January 25, 2017

India - 2017 UP Assembly elections: For BJP, all bets are off in western U.P.

The Hindu - Badayun: January 25, 2017

For BJP, all bets are off in western U.P. 

In western U.P.’s district courts, upper caste lawyers are divided.

In Barkheda village of Badayun, agitated villagers pounce on me to complain that instead of four-time BJP MLA Ram Sewak Patel, the Bharatiya Janata Party has selected businessman Mahesh Gupta, “an outsider”. Sher Singh Chauhan, a young BJP worker, and Satbir Singh Chauhan, a VHP activist, are the most vocal in this Thakur-dominated village, where all — including Valmikis and Mauryas — but the Muslims are likely BJP voters.
“Ram Sewakji will fight as an Independent,” Satbir Singh says. “He is the Hindutva face here; the RSS also wanted Patel but didn’t succeed in prevailing on the BJP leadership. We’ll all work for him.” Suddenly, his mobile phone rings — Ram Sewak has got the Shiv Sena ticket, he announces, and a cheer goes up.
Saying that Mr. Patel’s fellow Kurmis, traditionally BJP-backers, will shift with him, Satbir Singh claims that Kurmis in the neighbouring Shekhupur seat, too, will vote against the BJP.
Less than an hour later, in Konar, also in Badayun, the majority Jatavs are rooting for the Bahujan Samaj Party. But the village also has Khatiks and Dhobis, Dalit communities who traditionally back the BJP. As I talk to the Jatavs, an SUV sweeps in: the BJP’s Naresh Singh Patel, a Kurmi, jumps out. He has come to seek votes for not the BJP but the Shiv Sena. Why?
“[BJP president] Amit Shah had promised to select candidates on the basis of a survey. That hasn’t been done; the BJP won’t get a majority,” an angry Mr. Patel says. “Modiji ka hawa nikal gaya (Modi’s balloon has been punctured).”
As I drive through western U.P., I find similar stories of young dynasts or of “outsiders” — such as the party-hopping Avtar Singh Badana, a Gujjar millionaire from Haryana’s Faridabad — getting ticket, of effigies of Mr. Shah being burnt or of protests being staged.
Indeed, the BJP did not need irate party workers at this stage. The Hindu-Muslim polarisation that powered the BJP to a sweep in the 2014 general elections in U.P. is muted, the high the party experienced after last year’s surgical strikes against Pakistan has evaporated with demonetisation. Today, the party’s old core voters are intact, but there is some attrition in the two sections that it was hoping would see it through — upper castes and the most backward castes.
In Budhana in Muzaffarnagar, a large section of Jat farmers are with the BJP, but some are considering other options. “With demonetisation, the BJP has hurt everyone; farmers like us have been destroyed. We’ll vote for Ajit Singh’s party,” said Balbir Singh.
In western U.P.’s district courts, upper caste lawyers are divided. And Kulbhushan Shatma, a Brahmin, is clear, “The BJP is on the wane.”
The RSS that worked very hard in 2014, appear to be more relaxed now. Kamal Purwar in Bareilly backs Sangh spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya’s controversial statement on the need to end reservation (even though similar remarks by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat before the Bihar polls damaged the BJP’s support base among the MBCs ).