MURADNAGAR: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a master orator and a good judge of the public mood, must be more than aware that the vote in Uttar Pradesh has slipped away. His rallies in West UP that were crowded with slogan shouting, cheering youth in 2014 no longer have that spark, and for the first time he is having to share the space with the other political parties amidst reports that the fickle youth are now turning up for Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s meetings in larger numbers.

Despite the continued defence of demonetisation in Parliament, the Prime Minister and the BJP have little to adverise at the UP rallies as the ‘notebandi’ has crippled the small businesses that have been a hallmark of the small towns and brought the labour back from other states to acute joblessness. There is a visible resistance to the BJP efforts to gain centrestage in this part of UP that goes to the polls tomorrow, as the votebank that brought it 70 plus seats in the last Lok Sabha covering almost 300 Assembly constituencies, is having second thoughts.

The BJP virtually swept through UP, including the western part of the large state, on the vote of the Jats and the youth in particular cutting across all castes. The upper castes, the Yadavs, the other backwards, the Dalits all lost their first time voters and more to the BJP in the 2014 parliamentary elections while the Jats across the constitutencies in this part consolidated behind PM Modi.

This time around the shift is palpable. There has been a decided erosion in the Jat vote, the extent of course will be determined only on polling day. The BJP has found it difficult to emerge as a Jat party, and after the Muzaffarnagar violence before the last general elections, was unable to address the issues of reservation, sugarcane to the community’s satisfaction. In fact, the BJP does not have any prominent Jat leaders and was unable to handle this vocal and volatile vote bank. The violent agitation in Haryana by the Jat community for reservation has had a decided impact in western UP.

The Jats here will be voting for Ajit Singh and the Rashtriya Lok Dal that is set to revive in select Assembly constituences. The Jats are not tired of pointing out that had RLD been in the SP-Congress alliance, the maha gatbandhan would have swept the area. This has not happened, and although some vote will still go to BJP candidates the percentage is going to be drastically reduced.

Interestingly Ajit Singh has moved into the BJP camp to pick candidates for these elections. A particularly interesting catch has been in Kairana, the seat of the BJP campaign alleging mass exodus of Hindus because of threats from Muslims. This campaign started by BJP MP Hukum Singh gathered ground, and motivated the BJP to expand it into a larger canvas. The state government, after an enquiry, completely contradicted the charges but that did not stop BJP President Amit Shah from promising a ‘white paper’ on the alleged exodus while releasing the party manifesto recently. Ajit Singh has now fielded Hukum Singhs nephew from Kairana, Anil Chauhan.Chauhan had till the other day led his uncles campaign against the reported exodus, and today is campaigning hard maintaining that this was a lie, and that no such exodus has taken place.

The youth seems to be going back to the caste denominations it emerged out from in the Lok Sabha elections. CM Akhilesh Yadav has consolidated the Yadavs, and the youth who had “strayed” in large numbers to the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. The Dalits who had registered a severe erosion in favour of the BJP in 2014 are back with Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj party. The Congress party insists, but there is no independent confirmation of this as yet, that the Brahmins are moving towards it.

The point is that the youth voters are now looking directly at the SP-Congress alliance that has been harping on development, jobs, opportunities. It were these promises and more that had won the young voters support for PM Modi, and the inaction has a group of young people standing at a crossing in Muradnagar insisting, “he does not speak the truth, he promised and did nothing.” Demonetisation has hit Muradnagar as it has all districts of this region, and the reaction is adverse, often hostile insofar as the BJP is concerned.

The strong campaign by the BSP and the alliance against communalism, and for ‘bhaichara’ has made some inroads in that the BJP is finding it difficult to propagate divisiveness with the fervour that was evident in 2014. The Election Commission rules also make it more difficult, with complaints being sent in by the opposing candidates on an almost daily basis. The non-BJP political parties have been making almost the same arguments insofar as secularism is concerned, with the BJP being attacked by all candidates for spreading lies, promoting divisiveness, and fooling the people.

Reports from Lucknow suggest deep factionalism within the BJP with some local party leaders insisting that even the RSS has not mobilised its cadres “to the full extent” to help in the party in these polls. Again there is no independent confirmation of this but it is true that all the various front outfits that were so visible during the last elections as propaganda tools of the Hindutva brigade, are not that visible at the moment. Despite shifting the focus to the Ram Mandir in the election manifesto, this is so far not central to the BJP campaign.

Corruption is a slogan that has never worked on its own in UP. It can at best stick to another party, and did usually to the Samajwadi but this time around Akhilesh Yadav has got the benefit as he has got rid of this label along with his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. Development too is not always a stand alone plank in UP, but again this time the CM has usurped this from the BJP because of the work done on the roads and infrastructure across the state.

Surgical strikes had drawn a chord in west UP and many of the candidates from the BJP have been harping on it. But again now it has become old hat, and is not drawing the expected dividends for the party. Demonetisation was to have been the new mantra, but given the negative impact across the region not a single candidate from the BJP is even willing to mention it.