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Uttar Pradesh Elections and Samajwadi Party's Victory

The Samajwadi Party's victory in Uttar Pradesh was possible due to a combination of factors: the loss in support for the incumbent Bahujan Samaj Party from the upper castes who had hitherto supported that party, the grass-roots mobilisation made possible by SP's Akhilesh Yadav, amongst others. A report based on a tracking of the trends over months.

COMMENTARY

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Uttar Pradesh Elections
When 2012 began, the Uttar Pradesh pre-poll picture was hazy like the winter fog that had enveloped large parts of it

and Samajwadi Party’s Victory

with not a beam of sunshine in sight: there were audible murmurs of resentment over former chief minister Maya-Radhika Ramaseshan wati’s “profligacy” in putting up statues

The Samajwadi Party’s victory in Getting on an election trail over a month before the fi rst vote was

Uttar Pradesh was possible due

to be cast was suffi ciently daunt

to a combination of factors: the

ing. Divining trends was audacious, to

loss in support for the incumbent

say the least. Particularly so in a state Bahujan Samaj Party from the like Uttar Pradesh that has a knack of pulling off a surprise in virtually every

upper castes who had hitherto

election, assembly and general, and be

supported that party, the

lying the projections and assumptions of

grass-roots mobilisation made

seasoned psephologists. History testifi es possible by SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, to Uttar Pradesh’s electoral quirks and mood swings.

amongst others. A report

Barring notable exceptions, nobody

based on a tracking of the trends

foretold that Mayawati and her Bahujan

over months.

Samaj Party (BSP) would cruise to a spectacular victory in the 2007 assembly polls. Or that the Congress would stage a comeback of sorts in the Lok Sabha election that followed just two years

Radhika Ramaseshan (ramaseshan.radhika@

later in a state where it was put out to

gmail.com) is political editor of The Telegraph.

pasture in 1989.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
april 7, 2012 vol xlviI no 14

of herself, her mentor, the late Kanshi Ram and other dalit icons in public spaces in Delhi’s satellite town, Noida and in Lucknow. However, her desperate endeavour to enshrine a place in history dominated by the Nehru-Gandhis – that she justifiably feared might not be hers and that of her political forebears if she was voted out of power – had not snowballed into a make-or-mar issue.

Conventional political wisdom had it that with a largely substantive dalit vote bank – accounting for between 15% and 20% in every assembly constituency – the BSP had a head start over its rivals. All that was required of the party was to cobble together the votes of the “add-ons”: from the other castes and communities, notably the Muslims, to get past the winning post. Tactically astute, Mayawati had fielded several brahmin, Muslim and backward caste candidates, her

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    april 7, 2012 vol xlviI no 14

    COMMENTARY

    calculation being that her base dalit vote would be a magnet to attract the votes of a candidate’s caste or community almost en bloc. Besides, even her loudest traducers would not fault Mayawati for restoring that semblance of law and order that was shredded apart during the preceding Samajwadi Party (SP) regime of Mulayam Singh Yadav. An oft heard refrain, especially from young women, was they could move freely even at night without fear of being accosted and molested.

    The Opposition to the BSP

    The SP’s campaign was spearheaded by Yadav’s young scion, Akhilesh Yadav. The father came into the scene much later. Understated and publicity shy to start with, Akhilesh had started signalling clearly that he would take his father’s 20-year-old party from its stereotypical mould as a “casteist and predominantly rural” entity and recast it as a “non-sectarian and forward-looking” one in the hope that the makeover might click with Uttar Pradesh’s young voters in the cities and towns. The urban votes had eluded the SP for decades despite Yadav senior’s persistent efforts to woo the traders (the generically named Bania or Vaish) away from their fi rst choice, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the label of a leader disinclined to rein in the “hotheads” and the criminal elements he was known to patronise put off the upper classes who at least had to appear socially kosher even if they employed the same networks of musclemen to foster their business interests. However, Yadav senior was reluctant to unveil his son as the chief ministerial candidate at that point. Even the SP’s cadres could not say whether Akhilesh would assume the leadership mantle except in a situation in which it commanded a majority of its own: in early January, that seemed like a pipe dream. Or did it?

