Saffronised Uttar Pradesh – Did secularism just take a step backward?

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What made the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, write a letter to the Prime Minister within a few days of Yogi Adityanath being sworn in as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh?

saffronised uttar pradesh
Photo: The Indian Express

It was insecurity and fear that his fellow Muslims were experiencing after the saffron party took reins of UP’s government. In his letter, seeking a safe environment for the Muslims, Bukhari mentioned the feeling of fear prevalent among the minority community in the state, which constitutes 20% of the state’s 220 million population. Yogi Adityanath’s hardline Hindutva image is giving jitters to many.

Within a week of Yogi assuming office, about a dozen slaughter houses were shut down and around 40 people arrested. As no other industry had been targetted so vehemently, Muslims felt singled out as they formed the bulk of the meat industry.

Moreover, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, founded in 2002 under Yogi’s tutelage, has become more fearless. In a recent incident, dozens of Yuva Vahini members rode through a Muslim neighbourhood near Lucknow, shouting slogans, wielding swords. Muslims in UP worry that the welfare of the minority community will be overtaken by radical Hindu agenda.

The health of the state, especially its communal and political well-being, has far reaching effect on the nation. No other state in the country presents as many caste and community groups as Uttar Pradesh does. No other state has given as many prime ministers to the country as UP has. And no other state holds as much political importance in national politics as UP’s weight. So, when the state went to poll, the country awaited the result with baited breath.

Rewinding back to March

The future of Indian politics changed radically overnight after the Uttar Pradesh electorate voted BJP back to power in the state. BJP’s unprecedented landslide victory put all the naysayers in the Dark Age.

In politics, merely believing in perceptions can be a dangerous game. The result of the UP state assembly elections has left many stunned beyond expectations. The pre-poll trend and forecasts went horribly wrong. Except a few, the media and trend watchers were grossly off the mark. With the poll outcome in reference, upon analysing the build-up campaigns and the gamut of dramatic events, several key points emerge giving a whiff of things to come. Two which stand out, are Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency – Varanasi and the Samajwadi Party’s high voltage family drama followed by Congress-SP alliance.

UP was not won in a day

Decades of masterful social engineering and playing on the religious sentiments laid down the road to BJP’s victory. Prior to the Mandal-Mandir equation, the BJP was barely afloat. The two events acted as a spring board for the saffron party.

Caste lines had divided the Hindu society. Building its agenda around Mandal and Mandir, BJP catapulted itself into a front runner. While Congress and Janta Dal (later on SP and BSP) were representing a few sections of the society, BJP brought together all Hindus in the name of Ram.

The more these parties tried to bring Muslims under their wings, the more unity was seen in Hindus, especially during election times. With each election, whether lost or won, BJP’s Hindu assertiveness grew as did the divide between Hindus and Muslims.

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Taking the developmental agenda along, Amit Shah’s master plan for UP included deftly planned moves to polarise the Hindus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three day camp in his parliamentary constituency Varanasi before the last phase of elections was one of them. Although the opponents saw it as a desperate act to save BJP from losing the state, it wasn’t so.

In the Lok Sabha elections 2014, PM Modi was elected from both his constituencies, Varanasi and Vadodara. In a well thought of move, he resigned as an MP from Vadodara and retained the religious and historically significant Varanasi seat.

People go to Varanasi to wash away their sins in the holy waters of Ganga and pilgrimage to the Kashi Vishvanath temple, one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiv temples. With PM making the city as his base, Hindu votes polarised as the city holds immense gravity for Hindu sentiments. Since the last phase of election had constituencies with densest population, the timing and place of PM’s stay in UP was flawless.

Washout performance by Congress

There is no denying the fact that the grand old party had hardly been in the political fray for a very long time, in Uttar Pradesh at least. In the same breath, the importance of Congress in the state’s political system is in need of no introduction. UP has long been janambhoomi and karambhoomi of the Nehru and Gandhi family. Sadly though, Congress has been facing embarrassing defeats in the state but none equalled the 2% seat share in the current assembly.

Poll strategist Prashant Kishore’s advice to woo the Brahmins fell flat on the face. Brahmins, along with the Dalit and Muslim votebank, were once the backbone of Congress. Unfortunately, today no one is standing with the party.

Dalits went with Bahujan Samaj Party and Muslims gradually distanced themselves from Congress in favour of tactical voting to keep BJP away. Since Congress’s decimation in UP in the late 1980s, Brahmins have voted for the party with best winning chances during each election. The idea to grab the influential community just prior to the elections added to the disenchantment people had been developing towards Congress. Migration of Congress’s most prominent Brahmin face, Rita Bahuguna Joshi to BJP left the party vulnerable.

Several other factors added to Congress’s poor performance. Gross lack of committed grassroot workers coupled with disconnection with the electorate along with relentless exclusion of development in Amethi and Rae Bareli, exposed the party’s organisational weaknesses.

Though Amethi and Rae Bareli have long been Congress bastions, the two constituencies could never be projected as role models for the development issues that the party always promised before each election. Rudely enough, it comes as no surprise that BJP got a sweeping victory in the twin cities, snatching 6 out of 10 seats.

