What happened in Uttar Pradesh is nothing less than a nightmare for the opponents. The exit polls that came two days ago had a hint of what was to come, but everyone went in denial mode, terming them psephological nonsense.
Even for me it was hard to believe. In my earlier articles I had written about social engineering of the BJP and had dropped ample hints that if it succeeds, BJP would sweep the elections. However, I too wasn’t sure of the magnitude and almost no one was.
A repeat of 2014 always looked impossible, but the impossible was achieved. All one needed was to scathe a little; both BSP and SP more or less held on to their core votebanks, they both were to garner a healthy vote share of over 20 per cent but failed to get the fence-sitters, a wide cauldron of small castes in their favour.
The small OBC and MBC castes along with BJP’s traditional upper caste factor in some 55 per cent of vote share in UP. The crux of the elections is that BJP has been able to weave a broader narrative around development.
The identity politics is back in UP, this time it has just changed face. As one of my BJP friends said to me “Yeh teen jaat versus sari jaat ka mamla hai” (it is a matter of three castes versus all other castes).
Looking from an identity lens (which is ingrained in UP politics), he is right. The election was fought between Jatavs, Yadavs and Muslims versus all others. Consider the ripe fields of west UP where, in many constituencies, Dalits and Muslims account for over 25 per cent of the vote share. All the two parties, SP and BSP, needed was to cobble more votes around their core vote base, which they couldn’t.
The attempts made by SP and BSP to polarise the elections further helped the BJP - after all, the SP-Congress alliance was forged to consolidate the minority votes, Congress here working as the “ISO mark” of anti-BJP, and open appeals by Mayawati to Muslims to come out in huge numbers and vote en-masse for her.
The Election Commission could have ignored this, but the electorate didn’t. Amit Shah’s frequent claims that both SP and BSP work for their respective caste members helped give the "hawa" of "teen jaat versus saari jaat".
Obviously it will be misleading to pitch one factor as the predictor. There was a general wave of trust among people for Modi, the development image, the upper castes consolidated in unprecedented numbers behind BJP and the non-yadav OBCs who saw BJP as the only party where they would be counted.
In contrast to the BJP, both SP and BSP offered neither a new language nor a new paradigm of development. Mayawati still relies on her old formula of politics of caste arithmetic, media shyness and her backward placard and Akhilesh Yadav’s development net had too many holes for a winnable catch.
Though Akhilesh enjoys goodwill among people, his records on employment and law and order came to haunt him. A popular narrative among people was - “sabko dekha, iss baar inhe bhi dekh lete hai” (we have tried everyone, this time let’s try them).
Modi’s leadership and Shah’s astute electoral engineering broke the backbone of dominant caste-driven identity politics in UP. The narrative of the caste vote block was lost in the larger message of OBCisation of Hindutva and development.
No party in UP can form a government with its own caste block - they had to cut across caste fault lines and weave a larger, diverse coalition. These smaller castes, though the push factors in every election, had failed to get their share in political dividends.
Modi and Shah, in all their election rallies punctured these faultlines, widened these social fissures and called for "parivartan" of this politics of patronage.
It’s a strong word and rebirths are a norm in Indian politics, but for a moment, two main parties in spite of having held their caste fortress, have been wiped out. The BSP has no doubt suffered the most. In 2014, it saw its vote base shift towards the BJP and a reckoning of that would spell disaster for BSP.
Similarly for SP, this election has proved its inability to add on to its core vote base. The cycle wobbled and the elephant was truncated. Is there a chance? A look at the vote share suggests yes, there is, but only if they come together.
SP and BSP put together beat BJP in the final result, add Congress to it and together they garner more than 50 per cent of the vote share, enough to win elections in 2019.
But only if they come together and also if BJP goofs up, which seems unlikely at this moment. But if they do decide to come together just the way JD-U and RJD did in Bihar, they will have to let go of their egos and settle to win a bigger battle - else they await a political obituary.
For Mayawati, ten years away from the corridors of power could mean a no-return situation. Modi is riding high not just on the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor but also on TINO (There Is No Opposition). The Congress cannot take the mantle, and at least in the politically active states of UP and Bihar, the opposition will have to ride along or expect to drown in the Modi tsunami.
The SP and BSP will have to ask themselves how Modi succeeded where they failed. The politics of social justice and secularism, which has been the calling cards of these parties, failed in this election. Modi’s success in UP demonstrates his inventiveness - he is India’s Caesar. To defeat him, all Roman leaders will have to come together. They will have to come together just like in Bihar - or political obituary is a strong word, but not an impossible one.