    Following Akhilesh on his “Jan Chetna” motorised rath through the uneven roads of Rohilkhand – a swathe of agrarian verdancy extending from Jyotiba Phule Nagar (erstwhile Amroha) in the west close to Delhi to Shahjahanpur in west-central – it was evident that the leader-follower chemistry was transforming on the ground. The 60 seats of Rohilkhand were to poll in the fi rst phase on 4 February. The date was rescheduled and put off to the last round because it coincided with prophet Mohammed’s birth anniversary. Rohil khand has the highest concentration of Muslims, ranging from 55% in Sambhal and Amroha to close to 60% in Moradabad and Bijnore. So the peregrination was useful to gauge the mood among the minorities.

    To contextualise the text: Congress general secretary and Member of Parliament from Amethi, Rahul Gandhi – who made the Uttar Pradesh polls a test of his political franchise and popularity – had toured Rohilkhand in December 2011. Journalists on his trail had uniformly reported about a “perceptible tilt” in the Muslim votes towards the Congress. They projected the contest as a straight fight between the BSP, “reeling under serious anti-incumbency”, and the Congress, implying thereby that the Congress was advantageously placed to unseat the incumbent government.

    The Congress had hoped to maximise the “goodwill” it had purportedly earned from the Muslims by announcing a 4.5% reservation slot in education and jobs from the overall 27% backward caste quota on the eve of the election. Instead, the move was straightaway denounced as a “lollipop” that Muslims alleged had become second nature with a “sop-disburser” like the Congress. Murtaza Iqbal, a Moradabad journalist and a Congress sympathiser, likened it to “putting jeera (cumin) seeds inside a camel’s mouth”, denoting the futility of parcelling off a small quota percentage between five designated minority communities, including the Muslims. “It is disproportionate to the size of our population”, said Iqbal.

    The announcement touched a raw nerve in other ways. Muslims accused the Congress of exploiting an “artifi cial” divide between the backward castes and the upper castes to its advantage and of doing nothing to amend a presidential order of 1950 that prevents those professing and practising religions other than Hinduism from being included as scheduled castes (Sikhs and Buddhists were). In contrast, Yadav senior’s “promise” to push for the Ranganath Mishra Commission’s recommendation of a 10% quota was hailed as “bold”, with not a single Muslim willing to question its tenability to stand the scrutiny of law. It was obvious that the SP’s credibility among the Muslims – that took a beating in 2009 when Yadav senior had teamed up with the former BJP chief minister, Kalyan Singh, whose dispensation had presided over the Babri demolition – was soaring again while that of the Congress had begun dipping.

    From Rohilkhand as one travelled to the east of Lucknow in Barabanki, Gonda, Faizabad and Bahraich – that fall in the Avadh region and polled in the fi rst phase on 8 February – the trends one tentatively captured in Rohilkhand were confi rmed. Not only were the Muslims gravitating slowly but surely towards the SP, the Yadavs – the original source of its sustenance – displayed the kind of determination to rally around the Yadav father-son duo that was seldom glimpsed in the past.

    Support for the SP

    An SP insider admitted that unlike Mayawati’s Jatavs – who famously vote the BSP “blindfolded” – the commitment of the Yadavs was “something we cannot take for granted”. “The Yadavs are generally economically empowered, barring some poor ones. Once they attain a certain level of prosperity, they fancy themselves as equal to Mulayam Singh Yadav. This was the reason why the betteroff Yadavs resented his propensity to promote his family members because some of them felt they were more deserving of the positions than Mulayam Singh’s brothers and cousins. They turned their backs on us in the last two elections out of resentment”, the insider said. State bureaucrats, who follow elections closely, said in 2007, “20 to 25%” of the Yadavs voted the BSP to “spite Mulayam Singh”.

