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Contributing to BJP's Humiliation in UP Were the Dalits and the Unemployed Youth

We can now expect a lot of old-fashioned politicking that will change the nature of UP politics.

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There was little reason for Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, to be angry with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an MP from Varanasi, during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

He had brought in big investment schemes for his parliamentary constituency and built, as promised, a sprawling temple for Lord Rama in Ayodhya. The temple was inaugurated with fanfare on 22 January 2024. In addition, the Modi government provided free rations to the poor, as well as housing loans.

But this did not seem to be enough. Two months before the elections, it was possible to sense that the people were bristling with rage. In early April, a politician from Meerut presciently told this writer that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would lose at least 40 seats.

The results show how correct this reading was. In the west, as well as east UP, the alliance led by the Congress party and Samajwadi Party (SP) pulled off a great win.
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The BJP's Trump Card — Ayodhya — Failed 

In Varanasi, Prime Minister Modi’s presence was expected to help the BJP win 13 odd seats in the neighbouring districts, but these assumptions seemed flawed. Modi saw not just his winning margin of 2019 shrink to a lakh or so votes, but many seats slipping out of the party’s control.

Even the presence of the popular chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, failed to lift the fortunes of the BJP. Worse, the BJP’s trump card, the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, failed to yield electoral dividends. The party lost its parliamentary seat in Ayodhya (Faizabad).

While those with an ear to the ground knew much before which way the wind was blowing, psephologists like Prashant Kishore, Axis My India, and C Voter sold a lemon to the masses as well as those who funded them. These opinion polls, belted out every few months, suggested big wins for the ruling party. It was part of the campaign strategy for the BJP, which was looking at winning 400 seats in these elections, and thereby being able to do pretty much whatever they wanted with the constitution and the country.

To achieve that target, the BJP needed to win 70 odd seats out of 80 from UP, while the rest would be filled by other states. UP was critical to their plans. It did not work.

Staggered elections proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Opposition. It helped voters fight the idea of the inevitability of a BJP win. Everywhere this writer went, people were no longer praising the BJP or their work; instead, they were cursing the party for what they had not done. The writing was on the wall, but paid psephologists did not see it.

The Disgruntled Youth and the Shift of the Dalit Vote

Contributing to this humiliation was the large mass of unemployed youth who had no idea where they would find a job – any job. All available possibilities had dried up due to their policies. The biggest setback came from the scrapping of recruitment in the army and the introduction of the Agniveer scheme.

During my travels to UP, the anger of the youth was palpable. A boatman, this writer spoke with in Varanasi while cruising over river Ganga, poured scorn over the PM and all his claims. He was a BA Pass graduate and due to difficult circumstances, he was now earning his living this way. He was not the only one.

Everywhere, the disgruntled youth only talked about the absence of jobs. A parent of a young man claimed that his son wanted to go to Israel to work, but chose not to as he did not want to leave his parents alone. “We cannot get him married also, as he is without a job”, they revealed. In the past, a young man who managed to get a permanent job with the army was also assured of a good wife. Uttar Pradesh, which was famous for its educational institutions such as Allahabad University and Benaras Hindu University, is now producing graduates who don’t know where to go.

In Benares, there was ample discussion about why it would be tough for Modi to win this time. No such discussion took place In Rae Bareli or even Amethi. The only point of discussion was whether Rahul Gandhi would win by a margin bigger than his mother, Sonia, won in 2019 and Modi in 2024. On both counts, Rahul has come out on top.

What caused the mood against Modi to change?

The biggest issue, besides many others, was the shift of the Dalit vote towards the alliance. Most of them, who are supporters of the architect of the constitution, Dr Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, came with the strong belief that the BJP wanted to change the constitution. When they realised what BJP’s quest for 400 seats could imply, they intended to stop the party at all costs. BJP’s upper-caste version of Hindutva could spell disaster for them. This is one of the major reasons for the soaring shift towards the alliance.

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Besides the support from Dalits, the minority community also reclaimed the ground it had lost by abandoning its traditional support for the Congress. In fact, they made it amply clear to the Samajwadi party that they would only get their votes if they got into an alliance with the Congress party.

Many have wondered why the SP has been so generous about giving considerable seats to the Congress in UP; the real reason was that Akhilesh was grateful for ensuring that his support base remained intact. If Congress had not supported the SP, the party would have been tottering with only a small rump of the Yadav community.

The big lesson from the UP election results is the return of the Muslim vote bank, which had been marginalised and devalued by the muscular Hindutva of BJP and the majoritarian politics of Yogi Adityanath.

We can now expect a lot of old-fashioned politicking that will change the nature of UP politics. The only thing that goes in favour of the BJP and Yogi in the state, is that the elections are in 2027, giving the party adequate time to manage the fallout of calamitous performance in the Lok Sabha elections.

Till then, UP needs quality governance and a change in the government in Lucknow; otherwise, all the reasons that saw BJP losing so many seats in these elections will continue to be in place.

(The author is the editor of Delhi's Hardnews magazine. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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