big way during past months. Samajwadi Party (SP) has an OBC face for state leadership, BSP has a Dalit face, and Congress has projected a Brahmin face, but BJP is finding itself in a bind over the CM’s face.
Brahmins constitute 13 percent, Dalit 21 percent and OBCs 40 percent of the state’s population. With the clear dilemma for supporting BJP in the minds of 64 percent of the population, Amit Shah can bank only on some miracle in his favour. How many of 18 percent Muslims will he be able to attract with his pleasant personality also will be on test in UP polls. Rajnath Singh knows that even if he gets the support of all 7.5 percent of his caste fellows, Prime Minister Modi’s 2014 charisma is not going to be repeated in UP’s Assembly polls. He is also well aware of his limits in making inroads in the homes of Jatav, Pasi, Dhobi, Kori, Balmiki, Khatik, Yadav, Kurmi, Lodh, Jat, Gujjar, Mallah, Teli, Kumhar, Kahar, Nai, Kachhi, and Gadaria communities without whose sizable support no party can form the government in UP.
Narendra Modi was successful in creating an atmosphere in 2014 that the vote casted in favour of BJP was a vote directly for him. Despite that Modi will campaign across UP, this feeling will not be there during Assembly polls. True that BJP won 71 Loksabha seats in 2014, but in 2012, it got only 47 Assembly seats in the state. The current voting equation and the absence of any emotional waive in favour of Modi or his party indicate that it is going to be hard for BJP to cross the figure of 70 seats in UP Assembly.
BJP and RSS are vehemently working on strategies to appease Dalits. For this, many changes have been made to their social harmony campaigns. The exercise is now not confined to only visiting Dalit hamlets and having Samrasta Bhoj with them. Other initiatives taken by the BJP as a part of its campaign are: taking Dalits on pilgrimage to holy places, taking holy dip with them, initiating the entry of Dalits into temples, etc. A new programme, called the Vichaar Kumbha, is now also a part of Sangh Parivar’s social harmony campaign. This programme provides a chance to Dalits and the common people to have dialogue with the reputed people in their villages and slums wherein an appeal is made to them to walk forward in the direction of Hindutva politics. It is being pursued vigorously in UP.
In addition to these campaigns, VHP, RSS, and BJP fairs are also being organised where rightwing leaders reminisce about Dalit heroes, saints and leaders; print their booklets; establish their idols, and construct temples in their memory. RSS and its affiliates are also busy in organising Dhamma Yatras in various Dalit settlements for last three years. The BJP's main motive behind this is to strengthen its roots within Dalit groups with an eye to accrue electoral and political benefits in the forthcoming elections. Despite these attempts, the BJP is still struggling to associate itself with Dalits as it is also encountering incidents that are making its Dalit campaigns completely futile. I feel, none of all this will pay any dividend to BJP in UP polls.
Rahul Gandhi has stolen the first mover’s advantage from BJP by launching his Kissan Yatra from Deoria on September 6 and his visit to Hanuman Garhi temple in Ayodhya this Friday is being seen as a master stroke by the poll analysts. The impact of sincere and well-meaning efforts by Rahul in reviving his party are settling down in public minds so deep that there were no buyers of BJP’s propaganda that it is committed for the politics of development whereas Congress is now indulged in the politics of soft Hindutva. The massive support which Rahul is getting by raising the issues of farmer’s loan waiver, reducing their power bills by half and increasing the minimum price of their produce has poured sufficient volume of salted butter milk in the roots of BJP in UP.
The key to Rahul’s tireless efforts lies in the conviction, honesty, and zeal with which his party people work once the Kissan Yatra is over. In 2012 also, Rahul had participated in 200 rallies in UP. Rahul is now much better well-equipped with a sense of understanding and cannot afford to leave any hole unplugged. The real battles are never won with mercenaries all around. It’s easy to enter in an area of squared planning, but one must also know the way to come out victorious. It requires an army of tested, trusted, dedicated, committed, and experienced people in the battle ground and politics is a constant battlefield from which fair weather friends should be kept miles away. I hope, the tremendous energy released by Rahul’s Yatra will not be allowed to go waste this time.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India. Views are strictly personal.)