    The Mayawati administration’s alleged high-handedness towards the Yadavs apparently forced a rethink in the community’s commitment levels towards the SP. “We were harassed every which way. When we identified ourselves at police check-posts with our caste name, we were thrashed and locked up in custody on trumped-up charges. The cops would

    Economic Political Weekly

    EPW
    april 7, 2012 vol xlviI no 14

    COMMENTARY

    say, you are a Mulayam man, you are a threat to ‘Behenji’ (Mayawati), you are out to kill her”, said Kailash Yadav, who owns a small construction company at Ziyapatti Mafi in the Azamgarh district.

    The upshot was the community elders in every place where the Yadav vote counted fanned out into the villages and issued a diktat that if a kinsperson voted a party other than the SP, he or she would be socially ostracised. The SP had armed the elders with lists containing the names and caste antecedents of voters in almost every constituency in order to later identify the suspected “renegades”.

    Of course, even the near-total backing of the Muslims and Yadavs could not have earned for the SP, its best ever showing to date. At the height of the Muslim-Yadav consolidation in 2002, it won only 143 seats despite emerging as the single largest party. The reason why its seats leapt up from 97 in 2007 to 224 in 2012 was that the SP appropriated the kind of socially inclusive coalition that the BSP had knitted for itself in the last election.

    Ayodhya was a revelation. In the past assembly elections – indeed ever since 1989 – it was a foregone conclusion that the seat would go to Lalloo Singh of the BJP. For the first time, Singh was challenged by Tej Pandey alias Pawan Pandey, a former student leader, of the Samajwadi Party. The perceptions from across the generational divide were apparent at an informal sitting inside a florist’s shop in the main marketplace.

    The older brahmins continued to profess loyalty to the BJP, stressing they would vote for Singh because the “prestige of Bhagwan Ram was at stake”. They said they could not forget the “brutalities” inflicted on the Ram bhakts (faithfuls) by Mulayam Singh Yadav when he was the chief minister in 1990. Under the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s tutelage, the bhakts had laid siege on the Babri mosque, hoping to demolish it. Yadav, who had fortified the complex with state and central security forces, ordered them to fire on the mobs. In the process, 13 were killed and glorified as “martyrs” in the Sangh “parivar’s” annals. Memories of Yadav senior’s goonda raj (rule by the hooligans) also rankled with the older lot.

    A young insurance agent like Surya Kant Mishra maintained he carried no such baggage. He recalled:

    I have faint memories of the Babri era. In any case, the BJP exposed its hypocrisy on the issue by failing to build a Ram temple even when opportunities came its way. Yes, there was hooliganism in Mulayam Singh’s time. But that is offset by the good work he did. He offered a monthly unemployment dole (Rs 500 then), freeships for high school pass girls, 18 hours of uninterrupted electricity, subsidised text books and stationery to school students.

    The historical brahmin reserve against the SP – that at times manifested itself as visceral hatred – seemed to be breaking down. In the end, Pandey defeated Singh by nearly 6,000 votes. More than the margin, Ayodhya’s symbolic loss was something that the BJP would have to seriously ruminate over while introspecting on its poor performance in Uttar Pradesh.

    As one moved eastward of Ayodhya to the Poorvanchal region – that spanned Allahabad, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Ballia, Azamgarh, Mau, Salempur and Deoria – the brahmin warm-up towards the SP had coalesced into an emerging political axis that was christened as the “B-Y-M” (brahmins-Yadavs-Muslims) coalition. Prakash Rana, the block “pramukh” (chief) of Buxa Bazar in Jaunpur (near Varanasi), explained,

    In 2007, Brahmins went lump-sum to the BSP because they wanted the SP out. Satish Mishra (Mayawati’s political aide who crafted the Brahmin-Dalit combination) helped. Like Dhrithirashtra, he blinded himself to realities and began only patronizing his family. The Congress and BJP are not strong options to oust Mayawati. So Brahmins are experimenting with the SP this time.

