Modi is slowly changing grammar of Indian politics

The Uttar Pradesh electorate created history by voting a party back to power after 25 years. The victory of the BJP government led by Yogi Adityanath is massive as it transcends the 2/3rd majority mark and slightly exceeds the previous vote share of the party in 2017. For an incumbent government to do that, braving anti-incumbency, is creditable indeed. The rival SP and its leader Akhilesh Yadav also did very well as its vote share rose from about 28% to 32%—a gain of 4%—despite his handing the campaign without Mulayam Singh Yadav, his father, and a revolt in the family: many members shifted to the BJP including Mulayam’s daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav. So, while Akhilesh lost, the vote share of both the main parties has risen.

In this election, the nature of political contestation was bipolar: at one end was the coalition of the BJP, Apna Dal and Nishad Party; at the other, the SP, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and smaller outfits. Hence the contest was stiff and many were unsure about the outcome of the polls. But one needs to ask why the BJP won. Why in spite of price rise, unemployment, stray cattle issue, and anger during Covid, especially over the plight of migrant labourers, did people not move away from Yogi? To answer this, one has to understand a transformation in the politics of India in general and UP in particular where Varanasi happens to be the parliamentary constituency of Narendra Modi, the prime minister.

Since the arrival of Modi, UP has seen three major shifts: one, from exclusionary to inclusive politics; two, from identity to aspirational politics; and three, from caste to class politics. And all this has been done within the rubric of providing law and order and development, and taking care of the welfare of the people. The two caste parties—SP and BSP—had demonstrated a sectional approach to politics and welfarism that injected nepotism, corruption and inefficiency besides leveraging the criminals who ruled the roost. The zero tolerance of Modi on corruption has had its trickle-down effect, though slowly and in spite of annoying politicians of all hues, including those in the BJP. The tough stand of Yogi on law and order using strong-arm tactics, even at the risk of earning him the nickname of bulldozer baba, has brought a welcome change in the state.

Covid disturbed the developmental tempo, but Yogi’s innovative One District One Product scheme has greatly helped poor artisans whose goods are now getting exported, earning them some money. That had the effect of not only providing them relief, but also attracted outside investments to the state.

But Modi-Yogi had more in their kitty. They provided financial security by putting money under various schemes in the Jan Dhan accounts of the poor through DBT, health security through Ayushman Bharat, crop security through Fasal Bima Yojana, and social security through better law and order.

It appears that Modi is slowly changing the grammar of politics. This seems to target three major classes that cut across all castes and religions: women, small and marginal farmers, and poor subalterns. From Ujjwala to Beti Bachao Beti Padhao to toilets, etc., he seems to be addressing women. Similarly, he is equally attending to the marginal farmers, putting `6,000 in their accounts annually, and giving them various other reliefs that could enhance their income. The very fact that the protest movement allegedly led by so-called farmers from western UP has not been able to harm the BJP in the western UP speaks volumes about the satisfaction of cultivators with the Modi-Yogi initiatives to better their lives. In fact, many sugarcane mills that were closed in that part have been restarted, new ones opened and all arrears due from previous regimes largely paid. Moreover, the Jats in western UP have also not come out of the 2013 riot syndrome as they still are in a legal trap, whereas they allege that Muslims were let off by Akhilesh at the behest of then minister Azam Khan. That’s the reason that the election study conducted by our centre shows that as compared to 34%, this time 71% Jats have voted for the BJP. And the third class, the poor subalterns, had been quite upbeat about getting free ration for the last two years and they confess that during Covid, the government did not allow them to be hungry and actually served good food in abundance. So, the BJP as a political party under the Modi-Yogi leadership has expanded its narrow upper caste, middle class, urban traders voter base by appropriating the wider class constituencies composed of women, small farmers and the poor. Our study shows that as compared to the 2017 Assembly polls, 10% more women have voted for the BJP.

One very significant factor is the ‘Modi voter’ in addition to the committed party supporter and the floating voters. In the 2017 Assembly polls, the BJP got 41% votes in UP whereas in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party got 50%. That clearly shows that the 9% additional votes were simply for Modi. In our study, we have found that 11% voted for the BJP only because of Modi. That’s an X-factor that has bailed out the BJP in UP. Modi has been playing smart politics through his Mann Ki Baat where he does not talk about politics at all. That connect, which the PM has developed all over the country, has earned him this segment that we call Modi voters.

What however surprises us is the total marginalisation of Mayawati. It is very surprising that even many of the Jatav Dalits, her core supporters, have voted for other parties now. Our study shows that earlier 85% Jatavs were voting for Mayawati; this time that has crumbled and only 40% have voted for the BSP. The rest have shifted to the BJP largely and some to the SP. That is a bad omen for the future of her Dalit politics as many now believe that the BJP is taking good care of them. That’s why most of the Dalit MPs and MLAs from reserved constituencies are in the BJP’s kitty.

The Congress has been decimated. It is doing cosmetic and seasonal politics in UP and seems to be without any direction, ideology, organisational base at grassroots and leadership. It’s unfortunate that such a grand old party has allowed itself to be totally marginalised in the recent polls not only in UP but also elsewhere, especially Punjab.

However, there are some problems that stare the Yogi government in the face and let’s see if after ensuring law and order, developing infrastructure, encouraging artisans and bringing in many development plans, the government is geared to attending to them too quickly. Obviously, people’s aspirations are high and that is also a danger signal.