The reason why the UP election results in May were a showpiece for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was that they represented, in the party's opinion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's continuing forward march.
The reason why the UP election results in May were a showpiece for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was that they represented, in the party’s opinion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continuing forward march. Yet, the overblown nature of this self-congratulatory assessment will be evident if the outcome of the five elections which took place at the time are taken into consideration. A more realistic picture will be available if all the results are taken together, for it will show that the original verdict was 3-2 in the Congress’s favour with an outright win in Punjab and emerging as the largest party in Goa and Manipur. It is another matter that what the Congress won in the swings, it lost in the roundabouts because a nimble-footed BJP managed to lure away a sufficient number of MLAs to its side to rob the Congress of its No.1 position in the Goa and Manipur assemblies. But if the BJP had been humble enough to look at the results in their entirety, then it might not have gloated over its success in UP. That election was one which the BJP could not but win because its principal opponent, the Samajwadi Party (SP), had shot itself in the foot via its internal factional battles. It was the belief, however, that the BJP had decimated the opposition in the country’s largest state which apparently made the party commit what may turn out to be a fateful mistake by choosing one of the most hawkish of the hardliners to be the Chief Minister.
True, Yogi Adityanath has toned down some of his utterances in deference to Modi’s “development for all” rhetoric. But it is as an administrator that his inadequacies have come to the fore, thereby showing that devotion to the saffron cause may give a leg-up while climbing the official ladder, but it doesn’t help in running the government. Since law and order in UP has always been dismal, it will be unfair to blame the present government for its failures on this count. But what has attracted countrywide attention are the deaths of scores of children in the state’s hospitals. Considering that UP once witnessed a Rs 9,000 crore (over $1 billion) scam in connection with a rural health programme when two Chief Medical Officers were killed and their deputy died in custody, the latest tragedy may appear to be a part of a dreadful pattern. But its hurtful impact on the Chief Minister and his party cannot be denied. To make matters worse, the upsurge of student demonstrations in Banaras Hindu University (BHU) over what the Vice Chancellor initially dismissed as an incident of eve-teasing has been seen as yet another evidence of dissatisfaction with the ruling dispensation. The unrest in BHU has followed the defeat of the BJP’s affiliate, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), in student union elections in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Hyderabad University, Gauhati University and elsewhere.
The Vice Chancellor’s ouster has been sought by, among others, the National Commission for Women, but a BJP government can hardly be expected to remove someone with a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) background. There is little doubt, however, that episodes such as these have deprived the BJP of much of the sheen of its victory in less than six months. The party will be wary, therefore, of the reports that the rift in the SP between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav has healed. It is the rupture between father and son which had contributed largely to the BJP’s success by undermining its biggest challenger. But it isn’t only the reconciliation which will be of concern to Yogi Adityanath and Co. Of even greater worry will be the possibility of the SP under Akhilesh teaming up with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to take on the BJP. Akhilesh has been talking of such an alliance for quite some time although his father is against it. But now that the son is fully in control of the party, a tie-up between the SP and the BSP is a distinct possibility, not least because the two know that the BJP cannot be unseated otherwise.
The SP-BSP combination’s advantage is that their combined vote share of 44 per cent in the last assembly election — the SP 21.8 and the BSP 22.2 — is higher than the BJP’s 39.7 per cent. If the Congress’s 6.3 per cent is added to the SP-BSP’s 44, then the trio becomes a formidable force. It was only to be expected, therefore, for Yogi Adityanath to turn to building a 100-metre tall statue of Lord Ram on the banks of the Saryu river to boost the BJP’s fortunes. Since he appears incapable of providing efficient governance, recourse to religion to consolidate the Hindu vote is the only way out for the Chief Minister and his party. There are also reports that he will be fielded by the BJP as a campaigner in the upcoming elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat to rev up the party’s position with a strong dose of Hindutva at a time when the economic slowdown has robbed Modi’s ‘vikas’ (development) slogan of much of its appeal. The BJP has probably never felt the need for a saffron hawk more than at present.
By Amulya Ganguli
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.)