    Rajnish Shukla, who teaches comparative philosophy at Varanasi’s Sampurnanand Sanskrit University and is counted as a resource person on east Uttar Pradesh for Delhi’s best known psephologists, did a reality check and explained that the so-named B-Y-M coalition was post facto reasoning by the brahmins to justify what he said was a “one-election tactic to choose a lesser evil over a greater one” – in this case, the SP over the BSP. Shukla elaborated:

    In the post-Mandal era, Brahmins are no longer a political vote bank. They have no fixed preferences, they are choosy. The SP has not given structures to integrate social groupings like the BSP had. The Brahmin rationale is if there is an SP candidate with a solid Muslim-Yadav vote bank, their votes would further polarise the electorate and help defeat the BSP candidate.

    Of course, rationalisations are not always determined by mathematical configurations. There were other reasons why the upper castes rooted for the SP. First, Akhilesh’s “liberal” credentials went a long way in softening the rough “casteist” edges to the party. His marriage to a non-Yadav (a Rajput from Uttarakhand),

    Senior Research Fellow/(Labour Market Analysis)

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    april 7, 2012 vol xlviI no 14

    COMMENTARY

    despite the family’s initial reluctance; an academic stint first as an undergraduate in a Mysore engineering college and later as a postgraduate student at Sydney University; a professional spell in US pharmaceutical companies; an interest in areas as “eclectic” as climate change and information technology; a “disinclination” for politics until he was “pushed” into contesting a by-election by his father; a fixation for gismos (he is always seen with his Blackberry and Ipad); and a deliberate projection as a “family person” who savoured his weekends with his children enhanced the image of a leader who could be trusted to take Uttar Pradesh out of the “morass” of sectarian politics and bring to it, a “larger” vision of growth and development.

    The SP’s manifesto bolstered the perception. Its assurances of a Rs 1,000 monthly dole for the jobless up to 35 years of age, free laptops and tablets for secondary and high school students and subsidies on textbooks and stationery items swung youth support cutting across the caste divide. For instance, in the villages of Bareilly – where the BJP’s seven-time MP Santosh Gangwar’s (he lost in 2009) hegemony over the Kurmi vote was unquestioned – young Kurmi boys and girls spoke of voting for the SP because of its manifesto.

    Akhilesh Yadav’s Contributions

    Akhilesh’s well-publicised assertion in blocking the reinduction of western Uttar Pradesh strongman, D P Yadav – classified as a “B” grade history-sheeter and one beyond reform, in police records

    – helped the SP morally grandstand against the BJP that snapped up the BSP’s dubious discards like Babu Singh Kushwaha with alacrity. The episode was portrayed so positively that few in the press asked Akhilesh why his “sense of propriety” did not prevent him from embracing a BSP reject like Bhagwan Sharma alias Guddu Pandit a few months earlier and rewarding him with a ticket. Sharma was accused of rape and abduction. The charges were expediently explained away as “political vendetta”.

    However, Akhilesh’s supposedly serendipitous stroll into politics cloaked a vital aspect of his personality and politics: while he made little impact in the Lok Sabha as a speaker through his three terms as an MP from Kannauj, his organisational prowess was in full play in Uttar Pradesh. Ever since he was mandated by Mulayam Singh to head the SP’s Uttar Pradesh unit – tantamount to heading the party itself since it has little or no presence elsewhere – he revitalised the youth fronts that had fallen into disuse since 2002. These included the Samajwadi Yuvajan Sabha, the Chhatra Sabha and the Lohia Vahini that pencilled the logistics and filled in the crowds in the days when Mulayam Singh fought his battles on the streets and inside jails.

    Unlike Rahul Gandhi’s team-members who came with cachets of “degrees” and “pedigrees” (Stanford, Wharton, Doon School political legatees), Akhilesh’s colleagues were picked from the ground. Sunil Singh Yadav, 31 and the head of the Chhatra Sabha, is the son of an MTNL line-man and a first generation politician who studied in a “mid-day meal” school in his village near Unnao. Anand Singh Bhadauria, 35, and the president of Lohia Vahini, comes from a family of small peasants in Sitapur. Both of them emphasised that parties like the Congress and the BJP would have rejected them at the first instance. “They would have asked us, what is your background? Which school and college are you from?” said Yadav.

