Can Sadhvi and Baba revive BJP in UP?
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Sadhvi Uma Bharati returns to BJP and more importantly to lead the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh. This should be a welcome development though few perspicacious BJP watchers have expressed huge skepticism whether this will provide the desperately needed political traction for party in UP. As things stood last week, BJP was fighting to stave off what seemingly looked like an electoral catastrophe in UP but as they say, a week is a long time in politics.

Personally this writer has been a great admirer of Sadhvi, a charismatic native nationalist who hails from an impoverished, lower caste peasant family but through her prodigious talent, precocious erudition of tradition knowledge streams, street fighting skills and powerful oratory emerged as a visible face of the muscular but resurgent nationalism of middle India. Uma Bharati’s belated but welcome return also corrects a huge aberration in the BJP (perhaps not by design) – that of a skewed social base of its key national leadership. Lack of social diversity of the Delhi leadership stands in complete contrast to its powerful state units, which mirror very well the diverse social distribution of its support base.

Kalyan Singh Phenomenon

While facile political punditry continues to superficially attribute multitude of reasons for the continued electoral decline of BJP nationally, the single most significant political blunder that lead to dramatic fall in parliamentary seats was the marginalization and subsequent expulsion of Kalyan Singh – a powerful OBC leader who brilliantly blended social engineering strategies with purposeful governance albeit for a short period. Kalyan Singh incidentally was also an exemplary Health Minister in Janata regime of UP, which then naturally catapulted him to leadership of state BJP when the disastrous Janata experiment collapsed.

Hindutva vanguard, consumed by irrationality rather than reason, unfortunately went for the jugular at the disputed site and nipped the Kalyan Singh governance project in the bud. Later a battery of electorally irrelevant upper caste leaders, blessed by Vajpayee, staged a revolt against Kalyan Singh and facilitated his exit from the party.  A much chastened Kalyan Singh returned later to the party but he was a pale imitation of his original political personality.

UP Caste Cauldron

Brahmin-Bania party is a deliberate political stereotype that has been maliciously foisted on BJP by its cunning detractors. Large section of Brahmins of UP have been and continue to form the bulwark of traditional Congress support base and their subliminal fascination for Gandhee dynasty endures. Of course when upsurge of religiosity happened during Janmabhoomi movement or when they rediscovered their caste affinity to Vajpayee after he acquired a national stature, Brahmins did jump on to the BJP bandwagon. It will be pertinent to recall that in 1974 when Jan Sangh had run a personality centric campaign projecting Vajpayee as a towering leader pitched against H.N Bahugana of Congress, Vajpayee bite the dust and Congress triumphed. Even when its fortunes were at its lowest ebb in UP, Congress could win in few urban pockets on a limited Brahmin-Muslim mobilization.

While UP politics is an incredibly complex caste cauldron if one analyses it from a micro sociological perspective, some broad generalization can be made on the polity before it fragmented. A Mohammed-Mishra alliance supplemented by a Dalit votebank with a completely de-ideologised, coalitional mercenary political approach used to be the reason for stranglehold of Congress in UP for a long time. Agrarian / pastoral OBC castes typically gravitated towards anti-Congress political position whenever a political alternative presented. It was only after the Dastampur massacre of Dalits that Kanshi Ram managed to gain political space for Dalit mobilization. It was much later that Mandalisation and Kamandalisation of UP politics ushered in a tectonic shift in electoral landscape of UP.

Demystifying the 1967 and 1991 Surge

It’s important to note that the two occasions when BJP performed spectacularly in UP, it was on account of intermediate caste groups shifting to it in a huge way (1967 and 1991). But it could never build on the electoral momentum due to its inability to sufficiently accommodate the OBC political space. What was even more tragic was that this space was ceded away to OBC parties which were completely bereft of any ideological underpinning (unlike Lohiate tradition of intermediate caste mobilization which had a focussed but a flawed agenda).

