May 02, 2016

India: BJP's UP strategy [on 2017 assembly election] hinges on Hindutva and Most Backward Classes (Panini Anand in CatchNews, 2 May 2016)


BJP's UP strategy hinges on Hindutva and Most Backward Classes
Panini Anand @paninianand | 2 May 2016, 0:20 AM IST

With Uttar Pradesh slated to go to polls next year, Bharatiya Janata Party is already trying to formulate a strategy. The state, undoubtedly, is crucial in the party's scheme of things.

Two factors are central to the BJP's strategy for UP elections: Hindutva and caste.

On the one hand, the party needs to tilt the arithmetic of state's complex caste politics to its favour. On the other, it also aims to woo certain caste groups with its Hindutva agenda.

Most castes have been considered to be traditional vote banks of BJP's rival parties.

The premise of this two-pronged strategy is based on a 'make-and-break' principle. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the BJP, is likely to play a pivotal role in implementing this plan. The Sangh is apparently already active in carrying out this social engineering.

The gameplan bears close resemblance to the party's experiment during the Bihar elections. In that election last year, the BJP eyed the 'Most Backward Classes' votes and it plans to do the same in UP.

Though, the formula fell on its face in Bihar, party leaders believe the ground situation is different in UP.

In Bihar, Nitish Kumar is viewed as the messiah of Dalits. BJP clearly failed to eat into his backward class vote bank last year. However, UP does not have an undisputed leader of the marginalised classes. This makes BJP hopeful that it would be able to woo Dalits of UP.

Almost half of UP's population belongs to the backward classes, comprising more than 150 castes and sub-castes. Some such as the Yadavs, the Koiris, the Lodhs and the Kushwahas are politically significant.

Currently, the Yadav-dominated Samajwadi Party is currently in power. The other castes also wrestle equally for political influence. Such castes form around a fourth of UP's total voters.

This has led the BJP to give prominence to leaders from the most backward classes. Several of the party's faces assuming significant responsibilities are likely to be from the same castes in the near future.

As per BJP's calculations, it is already fairly strong among the upper castes. It also hopes to win a majority of urban votes. Although, it may find difficult to break BSP's hold among Dalit voters. Therefore, BJP is looking at this one-fourth chunk of the electorate to bolster its chances.

The second trump card on BJP's sleeves is the slogan of Hindutva. It can work to consolidate upper caste BJP voters while preventing them from swaying towards Congress and other parties.

The Congress is also seeking to revive its base among the forward castes. This makes it important for the BJP to hold on to this traditional vote bank. There is no better way to do so than evoke the Hindutva sentiment.

Second, Hindutva can fetch BJP votes from castes that are believed to be staunch supporters of other parties. The BJP-RSS aims to raise the issue of 'Gai, Ganga, Gayatri' along with the perceived 'appeasement' of minorities among Dalits in a major way. The party strategists hope the same ploy would attract the voters of other castes as well.

The RSS is likely to play the most important role in implementing this strategy. It has been actively working among Dalits of the state for quite some time. Sangh leader Dattatreya Hosabale has been given the charge of the state to carry forward this agenda of social engineering.

Strengthening the RSS among the weaker sections of the state is even a bigger priority for the current RSS leadership in UP. Many initiatives have recently been launched in this regard.

Some of the Prime Minister's recent statements also point towards the same strategy. He recently distributed 5,000 e-rickshaws in Noida. A majority of the beneficiaries were Dalits and those belonging to backward classes. Modi will repeat the same formula during his upcoming visit to Balia and Varanasi.

Working on Dalits and backward classes while keeping its upper caste vote bank intact, is only hope of victory for BJP in 2017 elections.

It remains to be seen whether the party is successful in its implementing this agenda, especially after the bitter experience in Bihar. Only time will tell whether the party's gameplan would prove to be a fiasco as in Bihar or if the combination of Hindutva and Dalit politics will pay any dividend.

Edited by Joyjeet Das