Ever since Amit Shah arrived in Uttar Pradesh around the Fall of 2013, the state has turned into the biggest enigma of Indian politics. The stunning thing is that the electorate isn’t moving, its politics seems to have become frozen in 2014.
40% for Modi, 50% for SP+BSP+Congress and 10% for ‘others’.
This is what happened in 2014 and this is exactly what was repeated in 2017.
A recent Jan ki Baat survey showed that the ‘favorability’ of the Mahagathbandhan was exactly 50% in Uttar Pradesh, i.e., the combined vote share of SP, BSP and Congress
This means that by far, Modi is the most popular man in Uttar Pradesh and the BJP is by far the most popular party. This is also stunning: not one voter seems to have had second thoughts since 2014 on any side of the aisle. Modi hasn’t lost a single voter since 2014 and neither have people on the other side.
The problem is now that Akhilesh and Mayawati have combined their votes, the BJP has to deal with the fact that not a single voter has been gained since 2014. Let alone the 5% shift required to breach the gap.
Mindful of this, the Prime Minister has started touring Uttar Pradesh with a zeal similar to 2013. This is his 3rd visit in 30 days: began with Noida in the West, then to lay the foundation for Purvanchal Expressway in the East and now to Shahjahanpur in Central UP. The crowds are there, you can see the enthusiasm unabated. It’s like 2013-14 all over again. Look in the eyes of the cheering crowds: Modi might be even more popular in Uttar Pradesh than in Gujarat.
But these are the converted: the ones who already supported Modi in 2014. Where are we going to find 5% more voters who will turn to BJP?
I don’t know and frankly, I think the answer is ‘no’. In Bihar, the BJP could not overcome the arithmetic lead of 5-6%. A gap of 10% seems out of reach.
But then UP and Bihar are different. In 2013, the BJP vote share climbed from 15% to 42% in a matter of months, a rise of 27%. The only comparable jump in BJP vote shares would have been in Tripura, where it rose by some 40%. Just imagine the sheer size and scale of Uttar Pradesh and you see what a miracle Amit Shah pulled off.
There are reasons why this could only have happened in Uttar Pradesh. First, the state has a traditional Ram Leher vote. It had been lying dormant for 15 years, put off by the apathy and lacklustre performance of the state BJP. Second, the state is much more urbanized when compared to Bihar. In Bihar, it is Mandal politics that runs in the veins, while in Uttar Pradesh it is Hindutva politics that has deep roots among the electorate.
With Bihar securely in the bag, it is all about Uttar Pradesh now. The first, low hanging fruit for the BJP is the voter turnout. Every pro-BJP voter has to be tapped and brought out to the voting booths. This is where the PM has to remind his supporters that the 20% will not be lazy on voting day. If you are favourable towards BJP and you don’t go out to vote, it will be on your conscience when the 20% get to trample you for the next 5 years.
Yeah, fear must be made a factor. It has to be.
The other side isn’t even deploying a single worker on the ground. They have long stopped doing rallies or public meetings. They are sitting comfortably in AC rooms and admiring the tap fittings they stole from their government bungalows. They are relaxing, secure in the knowledge that the arithmetic of alliance will do all their work for them.
This is where the Naamdar vs Kaamdar angle must be brought in. There is now enough evidence that ‘Naamdar’ is the new jibe that will replace ‘Shehzada’ from 2014.
Everybody can see Akhilesh’s strategy of playing it cosy now that he has an alliance locked up. Same with Rahul Gandhi who insists these days that Modi won’t even win Varanasi. While their confidence is not misplaced, their arrogance has to be exposed before the people.
Only Modi comes to the people. The others seal alliances in AC rooms.
The third major weapon is to saturate the state of Uttar Pradesh with welfare schemes. On this, the PM has spared no effort. I am no fan of big government socialist welfare schemes. But I am a really big fan of political survival. The BJP can get around to the work of changing the 70-year-old mai-baap Nehruvian mindset of the people some other time. Not in the election year.
The next weapon is to aggressively monetize Yogi’s ‘tough on crime’ image. Everybody remembers the goonda raj of the Akhilesh years. After Yogi arrived, criminals in the state began to fear for their lives for the first time in years.
The final and perhaps most crucial step is to search for the ‘national vote’ in Uttar Pradesh. This is a very interesting phenomenon that seems to exist only in this state. While most states have a ‘regional votebank,’ the state of Uttar Pradesh seems to have a special ‘national votebank.’ This is because the average person in UP is aware of the pre-eminent position of the state in national political consciousness. People of Uttar Pradesh are very secure about their place in the country. They are proud of it. There’s no regional sentiment to tap into. That’s why ‘UP ke ladke’ was such a flop.
Who could have thought that Congress would have got 22 seats from Uttar Pradesh in 2009? Zero organization. Zero cadres. But there was a nationwide pro-Congress mood and the voter went with it, leaving behind caste considerations. Of course, the BJP tapped into a similar national votebank five years later, winning a staggering 73/80!
The UP voter has to be reminded that he/she is the ultimate arbiter of who is going to rule the country. They are not voting for an MP or for a party. They vote for Prime Ministers. It is the UP voter who ushered in Modi sarkar with its 282 seat majority. The UP voter can replace it in 2019 with a tottering government, where parties cooperate on the seat sharing and compete on the looting.
More than anything else, it is karma vs laziness in 2019 in Uttar Pradesh.
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.