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Posted at: Apr 24, 2019, 6:48 AM; last updated: Apr 24, 2019, 6:48 AM (IST)

Hindutva, nationalism haven’t overrun UP

Radhika Ramaseshan

Radhika Ramaseshan
The gathbandhan has made an impact on the ground, despite the belief that a non-BJP coalition, of which it could be a key element, looked untenable. In stark contrast to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, local issues have converged with larger planks this time to a point where the regional has overruled the national.
Hindutva, nationalism haven’t overrun UP
Focus: Akhilesh Yadav (left) and Ajit Singh have taken exceptional care to position Mayawati as the gathbandhan’s centrepiece.

Radhika Ramaseshan
Senior journalist

IT is manifestly clear at this juncture that in Uttar Pradesh, the allure and ambit of Hindutva fused with ‘nationalism’ are restricted by a competitive social coalition strung together by the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), with the Congress jockeying for space here and there. The BJP has used every tactic and symbol to ramp up the reach of Hindutva ‘nationalism’, the latest being the projection and vindication of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon bombings. The BJP pitted Pragya against Digvijaya Singh of the Congress from Bhopal, hoping that Singh’s audacious statements and diatribes against ‘saffron terror’ would serve as an ideological counterpoint against its argument that she was ‘wronged’ by the Congress government and would seek exculpation through a ‘popular’ mandate.

Pragya was not yet a talking point in UP, unlike the saffron-robed Uma Bharti. Both hail from Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal region, but early on in her career, Uma Bharti left deep footprints over the Hindi heartland on the back of a lead role in the Ram temple agitation. Pragya tried to emulate Uma Bharti by claiming participation in the Babri mosque’s demolition. Again, her averment was unlikely to cut ice because the BJP itself abandoned the temple in its discourse in the ongoing elections.  

The bare-boned reality is that in UP, caste could trump the catch-all Hindu alliance that the BJP forged in 2014 and 2017, principally on the strength of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s novelty (in the popular imagination, he drew his cachet from being an ‘exemplar’ Chief Minister of a ‘model’ state, Gujarat), charisma and expectations of a clean break from the ‘corruption and decadence’ which the preceding United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was identified with.

The Modi ‘wave’ has palpably diminished, although to the BJP’s hard-core constituents and supporters, he has become an alias for the party itself. No other leader’s name was mentioned if a conversation centred on the BJP. Not even Rajnath Singh, the Home Minister who once was the UP Chief Minister. In Rampur, when directions to the BJP’s office were sought, people on the streets asked, “Are you looking for Modi’s karyalaya?” Nobody mentioned the BJP or its candidate, Jaya Prada, a film star who normally ought to stand out in her own right. As doubts and questions were raised over the litany of ‘achievements’ that the Modi government claimed, including the airstrikes in Pakistan, the scepticism was qualified by two significant observations: the government had drawbacks and did not fulfil several promises, but in the circumstances, Modi was still regarded as India’s white hope who ‘deserved’ another chance to acquit himself.  Second, even those who claimed they would vote for the SP-BSP-RLD gathbandhan added that the odds for Modi’s return ranged from ‘60 to 70 per cent’. 

Notwithstanding such stipulations, the gathbandhan has made an impact on the ground, despite the belief that a non-BJP coalition, of which it could be a key element, looked untenable. In stark contrast to the last Lok Sabha elections, where the only imperative was to vote out the Congress and vote in Modi, this time local issues have converged with larger planks to a point where the regional has overruled the national. When the process of conflation happened, Modi receded a bit into the background and the alleged shortcomings of an incumbent MP became the yardstick to determine a choice. Most BJP faithfuls still believe that the candidate did not matter even in these elections but those that had voted MPs such as Sanjeev Balyan (Muzaffarnagar), Hema Malini (Mathura), Satya Pal Singh (Baghpat) and Kanwar Singh Tanwar (Amroha) and are ‘unhappy’ with them thought that ultimately,  their representatives were far more important than installing a PM.

Perhaps the most telling markers of why the high noon of Hindutva has waned over five years are the unmistakable enthusiasm with which the Dalits rooted for BSP president Mayawati, and the hard work that her foot soldiers put in on the ground and the absence of a reference to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, celebrated as the Sangh Parivar’s new Hindutva icon, except with negative connotations. The SP’s Yadavs and the RLD’s Jats were energetic and excited but at some places, the twinning of Hindutva with ‘nationalism’ evoked memories of the Modi of 2014 and threw up a dilemma on whether abandoning the BJP was prudent. In the last elections, by the BSP’s and SP’s admission, they had lost ‘30 to 40 per cent’of their votes to the BJP. 

Adityanath’s name was adversely received. From banning the sale of unproductive bovines, to a shortage of cattle care centres and allowing cattle unbridled access to graze on fields and ruin standing crops, the complaints against the CM flowed thick and fast, almost as though UP was fighting an Assembly and not a parliamentary election. Indeed, at some places, people who were not necessarily SP backers fondly remembered the ‘development’ work that Adityanath’s predecessor Akhilesh Yadav had done and remarked remorsefully that he ought not to have been rejected conclusively in 2017. 

Perhaps the gathbandhan’s biggest strength was coalescing historically antagonistic castes not as a notional coalition but as a workable long-term partnership. At most places, the gathbandhan’s offices were aflutter with the flags of the trio and humming with the presence of activists from each of the parties, regardless of whether the candidate was from the BSP, SP or the RLD. The BJP had hoped that the coalition would collapse under the burden of its inherited contradictions and bouts for one-upmanship.

However, Akhilesh and RLD leader Ajit Singh have taken exceptional care to position Mayawati as the gathbandhan’s centrepiece. The gathbandhan has worked discreetly to ensure that the election does not get communally polarised again. Not a single maulana or moulvi issued the edicts that Muslims were used to receiving on the eve of polling. It’s the silence of the underdog against the roar of the BJP’s lion.


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