Elections in Uttar Pradesh may be a few months away but the Bharatiya Janata Party appears to have taken a leap over other political parties in preparing for the polls.
A heady cocktail of Hindutva, OBCs, development achieved and promised, and welfare schemes are being prepared by the ruling party to lull voters into forgetting their harrowing experiences during the rampaging second wave of Covid-19. Such is the confidence that after winning the zila panchayat elections, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced, “We will win more than 300 seats” in 2021.
The BJP’s immediate focus is on winning OBCs while simultaneously pushing its religious agenda to emotionally connect with voters. Caste equations took the centre stage after three Other Backward Classes (OBC) MPs and three Dalits were inducted into the Union ministry. The party now plans to connect with the backward class voters by holding OBC conventions at Ayodhya, Varanasi, and Mathura.
These are important religious places for BJP’s bigger game-plan. After the demolition of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya and the start of a Ram temple construction, the party and the VHP’s eyes are on the mosques adjoining the Kashi Vishwanath temple at Varanasi and the Krishna Janmbhoomi at Mathura. The Kashi Vishwanath issue is already on a simmer with the Allahabad High Court reserving its verdict on pleas challenging the “archaeological survey” of the temple complex ordered by a lower court.
Narendra Kashyap, president of BJP’s OBC Morcha, is reported to have explained that to get over 350 out of 403 seats in the 2022 elections, the party was trying to reach out to all the communities, including OBCs, which have supported the BJP in the past.
The party leadership is not stopping at that. Assured that the upper castes won’t drift away, it is still going all out to get OBC votes. The death of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh was also being used to attract OBC votes with an ‘asthi kalash yatra’ — procession with urns containing the departed leader’s ashes. The architect of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement demolition, who passed away on August 21, was a tall Lodh leader. After immersion of his ashes in the Ganga at Narora’s Basi Ghat, the remaining ashes are to be immersed at Kashi, Haridwar, and in Saryu at Ayodhya. The urns will also be taken to all divisional headquarters. During the yatra, the former chief minister will be projected as an OBC leader and a Hindutva icon.
On the Hindutva front, the government has also armed itself with the Cow Slaughter Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2020, Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversions Act, 2020, and a population policy incentivizing two-child norm. It has initiated steps to boost religious tourism in the state. Meat and liquor have been banned in Mathura and the development of Chitrakoot, and Vindhyachal have been fast-tracked.
The Samajwadi Party trashed BJP’s claims on the state’s progress and argued that development has been stalled. A senior leader of the SP, Rajendra Chaudhary, said that people have already decided to make Covid-19 mismanagement a big poll issue. Denying that his party was slow-footed in making preparations for the coming elections, Chaudhary said that the SP has been quietly gearing up for the fight.
When pointed out that the SP’s claim of winning 400 seats was unrealistic given the BJP’s strength and poll readiness, Chaudhary recalled that the Congress too was strongly placed in 1977 but it lost all 85 parliamentary party seats in UP.
Congress spokesperson Surendra Rajput asked, “What have they done in the last five years other than to prepare for elections?” He said, “They are flush with money. Look at the way UP government ads are placed in every train of Delhi Metro,” and called the BJP “mayavi” (illusory). Alleging that the BJP even used President Ram Nath Kovind for Dalit votes, Rajput said that the Congress was doing issue-based politics. “It may appear weak but it alone was visible during the pandemic,” he pointed out.
BJP’s spokesperson Sameer Singh had two questions for Akhilesh Yadav and Congress. How many times did Akhilesh go to Kannauj and Azamgarh and wasn’t Congress in power in Rajasthan where students were told to leave during the pandemic. From Punjab, migrant laborers were driven out, Singh alleged. He said BJP’s focus was on development and welfare and not caste or religion.
The Opposition may be able to dismiss most of BJP’s claims as part of the work on many of the projects was done during Akhilesh Yadav’s government, but it will find it tough to counter social welfare schemes like the Ujjwala 2.0, which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the second week of August by distributing free LPG connections to ten women in Mahoba in the backward district of Bundelkhand.
The ceremony was reminiscent of Ujjwala 1.0 which was launched from Ballia in 2016, a year before the 2017 UP Assembly elections in which women in Eastern UP were supposed to have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the BJP. With Ujjwala 2.0, the party expects to consolidate its position in Bundelkhand. However, with LPG prices hitting the roof, voters may not bite the bait this time around. Therefore, the BJP will have to rely on Hindutva and OBCs to retain its hold on UP.