But despite the above, Congress would not have fared as badly as it did had it not joined hands with the Samajwadi Party, especially after the latter’s much talked about family drama and split. Reflecting back, the two parties had never been on the same page. Just like his mentor, Ch. Charan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav never lost an opportunity to show his deep distrust in Congress and always shunned any electoral alliance with the national party.

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Confused by the alliance, voters strayed

The same distrust was held by Indira Gandhi which percolated down to the current party leadership. Congress’s UP campaign began with Rahul Gandhi’s maha padyatra and the slogan, “27 saal UP behaal”.

Roughly 11 years out of these were under SP rule. Once Akhilesh Yadav took reins of the SP and made it clear that he, not his father, is at the helm, Congress entered into a pre-poll alliance with the SP. Perhaps this undid all the rigorous efforts put in by Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders in build-up to the elections. Rahul and Akhilesh were together referred to as “UP ke ladke”. In their joint rallies and road shows, the two young leaders talked of taking UP forward, but the voters did not trust the alliance and both ended up going backwards.

Given each party’s past stance on the other, the voters got confused by the alliance as it was difficult for them to fathom whether to go by their pre-alliance animosity or post-alliance bhai-chara. The huge crowds present to hear the young leaders at their rallies, however misled and gave a false sense of acceptability to both Congress and SP. Shocking as it may seem now, the joint roadshows and the catchy election slogans were mere entertainments for the masses.

The punctured bicycle

Mulayam Singh Yadav may be blaming the media and people for Samajwadi Party’s loss, the party slipped because of bitter infighting and the power tussle between the father and the son.

The early days of Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure as CM were spent following in his father’s foot-steps. Later on, he started implementing his own agenda of change and development and clearing SP’s image of “goonda raj”.

Despite his popularity among the youth, Akhilesh lost his seat of power. Had he focused on his governance, the family feud would not have harmed him as much as it did. Akhilesh did patchwork development, just before the elections. Other than building expressways and inaugurating high value industrial and infrastructure projects, his agenda always focussed on Muslims and Yadavs. Tales of deteriorating law and order situation from the bad lands of UP and the patronage of Yadavs in government jobs, put holes in his governance.

What he failed to assess was that minority politics will not work in Uttar Pradesh. By just focussing on Yadav and Muslim vote bank, the consolidated Hindu votebank got neglected. The SP, and earlier the BSP, did very little for Hindus on the whole. A recent visit to Ayodhya opened my eyes towards the neglect the holy city has faced in the hands of SP and BSP for the past decade. The city is in shambles due to negligible development and poor infrastructure.

Gorakhpur politics

When Yogi Adityanath, Mahant of Gorakhnath Math, was declared the Chief Minister, it sent a wave of surprise across UP and beyond. Yogi has always been known for his strong Hindutva philosophy and fiery anti-Muslim rhetoric. The support he got for the CM’s chair, raises many doubts about the decision as the state is home to a sizeable proportion of India’s Muslim population.

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Adityanath has been the sitting MP of the eastern UP city of Gorakhpur since 1998. Although he has been at loggerheads with the BJP brass for many years, choosing him for CM office was tactical. He has appeal across castes. Being a Thakur, he has the support of Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus.

The Gorakhpur peeth has a large following amongst the backward castes, especially Yadavs and the Dalit community. This is a well-planned move by the BJP before the 2019 general elections. The Hindu brigade is happy with the appointment of Yogi and the party hopes to ride the majoritarianism wave.

Completing a month, Yogi’s government is busy crossing agendas off the BJP’s election manifesto. Keeping the “gau rakhsha” promise, his government cracked down on illegal slaughter houses. Formation of anti-romeo squads towards women safety, flagging off mobile ICU ambulances, putting a stop to using sirens and hooters atop VIP vehicles, have all been in line with the party agenda.

Noteworthy achievements include farm loan waiver of small and marginal farmers and ensuring 18-hours of continuous electricity to rural areas. The Yogi government is coming down heavily on corruption and has instructed all ministers to declare their incomes and assets. The state bureaucracy has been given a strong message to work for the welfare of the people and not for any individual or political outfit.

Going ahead on “sabka saath, sabka vikas”, Yogi is trying to rid his image of Hindutva baggage. Since his accession to the CM’S chair, the Hindu Yuva Vahini has been doing rounds of power show. He has advised the cadres of World Hindu Federation and Hindu Yuva Vahini against vigilantism and take law in to their hands as the latter have been doing in the past.

Regional players rejected, UP needs a strong opposition

The SP patron blamed the voters for being befooled by BJP but in reality, with the power of social media, the voters are smarter, more aware and motivated than ever before. There was a sharp increase in the number of women voters, especially in Muslim dominated constituencies, which according to some community leaders was to favour BJP’s promise of ending the practice of triple talaq.

The UP election outcome showed the power of a unified majority. The electorate rejected SP and BSP, both strong regional parties having a specific vote base. The outcome has also cast disastrous doubts on the way Congress is turning out to be. Despite the mounting disenchantment with the Congress, only a national party like Congress can save India’s democracy from being sabotaged from turning into rule by one.

Yogi Adityanath may have achieved success on a few issues in the first month, but will he work with equal zeal for the minority community, is a question hanging in the future. His statement keeps resonating time and again, “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu rashtra.”

(Views expressed here are the author’s own and Janta Ka Reporter doesn’t subscribe to them)

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