Reflections on the UP Assembly Elections

  • March 22, 2022

There was a clear narrative doing the rounds that targeted the SP. These were based on memories of previous times that stoked the sentiment of fear among people. The Hindu populace associated the bulldozer touted by Yogi as a symbol of power over the mafias (coded reference for Muslims) and saw his government as providing security to them, writes Padma Singh


All three urban seats of Allahabad saw the BJP emerge victorious. However, in the whole district, the BJP won 8 seats, while the opposition SP (Samajwadi Party) won 4 seats. The Allahabad City North seat is traditionally regarded as one where the educated and professional people have a major say. Here too a well-known lumpen candidate of the BJP won with a huge margin of about 54 thousand votes, receiving 55% of the votes polled. In City South, the BJP received 54.14% while in City West they got 53.29% votes. This brings their citywide average up to 54%.


The photographs of dead bodies buried on the banks of the Ganga, which became symbolic of the mismanagement and indifference of the state government in handling Covid positive patients and deaths, were from the same Allahabad city. Just before the elections, the mismanagement in the RRB NTPC recruitment process had led to a spontaneous protest, which saw huge participation of the youth from Allahabad. They were brutally repressed with videos of policemen beating ordinary students going viral over social media. This led to a sense of resentment against the government, which found expression on social media.


Despite these, and the problems faced by the youth in the city — from inflation to unemployment, lack of educational and health facilities, to not having access to affordable accommodation — 54% of the voters chose BJP as their favoured party. This was despite talk of anti-incumbency being rife in the city.


So as a civil society activist in the city, I share my thoughts of what I did observe at the ground level…


Common sense of the masses

There is a segment in the population, especially among women, who fervently believe that there is no alternative to Modi and the Lotus. While they see problems in all other parties, they express an almost familial (community) affinity with Yogi-Modi (Yogi-Modi apne hain). This is an emotional connection, both in despair and in happiness. They associate and laud Modi for saving the nation and improving the nation’s image in the eyes of the entire world. Some conversations with members of the Nishad community (OBC), about whom it is being said that they voted largely for the BJP this time, revealed that despite facing all sorts of terrible hardships during the Covid waves and lockdowns, they still see Modi positively as he has improved the image of the nation globally. I spoke briefly with about a dozen poor and Dalit women on a voting day, they all revealed that they had pressed the lotus symbol and cast their vote for Modiya. Even for these Dalit voters, especially women, who are not necessarily under the influence of a community or religious leader, Modi and the Lotus have established themselves as synomous in their imagination and common sense. So anti-incumbency against state governments does not matter.


The affinity of upper caste women for BJP

In UP, while SP is considered a party of MY (Muslims and Yadavs), the BJP is considered a party of the Thakurs, Brahmins and Baniyas, with their slogan “garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” (Proudly declare that we are Hindus) resonating with their hard core base.


By one estimate, 90% of the female upper caste vote has gone to the BJP. In Allahabad, this sentiment has been fostered over time continuously by the mobilisation for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and now victory marches on the start of its construction, and the overly enthusiastic governmental support for the Kumbh Mela. In any case, the well-off upper caste, middle-class people vote not out of “necessity” or compulsion, but out of choice and likeness. Their choice and likeness is for Modi. It is only some educated youngsters who are struggling with unemployment and can think as conscious voters what each candidate may or may not deliver for them.


Among OBC (Other Backward Castes) voters, Yadavs and Muslims were clearly with the SP. Muslim voters, very consciously as a community supported the SP. Yadavs also considered the SP as their party and clearly supported them. However, votes among other OBC groups got split this time, especially Maurya, Patel and Pal voters, among the SP and the BJP. One observes various shades of identity politics in the OBC politics. Most of them position themselves as separate groups with their leaders and compete among each other for power sharing. Seeing from the ground up, it appears that their aspiration for upward mobility and internal OBC rivalry mostly benefits the BJP. In addition to this, petty leaders among these groups often join the BJP or are bought over by the same. This vote, despite being an SP vote, gets split by inner rivalries of upmanship that have become endemic to the OBC leadership.


The voting behaviour of Dalits was the most complex to decipher. A big section of them got disillusioned with BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) and Mayawati, so they crossed over to the BJP, possibly also because they share a sense of pride in being Hindus especially vis-a-vis Muslims. It also seems that they perceive their social confrontation is more with Ahirs (Yadavs) than with Thakurs, Kayasthas, or with Brahmins. Dalits not voting for Yadav leaders perhaps helped the BJP.


During the campaign, we also came across some Dalit women who preferred the BJP on account of being beneficiaries of the various welfare measures adopted by the Yogi government. “They’re giving ration, getting roads built, what else do we need?”


There was also a section of Dalit women who were not hopeful of any substantial change in their situation regardless of who comes into power. For them the decision seemed mostly transactional – “what will you give us in exchange for our vote?”. They know too well that regardless of the results they will continue to live on a hand-to-mouth basis.


There was continuous news of money and liquor being distributed in Dalit bastis on polling days. There are also small-time leaders within these areas who make deals for votes on the polling day, about which we know little. This has become the modus-operandi among the working poor entirely and not only Dalits. The urban poor, especially slum dwellers, know well that election-time becomes a celebration of sorts where they are appeased for the precious vote that they can cast. So, the question of who is the big bad wolf among all wolves at that crucial juncture recedes to the background.


Even then, there are sections among the Dalits who still await and long for Mayawati. There is a desire for roads, electricity and water supply and for jobs. These sections despair that elections may come and go but their situation is not going to change. They claim that the next time someone visits their lanes will be only 5 years later. A section of these votes can be easily bought.