    The upshot of the zamini (ground) connect was that these young men quite literally implemented Akhilesh’s wishes to stretch their protests against the BSP government to the “maximum possible extent”. So instead of waving the token black flags and courting brief arrests, an issue like a fee hike in colleges, an embargo on conducting student union elections or the proposal for a four-way split of Uttar Pradesh provoked stronger agitational exertions that pitted them directly against the police at the risk of life and limb.

    Uttar Pradesh Congress and BJP leaders grudgingly acknowledged that the “battle” against Mayawati was fought consistently by the SP cadres alone and their protests were confined to either Rahul Gandhi’s “sanitised” forays into dalit homes or slogan-shouting outside the state assembly.

    The SP’s cadre mobilisation translated into substantive movements on two occasions: a cycle rally, led by Akhilesh, from Noida to Agra in October 2011, shortly after Mayawati unveiled her statues. The police stalled the movement, often forcing the protestors to change their routes through uncharted terrain. The rally was followed by his “Jan Chetna” rath that traversed the state before he resorted to chopper-hopping.

    The overground movements were complimented with micro-level work in the booths. Since Akhilesh’s veto over candidates’ selection was near-total – that of the other members of the extended Yadav family whose writ ran in the past was curtailed this time – his colleagues, who helped him shortlist the names, claimed by the time the process was done with, they were boned up on the caste and community equations in virtually every constituency.

    Organisation apart, what gave traction to the SP’s endeavour were the issues that came up, one after another. Farmers, cutting across castes and regions, criticised Mayawati for being antagonistic towards them. Khoobchand Singh, a Lodh-Rajput farmer of Mehemdabad village in the Jyotiba Phule district, said,

    Mayawati had no doubt enhanced the procurement price of sugar cane from Rs 205 to Rs 240 per quintal. But the profit margin was offset by the increased amounts we spend on fertilizers and di-ammonia phosphate. These inputs are not available in the fair price shops. Government officers openly tell us to buy them in black. Moreover, we get electricity for two or three hours and that too after midnight.

    The SP’s “promises” to waive agrarian debts to the tune of Rs 50,000, ensure fertilisers, urea and other components at affordable rates and embargo land acquisition for commercial purposes won them a ready constituency in the farmers.

    The alleged misuse of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 by the Mayawati government was another cause of ire among the upper castes. While the police who were approached in several places were unwilling to share statistics on the number of complaints that were filed and the rate of convictions, the absence of verifiable data allowed the non-dalits to bandy about fi gures that ranged from 10,000 and a lakh of cases per year.

    Economic Political Weekly

    EPW
    april 7, 2012 vol xlviI no 14

    COMMENTARY

    The provocation, they alleged, was “anything”: from “daring” to ask a dalit why he or his animal trespassed private land to “entreating” them to work on the farms. Shivdhan Yadav, who heads the Bhadohi block teachers’ association, said, “One policeman advised me to keep off these Dalits. He said why do you want to touch 1,100 megawatt of live wire and then die of shock?” The graphic imagery encapsulated a sentiment few articulated unabashedly and most acknowledged tacitly: that under Mayawati, the dalits had become so “arrogant and headstrong” that they expected the upper castes to “genufl ect” before them. “They have to be put in their places”, was the feeling.

    The BSP was certainly not put in its place. Even if its seats plummeted from 206 to 80, its vote share of 25.92 was 3.24% lower than the SP’s 29.16. In absolute terms, it was a stunning drop: from 30.43% in 2007 while the SP’s was a moderate gain from 26.07 in the same year.

    For the SP, the tasks ahead are formidable: from containing its over-zealous

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    cadres, ready to brandish their revolvers for reasons, celebratory and otherwise, to getting veterans and “Mulayam votaries” like senior minister Azam Khan on board the Akhilesh dispensation to putting in place systems to deliver on their manifesto “promises”. Its biggest challenge is coaxing the bureaucracy that was recalcitrant in Mulayam Singh’s previous regimes. If Mayawati had a pillar of support in the dalit bureaucracy – the officials equal those from the upper castes – the SP’s handicap is the lack of a “committed” offi cialdom.

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    april 7, 2012 vol xlviI no 14

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