Listen to this article:
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has stepped up his tirade against minorities. There is no better way to read this than considering it as his response, born out of nervousness, to the exodus of his party men to Akhilesh Yadav’s camp as high-stakes elections draw closer in the state.
No matter how brave a front Adityanath – and other BJP high-profile campaigners like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah – may put up, the saffron brigade is at a loss to mitigate the situation. It is unable to arrest the exodus of several leaders from Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalit communities to the Samajwadi Party, which is fast emerging as the BJP’s main contender on the Uttar Pradesh turf.
OBC heavyweight and Uttar Pradesh labour minister Swami Prasad Maurya announced that he would soon join the SP soon after he tendered his resignation on Tuesday. Another minister, Dara Singh Chouhan, too resigned from Adityanath’s cabinet on Wednesday. Speculation is rife in Lucknow that Dharam Singh Saini – an OBC leader from eastern Uttar Pradesh – may follow suit. These three command sizeable clout among their non-Yadav OBC castes, which played a crucial role in the BJP’s victory in the 2017 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Just before the Election Commission announced the dates for polls in five states, including Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath said, “It’s 80 % versus 20%. The Mafiosi and anti-nationals who constitute barely 20% of the voters are opposed to the BJP while the remaining 80% are with us.”
The BJP and Adityanath may spin such a statement in any way, but people at large clearly understand, without any room for confusion, that the “20% people” meant minorities. And, in fact, Adityanath has never shied away from making malicious comments against minorities and repeatedly targeting them. A number of anti-minority legislations, the crackdown on the minority institutions, framing of the members from the minority community in different cases, and the torture inflicted on minorities in the name of cow protection all point to his antipathy and approach towards them.
Besieged on two fronts
It appears that Adityanath is facing a two-front battle with the Uttar Pradesh elections fast approaching.
Expanding on this, a senior Lucknow-based journalist, Sanjay Pandey says, “Yogi Adityanath faces a two-front battle. First and foremost, he will find it hard to retain power with Jat and Gujjar farmers deserting the BJP in western Uttar Pradesh and several influential OBC leaders jumping the ship in eastern Uttar Pradesh. The second battle is due to the weariness of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who have been trying to cut him to size. The duo thinks that in case Adityanath wins over 300 seats, given his radical Hindutva image, he could threaten their position.”
Pandey’s observations do not appear off the mark because Modi preferred to hold the centre stage while launching the election campaign of the BJP in the name of inaugurating the Kashi-Vishwanath corridor project at Varanasi and keeping Adityanath at a distance on December 13, 2021. Even Adityanath was sidelined when Modi performed rituals during the laying of the foundation stone for the Ram temple at Ayodhya last year.
Besides, the Modi-Shah duo also roped in Gujarat cadre former IAS officer from UP Arvind Kumar Sharma to clip Adityanath’s wings. Although Adityanath has tried enough to resist Modi-Shah’s ‘behind the scene’ moves to cut him to size, the UP chief minister still needs to weather the storm.
Altered political landscape
If reports from western Uttar Pradesh are any indication, the withdrawal of the three contentious farm laws by the Modi government has not placated the farmers, as they continue to remain hostile to the BJP. With the year-long farmers’ movement once again cementing the bond between the Jats and Muslims after they shared a strained relationship following the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, benefitting the BJP electorally so far, the saffron party now appears to have lost the trust of both the communities. Both Jats and Muslims seem to be inclined towards the alliance of Rashtriya Lok Dal of Jayant Choudhary and SP of Akhilesh Yadav.
The situation of BJP in eastern UP is no better. With multiple blows from unprecedented price rise, loss of livelihood opportunities and the government’s mismanagement of COVID-19, the poor OBC population in the region has turned their backs on the BJP. Sensing the changing dynamics on the ground, several BJP leaders in the region have been compelled to join Akhilesh Yadav’s camp, which has been raising the issues of governance and livelihood. The shifting of loyalties by Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chouhan, and a possible exit of Dharam Singh Saini from the BJP, explains this phenomenon.
There are also reports that Anupriya Patel, who leads the Apna Dal of Kurmis, may wave goodbye to the BJP and join forces with the SP. Kurmis are in sizeable numbers in Varanasi-Gorakhpur-Ballia and Deoria regions. With Patel’s exit, BJP could lose a lot of ground among Kurmis in the two regions.
In another case, powerful OBC leader Omprakash Rajbhar has already joined the SP.
This time around Akhilesh Yadav is following just what the BJP did in the 2017 elections. The BJP had then stitched alliances with smaller OBC and Dalit parties to damage the prospects of SP. Amit Shah back then played a crucial role in pooling in the support of non-Yadav OBC castes towards the BJP while Akhilesh Yadav struggled with anti-incumbency.
Now, Akhilesh Yadav is paying back to the BJP in the same coin, as SP is faring far better than the BJP in cobbling up coalitions with smaller parties and various non-Yadav castes.
With the rising anti-incumbency against his government and several communities slipping away from the BJP fold, Adityanath has an uphill task in the ensuing elections. Therefore, the stepping up of anti-minority attacks by Adityanath is nothing but an act of utter desperation and nervousness as he wades through stormy political weather.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author and professor of journalism and mass communication at Invertis University, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.