The pre-election ferment in the Uttar Pradesh politics has triggered all kinds of conjectures and claims. Many Dalit-OBC ministers, MLAs and leaders of the BJP have jumped on the Samajwadi Party (SP) bandwagon. What are the implications of these defections? Prof Sanjay Kumar, psephologist and director of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), spoke with FORWARD Press’ Hindi editor Nawal Kishore Kumar on these developments. This is the second and final part of the interview:
There is a general perception that the Pasmanda Muslims are used only as vote banks and they never get their due share in power. Do you think that things will be any different this time?
Pasmanda Muslims were a topic of discussion in Bihar elections. That is not so in Uttar Pradesh. But the issue of their representation is being discussed. The AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) has been telling the Pasmandas that different political parties have only given them lollipops. The parties sought their votes but weren’t interested in sending their representatives to the assembly. The AIMIM has been saying that all political parties used Pasmanda Muslims as vote banks but they did nothing in their interest. The AIMIM has been telling them about their share in the population, their status in different political parties, how many of them have won elections and so on. The AIMIM has been trying to woo Muslims in general. I don’t think it is targeting Pasmandas specifically. Of course, if at all Muslims voters move towards the AIMIM, they will primarily be the Pasmandas. But even if that happens, it won’t change the fortunes of the AIMIM. Just as the Congress is trying to win the election on the strength of the women voters, Owaisi is hoping to win some constituencies on the strength of the Muslim voters. But what is the most important issue for the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh today? It is defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). When a momentum is building in favour of the Samajwadi Party, when there is a feeling that the Samajwadi Party (SP) may be able to defeat the BJP, in such circumstances I don’t think the Muslim voters will commit the foolishness of shunning the SP and backing the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Congress or the AIMIM. This may happen in one or two constituencies. But overall, the Muslims will vote for the SP en masse. This wouldn’t happen but for the perception that the SP is in a position to win the elections. At present, the narrative seems to be in favour of the SP.
How far will the farmers’ movement affect the elections?
It will definitely have an impact and hurt the BJP. But the BJP would have been hit even harder had its government not withdrawn the farm laws. Having said that, I don’t think that the withdrawal of the farm laws has assuaged the farmers’ anger and that they will back the BJP as they did in the last elections. The BJP’s poll prospects will be hurt but the damage will be limited. This damage will be felt in the assembly constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh. The demands of the farmers of eastern Uttar Pradesh are very different from those in western Uttar Pradesh. The BJP may lose votes in the 70-80 seats in western Uttar Pradesh.
There is this big region of Purvanchal (eastern Uttar Pradesh). It has its own political leanings, especially because the caste equations are a bit different there. Also, there is a domination of the upper castes.
We need to understand the significance of Purvanchal. This region is important owing to the number of seats. There are around 145-150 seats in Purvanchal. Thus, out of 403 seats, 150 are in Purvanchal. This is more than a third. Whether it was the 2007 elections, the 2012 elections or the 2017 elections, whichever party formed its government in the state has performed well in Purvanchal. If a party doesn’t do well in Purvanchal, it cannot come to power in the state. Purvanchal is important for all political parties. It has become even more crucial for the BJP this time because the party knows that due to the farmers’ movement, it will lose votes in western Uttar Pradesh. Western Uttar Pradesh is a Jat-dominated area. It has a substantial population of Muslims. Now, the Muslims won’t vote for the BJP. The Jats are angry, the farmers are angry. So, the BJP is bound to take a hit in western Uttar Pradesh. Now, to recompense for the losses, the BJP has been working hard in eastern Uttar Pradesh. See the number of rallies they held in the region. The Purvanchal Expressway was inaugurated. The BJP was hoping to make up for its losses in western Uttar Pradesh. But you will find that eastern Uttar Pradesh is the epicentre of what has been happening for the past few days. The leaders who have quit the BJP and have joined the SP are all from eastern Uttar Pradesh and all of them are Dalits or OBCs. These leaders and their communities have a popular base in eastern Uttar Pradesh. So now, even eastern Uttar Pradesh is not a cakewalk for the BJP. The party was bound to suffer in western Uttar Pradesh, and now the east is also proving to be a challenge.
The Bundelkhand region of the state is rarely talked about. But that too is important politically.
If it is not talked about, the reason is clear. The number of assembly constituencies in the portion of Bundelkhand that falls in Uttar Pradesh is very small. Moreover, no particular caste or community is influential there. It is a very small region, with only around 17-20 seats. This number is so small that it hardly makes any difference to the overall outcome. It is like the subsidiary papers we study for in schools and colleges. We think, well, it’s OK if we pass them; it’s OK if we don’t. All parties see Bundelkhand in this manner. In every election, eastern and western Uttar Pradesh are talked about. The number of seats in the west is less than in the east but still it is talked about because the number is sizeable. Elections are about seats. Western Uttar Pradesh is different because it has a substantial Muslim population and all parties – BSP, SP, Congress and BJP – have an almost equal presence here. But there is another party which has influence only in western Uttar Pradesh. At one time, it was a major player in the political arena. That party is Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which was led by Chaudhary Charan Singh. Now, Jayant Chaudhary is its leader. He is a Jat leader and Jats are in a majority in this region. Any talk about elections in Uttar Pradesh brings up its east and west. The rest of the regions are also discussed but they are not the focus. Among them, too, Bundelkhand is of the least consequence.
The voting starts on February 10. In your view, what can the BJP do to retain power in the state?
Two things – they (BJP leaders) are already doing it. You see, the narrative is clear. Elections are won and lost on the basis of votes. Who has won and who has lost is known only after the votes have been counted. But even before votes are cast, an atmosphere is created, a narrative is built. And in this respect, the BJP seems to be lagging behind. I am saying this only in terms of the atmosphere. Not a single vote has been cast, but the BJP is on the back foot. The general perception is that the SP is posing a stiff challenge to the BJP. In fact, the atmosphere seems to favouring the SP. The key reason is the recent developments – leaders deserting the BJP and joining the SP, especially leaders from Dalit and OBC castes. The SP is banking on this coalition. A narrative is being built around the Yadavs, the Extremely Backward Classes (EBC) and the Muslims – a narrative that the BJP government ignored the backward castes and their interests. This is a big narrative and its impact will be significant. The SP is using this narrative to tighten its grip on its voters. The narrative is building in favour of the SP.
What the BJP has to do is to challenge this narrative. I think the BJP will cause five-seven SP leaders to break ranks and welcome them into its fold with great fanfare. The general perception is that people tend to desert the sinking ship. They throng to the perceived winner. Now, this narrative is in SP’s favour. To demolish it, the BJP needs to engineer defections in the SP. The party is already trying to do that. Another strategy that the BJP may adopt is to deny tickets to a large number of sitting MLAs. That will help its claim that sitting MLAs have been told that a large number of them will not be renominated. And that whether it was Swami Prasad Maurya or Dara Singh or others – they knew that they wouldn’t be re-nominated and that was why they had to quit the party. “These people have no ethics. They are dishonest. Their politics is not value-based. Just see, we have denied tickets to 50 of our MLAs in our first list. They were also among those to be axed.” The BJP leaders would like to take this approach. The BJP will do both these things to puncture the pro-SP narrative. It will try to poach Yadav leaders or others from the SP. This will help it create an alternative narrative. The BJP holds these two trump cards and will want to play them.
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)