Understanding Modi’s magic — impressions from Eastern UP

While the SP and BSP battled for the Muslim vote, the BJP made inroads into the non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav SCs.

March 15, 2017 04:58 pm | Updated April 27, 2021 07:59 pm IST

The Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign in Eastern Uttar Pradesh was much more effective for its courting of the right bases. | Rajeev Bhatt

The Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign in Eastern Uttar Pradesh was much more effective for its courting of the right bases. | Rajeev Bhatt

This is a blog post from

The observations made in this article are based on several visits to the region in connection with a study on Politics in Eastern UP titled Democratic Cultures in South Asia. The authors cannot attest to the veracity of these claims. These were observations made by those whom they met/interviewed and what matters is not whether the observations are correct, but that people voted according to these perceptions.


Travelling in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, one could sense a wave in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Despite considerable evidence, we did not believe it truly represented the popular mood. We should have trusted what people were telling us. People’s perceptions of Modi were overwhelmingly positive. He is honest, efficient, hardworking (he barely sleeps). He has no family, the families of his brothers and relatives receive no benefits. He respects his mother, but she does not live with him. Contrast that to the Samajwadi ‘kunba’ (extended family), where everyone is entitled to some position, or Behenji’s brothers and relatives, and all the stories about the sale of party tickets to the highest bidders.

Demonetisation has mostly been viewed positively. Very few people talked about the hardships it caused. The majority thought it had brought some problems, but it is basically a good move to curb corruption, black money, fake currency, etc. It has brought down militancy in Kashmir. They believe it has harmed the rich more than the poor and it will help in redistributing wealth. It will bring development and progress in the long run. It has forced some employers (e.g. of a sugar factory in Ramkola) to pay salaries into a bank account. Now the employer can no longer cheat temporary employees of their wages. It has even brought down the price of pulses and other essential commodities and made fertilisers easily available in the market. Problems are attributed to the inefficiency and corrupt practices of bank employees. Some people even mentioned that it has not harmed the BJP's prospects in the Maharashtra municipal elections. The excessive noise raised by the Opposition parties only created suspicion of their intentions.


Modi, people believe, is taking many initiatives for the common people. Ujwala Yojana has actually brought LPG gas connections to many rural homes. Modi's promise of loan waivers for farmers has been greatly appreciated by the farming community. Above all, assurances of corruption-free and crime-free governance carried great appeal.

Modi's foreign policy is seen as successful. He has forced Pakistan to clamp down on Hafiz Saeed. The way Modi is received in important world capitals, especially the United States, makes people feel proud. Many believe that he has raised the country’s prestige more than any leader since independence. Someone compared him to Indira Gandhi.

The general perception of the Akhilesh Yadav government was not negative, but Akhilesh is seen as having started too late and to be not very convincing. Most damaging was the perception that the government favoured only Yadavs and Muslims. People believe that there has been rampant nepotism in recruitment to government jobs and in transfers. The non-Yadav backward castes could hardly relate to the Samajwadi Party and rather consider the BJP as their party. At the same time forward castes also see it as their party, as do some SC communities. Modi's visits to temples endear him to forward castes, especially Brahmins (someone noticed the correct way in which he performed the 'aarti' at the Vishwanath temple).


The Congress alliance with the SP alienated Brahmins and other forward castes from the party. The fact that Modi belongs to an OBC caste increases his appeal among OBCs. Someone argued that Amit Shah belongs to the Teli community (whose members at times use Sah or Sahu as a surname in UP). The BJP's alliance with some of the caste-based parties of the Kurmis and the Rajbhars has consolidated its OBC appeal. In an interaction with students of the Department of Political Science of Gorakhpur University, the majority (most belonging to the OBC category) felt that voters rise above caste when someone like Modi inspires confidence in them.

Communal polarisation was palpable. Secularism has no appeal among ordinary people and is derisively equated with minority appeasement. The Prime Minister's speech about Kabristan vs Shamshan and the Akhilesh government's pro-minority policies struck a chord among Hindus, especially those residing in villages with mixed populations. There were complaints about partiality in the allotment of government funds and schemes to members of the minority community. In one constituency where the Bahujan Samaj Party fielded a Muslim candidate, pamphlets were distributed in some localities against him as someone who ate beef. Such propaganda has been present in earlier elections also, but it had a special resonance this time when there was a perception that the Akhilesh government was biased in favour of minorities. In an interesting observation, someone claimed, half seriously, that Modi has magical qualities and hence opponents cannot match up to him.

The narrative of the BJP, woven around the development agenda, the issue of Muslim appeasement, corruption among the regional parties, and the performance of the SP including the law and order situation gained ground in the collective memory of the voters.


The BJP’s initial Mission 265 Plus, which was later revised by the newly appointed party’s State President Keshav Prasad Maurya to 300 plus, appeared to hit the bull's eye. This revision was more in tune with the new rainbow coalition the party aimed for during the last general election. The narrative of the BJP, woven around the development agenda, the issue of Muslim appeasement, corruption among the regional parties, and the performance of the SP including the law and order situation gained ground in the collective memory of the voters. The BJP was well aware that one does not win elections by narrative alone. They are ‘cosmetic’ in the parlance of electoral politics. Behind closed doors, very strategically and successfully, the BJP turned the key weapon of SP and BSP — caste — against them. The mobilisation of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav SCs appears to have been the key to their election victory.

In almost similar caste dynamics in Bihar, at least in electoral arithmetic, in 2015 the BJP failed miserably to take advantage. There the non-Yadav OBC voters did not go with the BJP as they were absorbed by the 'natural alliance' between Nitish and Lalu. In the case of UP, the SP and BSP focussed on their core constituencies and fought each other to attract Muslims. Surprisingly, neither party thought to try and increase their vote among non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav/Chamar SCs. At the same time, the BJP emphasised anti-corruption and development; both were messages that the electorate wanted to hear.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.