A leader is only as good as the electorate. And the electorate is only as good as the prevailing discourse. When the news studios in Noida were buzzing with Akhilesh Yadav’s “Kaam bolta hai” ads, a completely different ballgame was taking place in Uttar Pradesh:
For the last two decades, SP and BSP have ruled the state in tandem. They have used identity politics to their best advantage. SP has made Muslims its core consistency, while BSP has tried to use the community as a useful add-on.
The picture above does not represent even a fraction of the ‘Muslim politics’ that has been played by ‘Maulana’ Mulayam. And before you restrict the charge of spoiling the discourse to SP, it is important to know a little something about BSP.
Left-liberals love celebrating the political empowerment of the ‘bahujan’ samaaj. It is a commendable feat, no doubt. But even this came at the price of spoiling discourse (and dividing the ‘Hindu’ society). Chants of “Tilak (Brahmin), Taraju (Vaishya), aur Talwar (Kshatriya) – inko maaro joote chaar” used to resonate across the state. And still do.
When Mayawati realised that she can never get a clear majority without expanding her social base, she reached out to the Brahmins and the Muslim community. And the experiment worked. The famous slogan was “Haathi nahi, Ganesh hai, Brahma Vishnu Mahesh Hai!” In the run up to 2017 assembly elections, many BSP rallies used to start with recital of Quranic verses.
So here is a little something about identity politics: you cannot pick and choose. You cannot fault the ‘Hindu’ electorate for asserting its identity, after living through 20 years of ‘Muslim’ politics.
And while we are at it, what has worked for the BJP in UP is the purest version of Hindu consolidation. A non-Brahmin Yogi Adityanath (of the Thakur caste), from a Math which is always headed by a non-Brahmin, represents the consolidation.
This inclusion based Hindutva politics is not just limited to the OBCs. Since last few years, BJP has made every effort to win the confidence of the Dalit community, and the results can be seen across the states. Politics of Mandal has been left behind, and the Prime Minister has gone on record to state that even if Ambedkar was to come alive and demand a change, reservation policy will not be tweaked.
Students of University of Hyderabad, and their ideological compatriots across campuses may not be fully on board yet, but if you really want to understand the mandate, you have to see the sentiments in the actual battleground. The first (read: internal) battle of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas” has been largely won.
The effort here is not to justify Yogi’s elevation. It makes many of us here in cities like Delhi, uncomfortable. But rather, the effort is to analyse why it has happened.
Yogi was the top-most campaigner of the party in these elections. And his victory has further been well received by most BJP voters in UP. If you think the voters have been ‘fooled’, you are wrong. For if that was the case, then there would be a set arithmetic to win elections. Reality is, some combinations work, and some don’t. Just about everyone in UP understands, and participates in politics. They knew what was being offered. And the fact that national media did not, goes on to demonstrate just how ‘national’ it really is. If anyone has been fooled, it is the spectators, who have been watching from the sidelines.
Any government which breaches the Constitution loses the right to be in office. Our judiciary, and media is as hostile as it can be, to the present dispensation. If you think a government will get away with exclusionary governance, you are only spreading fear. This plain and simple fact, and Yogi’s personal ambitions, will ensure that he remains a moderate figure, while in government. The moment he oversteps the line, he will be stopped. And if you have followed his latest statements, and decisions (over the course of last two days), you will be able to notice the change.
Representation, and governance are two separate issues in UP’s political discourse. Both Akhilesh and Modi contested on the plank of governance, but what set them apart was identity politics, and the fact that Modi’s governance was more trustworthy only made the choice easier. BJP has surely convinced a minute percentage of the population to surrender its identity, but UP results have proven that politics of identity (coupled with a veto, based on performance) is here to stay.
The hypothesis which Yogi Adityanath has to prove now, is that “Vikaas” (economic development), and “Hindutva” can co-exist. If he is successful in doing that, then the Bharatiya Janata Party will remain undefeatable for many years to come.