In the same lanes, we found older Dalit women talk with more political clarity. While most felt disempowered and didn’t consider that their choice for a government had any connection with the hardships they face in their daily lives or that they saw in society, these women who had crossed the age of 60 spoke about their hardships and their dreams. They rued the fact that the government had not set up any companies that could provide employment to their children. They said that while it was their age to retire from work, seeing that their children were struggling to take care of themselves and their own families, they continue to do whatever work they possibly can. Lack of jobs, education, water supply and inflation were issues of concern for many of these elder women.


We also came across some women who seemed to be semi educated, belonging to middle-class families, who were fanatic supporters of the BJP. They would tear our pamphlets to bits and confidently proclaim their support for the BJP. These were andh bhakts (blind fanatics) simply because any attempt at conversation with them would become impossible. They wouldn’t listen to anyone, and would take pride in their beliefs being the truth.


For a section of people elections are a seasonal event. They come once in 5 years, governments get formed and all of this has no relation with society or with how their lives carry on. Healthcare, education, the domestic sphere and employment, everything is a private concern that they have to struggle with in any case.


Narrative of fear

There was a clear narrative doing the rounds that targeted the SP. These were based on memories of previous times that stoked the sentiment of fear among people. One repeatedly encountered such claims in different localities: “If the SP is elected to power, the goons and mafia will again become dominant in society. Our sisters and daughters won’t be safe anymore. It will become difficult to do business. Mafias will be released from jail.” For a section of the population this meant that, all in all, despite there being a million hardships, this [Yogi] government is providing security and a respectful status at least. They associated the bulldozer touted by Yogi as a symbol of power over the mafias (coded reference for Muslims) and saw the government as providing security to them. A government that will teach them (the Muslims) a lesson, and ensure glory for us (Hindus). This is regardless of the fact that the official figures for crimes against women and indicators of civil and human rights in the state of UP under Yogi’s rule show a dismal picture. In the cacophony of propaganda and election hysteria, statistics do not count.


The most striking feature was to see that even though one can criticise Yogi and point out his faults, Modi was beyond reproach. His jumlebaazi, his statements to charm his audience and his image as a strong leader of elevated stature still dominate. How much of this is because of the non-stop image building of Modi through their control over traditional media and social media and WhatsApp university, and how much of it is due to a sense of victimhood among the Hindus (aggrieved by the Muslims in their imagination) is unclear, but they do regard Modi as a champion of their religion and nation. Behind this psychology and common sense are historical, societal and religious layers as well as political machinations that use Pakistan, Kashmir and Muslims as reference points to overwhelm the Hindu mind. How responsible are the Muslims for this, who have remained shackled in specific types of constraints and couldn’t emerge as liberal, secular citizens in their own right? This ghettoised image of the Muslim becomes an emotive element in the project to shackle Hindus in their constraints, thereby finishing the space for a secular, liberal citizen to emerge.


In addition to all of this is the on ground organisational presence of the double-engine government (centre and state); 24×7 proactive politics, incomparable resources, partisanship of the media and an aggressive campaign against an opposition that suddenly became active only a few months before and during the elections only.


Despite this skewed balance of forces, UP has witnessed opposition to the BJP coming from the youth, government employees and conscientious citizens. The farmers’ protests that led to the repeal of the three Farm Acts had seen participation of peasants from western UP and had shown possibilities of a change in government. Thus, of the 19 seats in the 4 districts of the sugarcane belt – Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpat and Meerut – BJP managed to win barely 6 seats. While the BJP has received 41% of the votes polled in UP, the SP also got a healthy 32%, with 13% going to the BSP and Congress and RLD receiving 2.3% and 2.85%, respectively. This shows that the entire field is not dominated by the BJP alone, and their victory has visible cracks. The requirement is to have a clear programme of the opposition, pressure from social movements, a strong organisation at the ground level and a credible leadership. This along with the task of aggregating dispersed energies is the challenge before us.


Every party is making efforts to lure the women voters. For those committed to struggling for women’s equality and liberty, these new figures of increase in women’s participation in voting are demanding more than ever to tune in to the ground reality and see women’s electoral choices. It is not happening for the first time in history that upper caste women in particular are upholding the status quo of conservatism and male supremacy that forms the bedrock of the Hindutva project. Over the recent years, the women’s vote has become a complex amalgamation of religious sentiments upholding the Hindu identity and the wilful othering of Muslims that is drawn from historical and prevalent cultural and social ethos. It seems inevitable to be drawn to the hype of the mix of Hindutva and nationalism as embodied in the BJP. Their popularity is gaining currency from the persecution of Muslims and the image of Modi as the saviour.


But when do women voters connect to the widespread sexual violence and protection of rapists by the same forces in the interests of all women? The anguished cries of the women from Hathras and Unnao get muffled and justice remains elusive in this orchestrated religious frenzy. Will the ballot box ever speak up against caste, class and patriarchy? It is true that whether all these changes are possible through the electoral system is debatable. But undeniably, this task falls upon people’s and women’s movements to not let perpetrators of violence and hatred garner votes through deciet and propagating lies. It is up to all democratic forces to stand up to the rampant vilification of the entire Muslim community and organise people at the ground level against the policies and practices of the government at both the centre and the state that are impacting lives of workers, adivasis, Dalits, women and all marginalized communities.


The author is a socialist-feminist activist from Allahabad. The article has been translated from Hindi by Usman Jawed. 


(The views and opinions expressed in the article are the author’s own.) 


Feature courtesy :The Quint


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