India has one of the youngest populations in the world. A few years ago, all everyone talked about was how India would zoom to progress in the early 21st century because of its youngsters - the millennials, the Gen Z population - around 20 crore strong.
This generation did not carry burdens of the past. It had seen a new India, a shining India, one that was providing opportunities. If you were healthy, got educated, took your chances, then the sky was the limit. And in metros, your religion, your caste, colour or creed did not matter.
That was the first time in our nation’s history that a political party was keeping a whole community out of its political strategy. A community that made up almost 20 percent of the population in the state.
Taking Divisive Politics to Another Level
'Sabka saath, sabka vikas' is a good slogan to hear, but meant little on the ground in UP. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue had already created huge insecurity among minorities. If you had a Muslim name, you lived in insecurity.
Yogi’s government and its machinery zoomed in on those it did not like, because of their names or the way they looked and dressed. So those wearing a skull-cap, sporting a beard were all suspect.
An administrative lack of trust meant arrests based just on suspicion, with impunity. Hundred of arrests and fake encounters took place; most belonged to a particular community. But who could question it?
Yogi and his party had a brute majority in the UP Vidhan Sabha and there was no representation of Muslims among BJP legislators.
Bogey of Minority Appeasement
Will 2022 be any different?
Congress’ presence is all but over in UP. The only way it can somewhat revive itself in the state, is if the party projects Priyanka Gandhi Vadhra as its Chief Minister face but even that is likely to have only a limited effect.
Young faces like Jitin Prasada have already escaped from this sinking ship. The party hardly has any ground level organisation left. But Priyanka’s campaign may invigorate this defunct, almost dead 136-year-old party.
I believe that the Congress had a chance in 2015 to make a difference if Rahul Gandhi had taken a deep dive in UP. Whether you like it or not, Congressmen only rally behind a Gandhi. Otherwise, they are like crabs bringing down anything that is getting ahead.
Instead of going with Akhilesh’s Samajwadi Party, Rahul should have gone alone, providing an alternative to those opposition voters who did not want to vote for the SP or BSP. He wouldn’t have made much of a splatter politically, but it would have certainly put life back in its grassroot organisation. But UP was not big enough for Rahul Gandhi. And now it seems, neither is India!
Shift From a Caste-based Vote Bank to a Communal one
In the absence of the Congress, it was easy for the BJP and its affiliates to paint Samajwadi Party as minority appeasers. Mulayam Singh Yadav did all his politics based on the MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination. It worked during ‘Mandal’ days but ‘Kamandal’ has ensured that there is a 180-degree turn in UP’s politics.
In the 2012 UP Assembly elections, the SP had formed the government. Out of the 401 seats it contested, it won 224 and got 29.13 per cent of votes. But now, blatant majoritarianism has ensured that all those castes that were believed to be a part of the larger Hindu fold have come together with the BJP. They now actually believe in issues like ‘Love Jihad’. They actually believe that Muslims will eventually overtake them in numbers and that “Hindu khatre mein hai”
If 'Ram Mandir' is not a poll issue anymore, then these anti-Muslim sentiments are. Only depending on Muslim-Yadav bloc will not help Akhilesh Yadav beat the BJP; he needs new voters. Being behind closed doors for months, while the people of UP did not have resources to cremate their dead did not help. He should have been out on the road, with those who were either burying their dead bodies on the banks of the Ganga or leaving bodies in the river.
Smart politicians wait for these opportunities to do some much needed public service but he was no where to be seen. So, why should new voters trust him now?
Mayawati’s Dwindling Vote bank?
And then there is Behen Mayawati, who has been silent - very silent.
Surprising. One wonders, what is troubling this 65-year-old, three-time CM of UP? Is the sword of CBI cases hanging over her head? Or was it the COVID scare. Whatever it is, she knows that Bahujan Samaj Party’s hardcore vote bank of Dalits is intact.
In the 2007 UP Assembly polls, when the BSP had won a majority and come to power for the last time, it fielded candidates on all 403 seats, won 206 and clocked 30.43 per cent of the votes polled. But now most of the castes and communities that voted for her then, have moved bag and baggage to the BJP.
Will Yogi’s Communal Brinkmanship Deliver the State to BJP Again?
The biggest challenge for all opposition parties is that the BJP has set the bar too high.
In the 2017 Assembly elections, it fielded candidates on 384 seats, won 312 by garnering 39.7 per cent vote share. Divisive issues like ‘Love Jihad’ and Romeo Squads, ‘hum paanch, hamare pachchees’ and ‘forced conversion’ worked well in dividing votes.
Like it or not, Hindu voters came together in large numbers. They were happy that Muslims were being shown their place in the political sphere. Then, Yogi Adityanath was just a star campaigner. Now, he is the Chief Minister with the entire administrative machinery under him for the last four years.
The Jat-Muslim Equation in Western UP?
The UP administration was comatose at the height of the COVID upsurge. Will it affect BJP’s support base in central and eastern UP? What will happen in the agrarian belt of Western UP? It was here that Yogi Adityanath was the real star.
Jats and Muslims did not see eye to eye; the Jats wanted to teach a bloody lesson to Muslims. Has that been affected? Has the prolonged farmers’ protest somewhat ensured Jats and Muslims coming together again after those bloody riots of Muzaffarnagar and Meerut in 2013. In parts of Punjab and Haryana, local BJP legislators are not being allowed to enter towns and villages. Will the same happen in Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and the Sambhal sugarcane belt? Can farmer leader Rakesh Tikait ensure that?
The one thing is certain: in all likelihood, BJP under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath, will continue to indulge in divisive politics because it has paid rich dividends in UP and it is unlikely that the party will give a single ticket to a Muslim candidate in 2022.
With the Congress, SP and BSP already struggling - Muslims - who form almost 20 percent of the state, will hardly have any political representation. Amounting to almost 4 crore out of the total 20 crore population of UP, this will obviously leave a large section of the population without any voice. And if the BJP wins, ten years without a political voice will take the community back years. And that will affect India’s demographic dividend. But for some… political dividends are far more important than demographic dividends.
(Sanjay Ahirwal is a former managing editor at NDTV Worldwide and is currently heads the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Apeejay Stya University, Gurugram. He tweets at @ahirwal. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)