BJP On The Backfoot in West UP
NEW DELHI: The Bharatiya Janata Party is being hit hard in poll bound Uttar Pradesh because of demonetisation. And while it is difficult as always to predict who will win or lose in this complicated state, it is a fact that there is an anti-BJP sentiment running through the districts of west UP that had embraced the party and its candidates in the last Lok Sabha elections that brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power.
Mirroring Bihar in the Assembly elections, the thread of the argument given by those who had openly voted for the BJP in the last elections is:
- Notebandi has finished our businesses, our trade, our shops, our employment;
- PM Modi had promised us money in our accounts, that was a lie. He has done nothing for the poor except make promises that have not been kept;
- We are voting for a government in UP not in Delhi, the BJP does not even have a Chief Minister candidate.
There is not a single confirmation of a recent poll, earlier this month, that claimed the BJP would get a decisive majority in UP. And that demonetisation has had a positive impact.
The Citizen has recorded any number of statements from villagers across Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Aligarh and adjoinging constitutencies where all spoken to expressed dismay and distress over notebandi. As pointed out in an earlier report, small businesses have closed down all over the towns impacting on livelihood of all. Artisans have been crippled, daily wagers driven to the verge of destitution, vendors unable to even pay the basic municipal fee to park their carts, and small shopkeepers hit hard.
The BJP is being blamed directly for notebandi, with PM Modi getting the flak directly. Unlike the big city dweller, the UP small town resident and villagers are more direct in their assessment. And do not hesitate to speak out against the PM directly for not living up to the promises he had made during the last Lok Sabha polls.
The dejection is writ large on what had been an assertive BJP vote for the Lok Sabha, almost aggressive in its support for PM Modi and his party. The youth from all castes, including sections of the Dalits, had come out to vote for what they had promised would be a new future. This expectation has turned into despondency, hastened by the debilitating impact of notebandi across the region. Even the die hard BJP supporter was on the defensive, and as one shopkeeper in Meerut said, “I will vote for the BJP no matter what but let us see what happens. There are problems this time.”
A communal campaign, given the presently strict surveillance by the Election Commission, might not be easy to launch although as the owner of a small store who still supports the BJP said, “if the Muslims come out for the Samajwadi party in large numbers, the others can consolidate against it to the BJPs benefit.” Perhaps, perhaps not depending on the candidate, and the campaign. But this hope indicates a certain desperation, whereby the reliance now is not on a positive agenda but on communal polarisation. In 2014 the voters were charged with enthusiasm, insisting that PM Modi would change the face of India.
Not a single person repeated this. The Jat vote that ditched all the other political parties and rushed to embrace the BJP has always been volatile, and this time is registering an anti-BJP mood. There is anger against the BJP sparked into a vocal dissent by notebandi. But the reason lies elsewhere, in the basic psyche of the Jat vote in west UP and the BJP. Used to Jat leaders like Charan Singh, and for a time Ajit Singh, the Jats have been finding it difficult to adjust to the other parties in the fray. PM Modi rekindled the hope that their specific interests would be met, but the BJP not being a Jat party by any stretch of the imagination has been unable to cement this support.
After the Muzaffarnagar violence had successfully divided the Jat and the Muslims, the BJP was unable to understand and cater to the specific aspirations of the Jats. It hit them with sugarcane prices, it refused to acknowledge their demands for reservations, and now with notebandi has dealt them a triple whammy. As a group of Jat villagers explained in their own rustic fashion as to why they had turned away from the BJP, “after the violence we were left without the Muslims who used to work on our fields. These people (BJP workers) were only interested in communalism, but did not come to help us at any time. No one was there to listen to us. We now realise we were made fools of, and (as one of them said) we have gone to try and get the Muslims to come back to the village. This BJP just made false promises, they have not even given us reservation, they do not represent us.”
There is a visible hankering for Ajit Singh, as he is the only Jat mainstream left in the area. But that too came with a condition: he should join the grandalliance with Akhilesh Yadav.
The palpable anger against the BJP was expressed at times by silence going through a full range of emotions with a “we will finish them” comment from an astrologer in a village outside Muzaffarnagar town. Whether this turns into a negative vote, or is assuaged by other considerations when the heat of the campaign rises in these constitutencies going to the polls on February 11, remains to be seen.
As pointed out at the onset, UP is complicated and crucial for all contesting the elections. But the very fact that the BJP has been placed in the dock in the run up to the polls is in itself surprising, and significant. And perhaps the best explanation as to why this very visible sentiment was not being reported by the media came from a group of villagers who turned from notebandi into a full fledged attack on the media. An elder in the group took it upon himself to explain, acting out the scene where he became the reporter with a mike, thrust it before one villager and then kept moving it with the commentary: you come here, ask this man what he thinks but don’t like what he says, so you move to the next and the next, and then finally take the version of this man who says what you want to hear.” Everyone in the group laughs loudly, nodding and exclaiming, “yes that is exactly what happens.”
This is Uttar Pradesh, where the villager is wiser than his far richer neighbour in Delhi, and far more honest and outspoken.