Perception matters. It matters a hell lot in politics. For, if you are on the losing side of a perception war, even your well-crafted edifice of social alignments begins to crumble. And, side by side as a by-product, all the non-committed, floating voters start making a beeline in support of the party that’s perceived to be the prospective winner. That’s precisely what had happened in Mamata Didi’s West Bengal earlier this year.
And, don’t be surprised if a somewhat similar scenario is re-enacted across the volatile but green landscape of Western Uttar Pradesh where farmers are now calling all the shots aggressively. Mind you, the agitating farmers appear to be a lot more united than ever before. The hangovers of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots have more or less evaporated into thin air. And all caste and communal barriers are beginning to crumble.
Perhaps, that was why you could hear simultaneous rants of “Allahu Akbar and Har Har Mahadev” by attendees at the venue of the farmers’ mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar this Sunday. The rally was a secular affair. And indeed, it was a great perception-building exercise.
Remember, BJP’s spectacular successes in 2014, 2017 and 2019 elections were attributed, to a large extent, to communal polarization and social engineering that had come about naturally in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s Muzaffarnagar mega show was significant for three more reasons: First, the organisers of the rally looked determined enough to recreate Choudhary Charan Singh’s MAJGAR that had the capacity sweep elections like a cakewalk for three decades from 1960s to 1980s in Western UP.
But let’s first get to know what’s MAJGAR all about? In socio-political terms, it stands for a combination of Muslims, Ahirs, Jats, Gujars and Rajputs. It’s an unbeatable political combination of social forces. Standing atop this edifice, Charan Singh even rose to be the prime minister of India for a while
People from all these dominant castes as also Dalits took part in the rally. The presence of even Rajputs at the show must have surprised even the organizers.
Second, almost all the leaders of the rally weren’t vague in attacking the men at the helm of affairs in both New Delhi and Lucknow.
They were, in fact, quite sharp. Without mincing words, they said: “The country has been put up for sale …….. Public sector establishments from ports to airports and from highways to railways are being given away to private corporates …… Unemployment is on the rise. Prices of essential commodities are going through the roof …….. And farmers and labourers are dying. Unitedly, we shall oppose these anti-farmer, anti-people rulers, come what may.”
It was clear to everybody that, in real electoral terms, they would all vote for whosoever emerges as the main challenger to the BJP.
And third, The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) also disclosed some of its future plans: They would organise a complete Bharat Bandh on September 27. And they would also hold Muzaffarnagar-type rallies at Varanasi, Gorakhpur and Lucknow.
Without saying so in as many words, they made it clear that they were aiming at dislodging the BJP from power both at Lucknow and New Delhi. That’s why they are about to stage rallies in central and eastern UP as well. But the SKM wouldn’t put up its candidates in the polls.
Little wonder then that Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief, looked at ease in his party office in Lucknow. He knows that he happens to be the main challenger to the BJP. And he hopes that all the Kisan votes would fall into his lap.
But is it all that easy? No, perhaps not. To understand the complexities of UP politics better, let’s now go beyond the boundaries of mere perception and, instead, focus on some of the stark political realities of the day: First, the BJP happens to be armed with the best election winning machinery. It has incomparable manpower, muscle and other resources at its command. It has already stitched up its alliances. And it’s moving ahead unitedly.
All the “misunderstandings” that were there between New Delhi and Lucknow leaderships look buried. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Adityanath Yogi are now moving in tandem to win the UP elections.
Reality number two is that Yogi is an honest man individually. He is hard-working and leads a simple, austere life despite the trappings of chief ministership. This is so very important in a state that has also been known for its level of corruption from top to bottom.
The author is a senior journalist and a former Resident Editor of The Times of India. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.