Portents of UP Elections

THE Uttar Pradesh assembly election has resulted in an unprecedented sweep for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP with its smaller allies has won 325 out of the 403 seats and polled 41.4 percent of the vote which is just fractionally lower than the percentage polled in the Lok Sabha election.

It is important to understand how the BJP has achieved this success if a coherent political platform and alternative to the BJP has to be worked out. There are a number of ideas being put out in the corporate media and by political commentators which speak of a tectonic shift in Indian politics; Modi as a new leader of the people in the Indira Gandhi style; of how Modi has appropriated the mantle of a pro-poor leader and how Modi and the BJP have nullified caste based politics and so on.

Much of this analysis exaggerates or distorts the elements which went into the BJP’s electoral success. Some of it ignores or underplays the communal consolidation that has taken place, while some of it is hagiography meant to build up a Modi cult.

The fact that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah could replicate the sweep of the victory in the Lok Sabha election in both scale and intensity shows that the Hindu communal consolidation combined with a wide ranging caste coalition which was cemented with a communal nationalist appeal, has worked this time too. Modi continues to retain his appeal as a strong Hindu nationalist leader who can deliver on development. But this latter aspect is also coded with a majoritarian appeal.

The Lok Sabha election in May 2014 was preceded by a year and a half of communal riots in various parts of UP culminating in the September 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The communal polarisation in Western UP continued and was manifested in this assembly election too. Contrary to some forecasts that the communal divide has weakened with the Jats deserting the BJP, the results have shown that in the first two phases of the election which covered most of Western UP, the BJP won 116 of the 140 seats that went to the polls.

The consolidation of the Hindu vote underpinned by the caste arithmetic of upper castes, non Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav scheduled castes led to this overwhelming result in all phases of the election.

Just as in the Lok Sabha election, but even more blatantly, the Modi-Shah duo indulged in communal rhetoric with reference to kabaristan and shamshan and branding the opposition as KASAB. The “vikas” promised by Modi had also communal connotations – the propaganda that distribution of electricity was biased in favour of Muslim areas. The promise being that appeasement of this sort in terms of development would stop under BJP rule.

Though the SP and the BSP are essentially regional parties of Uttar Pradesh, however, they have no regional identity and there is no regionalised politics in the state. People of UP see themselves not as part of any distinct regional-state identity but in national terms. They are thus more susceptible to the national appeal. In this case, the communal message was embedded within a nationalist appeal. So whether it was the surgical strike across the LoC or the demonetisation of currency it was pitched as in the vital interests of the nation.

The main non-BJP parties – SP and BSP who have together more than 44 percent of the vote – had no counter to this communal-nationalist platform and to Modi’s economic policies. The narrow caste identity politics and their competitive wooing of the Muslim vote could not match the overarching appeal of Hindu nationalism which cut across caste lines.

While the working people, farmers, agricultural workers, workers in the unorganised sector, small shopkeepers and artisans were reeling under the attack on their livelihoods and incomes after demonetisation, these parties did not organise protests and mobilise the people to defend their rights. They confined themselves to issuing statements and making speeches in parliament. Thus, Modi’s projection of demonetisation as a strike against black money, which is mainly in the hands of the rich, dominated the discourse.

Further the record of the Samajwadi Party government in dealing with agrarian distress, the problems of sugarcane farmers and the growing unemployment was dismal. Without an alternative economic policy agenda, the people of UP saw no difference in the “vikas” platform of Akhilesh Yadav and Narendra Modi. Modi’s “vikas” slogan was more potent as it was being raised by the prime minister of India who, many believe, can still get things done.

The UP verdict has also underscored the necessity for alliances of political parties against the BJP being forged on the basis of common programmes and policies. The abject failure of the SP-Congress alliance is a pointer.

What the UP verdict underlines is the requirement of a clear cut alternative political and ideological platform to the BJP and the RSS. This requires both a political alternative to the Hindu communal agenda and an alternative policy platform to the neoliberal policies. The muscular Hindu nationalism has to be countered by a firm secular, anti-imperialist nationalism.

The victory of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh marks the continuation of the rightwing offensive which began in the country after the Lok Sabha election. The fusion of neoliberalism and Hindutva will get further cemented. This presages more attacks on secular values, freedom of expression and democratic rights. The growing authoritarianism will need to be resisted and fought back through united movements in all spheres.

The task of rallying all Left and democratic forces around an alternative programme has become urgent. This requires the building of the unity of all mass organisations, democratic organisations and social movements. A broad platform encompassing all these forces needs to be built up. It is by forging such a broad unity and developing united mass movements that the masses, including those who have been swayed by the communal-nationalist appeal, can be brought into the battle for secular democracy and social and economic justice.

 

(March 15, 2017)

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