The Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have succeeded in evolving a grand Hindu coalition, while the Muslim vote by and large went to non-BJP parties
The 2014 election results in Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) indicate a complete saffron sweep. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 71 seats and its ally Apna Dal (AD) won two seats: Mirzapur and Pratapgarh. Thus, the BJP-AD combine won 73 out of 80 seats, completely decimating all their opponents. The Congress barely retained the seats of its president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi from Rae Bareli and Amethi respectively. The Samajwadi Party (SP) won only five seats which were contested by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family — Mulayam from Mainpuri and Azamgarh, Dimple Yadav from Kannauj, Akshay Yadav from Firozabad and Dharmendra Yadav from Badaun — whereas the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)and other parties could not open their accounts.
What actually happened in U.P.? How did the Modi wave work in all regions of the State? Three things simultaneously took place. One, the traditional caste and community-based model of politics was redefined. Two, development became the focal point for voters’ aspirational upsurge. And three, regional variations practically disappeared. Our post-poll survey will help us in understanding how these factors shaped the outcome of the polls. Not only caste, but class too lost its relevance in this election. Voters of all ages, educational backgrounds, economic statuses and genders supported the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. The highest support (47 per cent) came from the first time voters (18-22 years). Even though caste politics took a back seat in this election in U.P., it would be hasty to say that caste politics has ended in the State.
In 2014, the BJP improved upon its previous best performance in 1998 when it won 52 seats and 36 per cent votes (this data does not include the Uttarakhand portion of U.P.). The SP managed a mere 22 per cent then and the BSP got 20 per cent of the vote share. While a high vote share for the BJP is important, it is the difference between the winner and the runners-up which helped the party virtually sweep the State.
Why did this happen? The survey data suggests that the voters were dissatisfied with the SP-led government in the State and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre. Both governments were seen as inept, ineffective and unresponsive to popular expectations. Mr. Modi focussed his campaign on the Gujarat model of governance and development. He offered voters a platform where they could channelise their anger against both the incumbent governments. In his campaigns, Mr. Modi was critical of both “Maa-bete ki sarkaar” (the government by the mother and son duo) and the “baap-bete ki sarkaar” (government of the father and son). These evidently resonated with the voters. Mr. Modi ran a highly individual-centred campaign in which he targeted Rahul Gandhi. His high-voltage campaign virtually settled the matter in favour of his party.
Though the BJP got support from all sections of society, there are three critical aspects to its support base in U.P. First, the BJP regained the support of lower Other Backward Classes (more than half of the Kurmi community and Most Backward Classes voted the BJP). Second, the party garnered a substantial proportion of Dalit votes, mainly among the non-Jatavs. And third, there was an unprecedented level of polarisation among the upper caste voters in favour of the party. Since the 90s, the BJP in U.P. has had two main support groups: the upper castes and the lower OBCs. Mr. Modi’s repeated emphasis on his caste background in his campaign speeches seems to have helped the BJP improve its vote share among OBC voters.
However, the larger puzzle pertains to the dismal performance of the SP and the BSP. The BSP won the 2007 Assembly election single-handedly, while the SP won the 2012 Assembly election with a much larger seat share. While the Congress’ decimation is all-round, it is not as if the traditional support groups of the SP and the BSP have altogether deserted them. The 2014 election verdict in U.P. rather suggests a story of failed social engineering on their part. The SP continues to receive support from Yadavs and Muslims; however, its support among Yadavs has decreased. It has also failed to get support from any other social section. In the case of the BSP, its Jatav support remained more or less intact but it did not receive support from either the lower OBCs or the Muslims. This has left the BSP to shrink to its Jatav vote base alone. With a limited support base, the capacity of both these parties to post any victories was seriously restricted.
The BJP seems to have succeeded in evolving a grand Hindu coalition, while the Muslim vote by and large went to non-BJP parties. Thus, the saffron sweep has created an imbalance in minority representation as there is no Muslim MP elected from U.P. One thing is clear: the rhetoric and the success of the BJP have posed a serious challenge to politics based merely on caste or community identities. Whether this will usher in a new era in the State’s politics, where the paradigm of performance and development will shape electoral destinies in the future, is an open question.
(A. K. Verma is with the Department of Political Science, Christ Church College, Kanpur. Mirza Asmer Beg is Professor, Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University. Dr. Sudhir Kumar teaches Political Science at DAV College, Azamgarh.)
Here is the methodology of the National Election Study 2014.