UP elections: BJP looks to make a mark in Hindi heartland

A lot is at stake for the BJP in the UP polls, as it seeks to reverse a slide in the Hindi heartland that ironically began immediately after the demolition of Ayodhya’s Babri mosque 24 years ago. Today, it seeks to win back a majority by moving away from the ‘hardline’ Hindutva plank.

The new-look party, riding on PM Narendra Modi’s ‘vikas purush’ image, anxiously awaits the political impact of the post-note ban sentiment in UP’s poll fray where Modi is seeking to counter ‘UP ke ladke’ (SP-Cong alliance leaders Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi) saying ‘god liya ladka’ (adopted son) would do so better than the real one.

The currency ban is likely to play a part in UP polls with BJP justifying the move in national interest and most non-BJP parties united in opposing the move as ‘cruel, and anti-poor.’ “The first two rounds of polling that included several minority dominated regions has proved that note ban is seen as a move in national interest,” says RSS man turned BJP leader Chandramohan. As polls move from west UP to east and central UP, BJP chief Amit Shah appears increasingly confident of his party’s win in UP – a win that he claims would justify demonetisation.

“Despite hardships, the poor are backing Modi as the intentions are honest. Pitted against us is a scared opposition resorting to lies and half-truth. The recent court order directing UP police to register FIR against minister Gayatri Prajapati is enough to expose the UP government,” says UP BJP general secretary Vijay Bahadur Pathak.

The BJP’s best years in UP – from 1980 to 1991 – were when the mosque was intact, helping the party capitalise the temple sentiment through powerful OBC leaders leaders like Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar.

Riding on slogans like ‘mandir-wahi-banayenge’ (temple will be built at the same place) BJP continued to grow – 11 lawmakers in 1980 to 16 in 1985 and 57 in 1989 – before the high point – 221 lawmakers and a majority government under Kalyan Singh in 1991.

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The demolition in 1992 led to the dismissal of Kalyan government. It has been a downhill journey for the BJP since then; 177 lawmakers in 1993, 174 in 1996, 88 in 2002, 51 in 2007 and to its lowest tally post demolition – 47 MLAs in 2012 with 15% votes.

The party for the first time would enter into the forthcoming UP polls under the leadership of Modi and Shah, who have, after the party’s phenomenal show in 2014 Lok Sabha, now set their eyes on ending their drought in the most populous state.

In terms of votes polled in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP stood first in 328 assembly segments – a statistic that UP BJP chief Keshav Prasad Maurya, who has given the slogan of Mission 265 plus, purposefully points out.

“Temple talk had started receding in every successive election since the demolition. As BJP expands nationally, it perhaps realises the need to move out of the shadows of its temple past,” says Athar Siddiqui from the Centre of Objective Research and Development.

The pre-poll build-up hints as much as none of the four Parivartan yatras that were touring the most populous state touched Ayodhya on December 6. The BJP has for a change tried to connect with “progressive Muslims” by supporting abolition of triple-talaq.

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The party has also galvanised its minority affairs wing to tell minorities that BJP’s philosophy of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ includes them too.

The party’s focus is on OBCs and Dalits – who comprise more than 70% of UP’s electorate. The party has attracted several ‘high impact’ defectors like BSP’s OBC face Swami Prasad Maurya, who was the leader of the opposition in the UP assembly. However, it has also raised the issue of ‘loyalists vs outsiders’.

“Loyalists suffered as outsiders got picked ahead of polls,” says a BJP insider pointing that even RSS has voiced its concern on the issue.