Polarization Not Enough!

As per the indications coming from initial phases of the UP Assembly elections, polarization may prove to be the Achilles’ heel for both BJP and SP-Congress combine


Buoyed by the 2014 verdict and mass support by Jat and other caste groups, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) thought it would be a cake walk for them if they successfully polarize voters in 2017 too. However, thinking on same pattern, ruling Samajwadi party too though of repeating the same charisma, but through Muslims, joined hands with the Congress Party. But, it seems that none of the polarization plans is working on the ground zero.

Every election throws some political puzzles that need to be resolved subsequently. But the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election will apparently resolve one puzzle rather conclusively — that the polarization of the electorate in a diverse society is a very bad political strategy.

This may prove to be as much true for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as for the Samajwadi Party-Congress combine. As the election campaign in west Uttar Pradesh has reached a fevered pitch, there is little doubt that the BJP has been heavily counting on counter-polarization of the Hindus. Implicit in this political belief is the fact that Muslim would consolidate for the SP-Congress combine.

This oversimplification of electoral chemistry has been causing immense damage to the prospects and credibility of both parties. In certain pockets of the region where Dalits constitute a sizable chunk, Muslims are literally on the horns of dilemma. They find the electoral calculus in favour of the BSP but are driven by vested interests to support the SP-Congress.

In west Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress have their lost social support base a long time ago. In absence of the Yadavs as a formidable social group in this area that goes to the polls in the first phase, the SP has been banking largely on its Muslim support base. Mulayam Singh Yadav was a deft politician who managed to attract a section of the OBC social base in certain pockets to wrest some seats. But the new avatar of the SP is essentially seen as a Yadav-Muslim party that has driven many social segments away from its base. And elementary electoral arithmetic proves beyond doubt that Muslims alone would not be able to carry the SP past the finish line.

Obviously there is some optimism about the possibility of the Congress co-opting some social segments from the upper caste and its traditional support base. But in a situation of intense polarization, the political conduct of such social constituents, particularly upper castes, is quite uncertain.

But the party that has been hit most adversely by expecting a windfall from polarization is the BJP. In constituency after constituency, the meaning of polarization gets changed. Although the BJP seems determined to consolidate Hindus in the areas where a sizable population exists, caste-contradictions are coming into play to upset the party’s applecart. For instance in the Jat-dominated seats of Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Meerut and Agra, Jats are not ready to look beyond Chaudhary Ajit Singh’s RLD. “It is an issue of restoring pride to Chaudhary’s (Charan Singh) son,” they say. In some pockets an unlikely social combination of Jat-Muslim could only be forged for the sole purpose of defeating the BJP.

Similarly, in Hindu-dominated constituencies, inner contradictions among various castes rob the BJP of its Hindutva appeal and limit it to social segments that are numerically not enough to conclusively defeat other rivals, particularly the BSP. In a situation where conflict among Jats, Gujjar, Tyagis and Rajputs is pronounced, what matters is the caste of the BJP candidate and not the Hindutva appeal.

The question then arises — why does the BJP so much bank on the windfall of the electorate’s polarization? The obvious answer to this query is an incorrect reading of the 2014 Lok Sabha victory, by party strategists. In their enthusiasm to interpret the Lok Saba polls, a section of BJP strategists genuinely believed that the overwhelming mandate was the result of polarisation. And that is evidently a wrong reading of the state’s politics.

Although held in the backdrop of the Muzaffarnagar riots, the mandate for Narendra Modi was apparently guided by a strong social impulse for a political change. Modi’s own personality and his promise for a change in the style governance found resonance with this impulse which drove a large chunk of Hindus to vote for him. Given the overwhelming response that Modi gets in his meetings in Uttar Pradesh, there is enough indication that his charm among the electorate is still intact.

It would have been instructive for the BJP strategists to read the political history of the past two decades to realize the futility of pursuing a strategy of polarization. In 1991, when the party won the state Assembly election on its own, the BJP rode on the wave of expectation of a party with a difference. However only a year after the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1993 when the state was intensely polarized on communal lines, the BJP lost its ground and never regained its prime position. Obviously the polarization of the electorate worked to the disadvantage of the BJP ever since 1993.

The fact that the BJP has not woven an alternative narrative for Uttar Pradesh and opted to keep treading the beaten path of Hindu consolidation may prove to be its Achilles’ heel.