The Election Commission of India must be congratulated for the peaceful conduct of polling in the first two phases of the crucial state Assembly in Uttar Pradesh, where the rabble-rousing campaign by all parties had raised concerns about a possible breach of law and order.
The 58 constituencies in the Jat belt of Western UP that went to polls in the first phase of the seven-phase elections on February 10 and the 55 seats of Rohailkhand area where polling was held on February 14, were considered particularly sensitive by election watchers.
In Western UP the elections were held under the cloud of 2016 communal riots. The BJP had won 53 of these in the area which was once considered a bastion of Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal that is currently an ally of Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.
Irrespective of the ultimate winners and losers, one thing is certain: thanks to the Election Commission’s extensive voter education drives, the ordinary voter has become wiser to keep the contestants guessing and more enthusiastic about exercising his right.
During the ongoing UP elections, three significant signs of change could be witnessed. First, there is a distinct social realignment of the support base of different parties that are resected in their political alliances. Secondly, everyday issues are giving a tough fight to the grand narratives of social justice, Hindutva, nationalism, and development. The diluted grand narratives at best acquire a supplementary status. Thirdly, identity politics of caste has gained a new legitimacy amongst the people.
The new social alignments are most visible for BJP and SP. We see a reversal of BJP’s social engineering with the exit of significant backward community leaders just before elections. Their discontent was not sudden. It was simmering. They joined the BJP bandwagon individually, in the hope of getting new recognition. They joined as leaders of their communities but the benefits to their communities were often not channeled through them.
Another kind of realignment is visible at the front of SP whose core support base, the Yadavs, had become a new untouchable under the erce communal polarization in the state. The mahagatbandhan enabled SP to make inroads into the support base of BSP. Many of its leaders joined SP. The long silence of BSP further enabled SP to project itself as the only winnable option against BJP.
This led discontented OBC leaders and communities to join hands with SP. But the discontented communities have no natural inclination towards SP. They remember the strong intra-community rivalries with Yadavs, but they are still ready to consider this alliance if they get adequate representation in their community.
The lived reality of people and their problems seem to have acquired center stage. The BJP seems to have realized that hard Hindutva might evoke a strong reaction. So there is no campaigning around the question of Love Jihad, cow protection brigade, or Ram Janambhoomi.
The communal appeal is laced around law and order by linking it with riots and the honor of ‘bahu bet. Development is projected as the outcome of a riot-free state. Through this, BJP is attempting to project its progressive modern image.