Rise of Bharatiya Kranti Dal put paid to the first great Jan Sangh surge in 70’s. BKD of Charan Singh defined political opportunism and legacy of opportunism has been faithfully carried on by his son Ajit Singh. And emergence of Samjawadi Party, an essentially de-idelogised caste outfit of Yadavs, strengthened by a cynical communion with Muslims, served as a deterrent to BJP’s comeback attempts in 90’s .

1967 polls was held in UP in the background of a major anti-cow slaughter agitation involving massive mobilization of Hindu clergy and plebeian. Guzarilal Nanda, who represented a now extinct breed of honest conscientious Congressman, was the home minister in the despotic Indira Gandhi regime. He was reluctant to fire indiscriminately at the protestors. But Indira (who later thought nothing of cynically playing a Hindu communal card) ordered a ruthless attack on the Sadhus and Sants, killing many of them in the process. This unleashed a huge wave of anger against Congress.  This lead to a powerful Hindu mobilization. Yadavs, a very pious OBC caste, who regard cow as sacred given that it’s integral to bucolic economy, were in forefront of political agitation and consolidated behind Jan Sangh. Congress was electorally decimated in the state assembly election. Given that Jan Sangh has a reasonably good organizational structure it benefited the most from that round of upsurge.

Again in 1991 on account of resurgence of nationalism engendered by the Ram Temple movement a huge Hindu mobilization happened in UP. Powerful non-OBC groups including Kurmis/Lodhs/good chunk of Yadavs/non-Jatav Dalit groups like Valmikis completely consolidated behind BJP. Jats of Western UP a constituency that always eluded the mobilization efforts of BJP also formed a part of a grand social alliance. With Brahmins, Bania and Thakurs adding to the electoral calculus, BJP juggernaut streamrolled opponents in 1991 elections (incidentally state mostly went to polls before Rajiv Gandhi assassination). However the greatest political failure of the BJP has been its inability to solidify this Hindu consciousness in UP. A Hindu mobilization project that was brilliantly engineered by Advani-Govindacharya was completely run to ground by Vajpayee and many upper caste cronies.

Maya’s magic

Indian polity has since travelled a long distance. UP politics since has witnessed a spectacular emergence of Dalit politics. Any socially progressive, well wisher of Hindu society would have to welcome the political empowerment of Kumari Mayawati and her continued success. It’s also clear that her inverted social pyramid mobilization model continues to hold strong despite 2009 LS election setback when Congress did make marginal gains through some smart social engineering, communal polarization, fielding of supermoneyed candidates and huge election spend. Today Kumari Mayawati, by some distance, is the most powerful and charismatic leader of UP. She has managed to provide fairly purposeful governance despite the juvenile distractions of Rahul Baba and his stagemanged non-Jatav Dalit tourism, the absurdity and charlatanism of which finally was exposed in Bhatta Parsaul. As things stands now it’s a Mayawati election to lose

Baba Ramdev and BJP

Baba Ramdev movement though has queered the political pitch in UP slightly and has provided a window of opportunity for BJP. Through some deft political engineering BJP can comeback in to the reckoning by capitalizing on the political momentum that the movement that has build. Unlike the Hazare circus which was a middle class diversion between the World cup and IPL in which an ambitious section of non-NAC civil society used a maverick Gandhian to catapult themselves to national limelight, Baba Ramdev movement has been a grassroot movement build on years of sustained Hindu tele-evangelism and mass contact programs. An earthy spiritualist seamlessly combined breathing lesson with bharatsachar andolan to build a powerful movement

BJP engagement withBaba Ramdev should be part of a carefully planned and calibrated strategy given that Baba Ramdev at this juncture will be justifiably nurturing messianic delusions. After successfully orchestrating this anti-corruption movement Sangh elders need to recognize that Baba Ramdev’s strategic importance in the Hindu clergy. Respect and recognition in the spiritual order for Baba Ramdev should be befitting of his stellar contribution. Here is where the role of a powerful OBC sanyasin like Sadhvi Uma Bharati comes in to play. She has to triangulate native nationalism, aspirational livelihood issues and anti-Congressism to shape BJP as a serious contender in UP. Her campaign to clean the Ganges has found some resonance. She hails from Bundelkhand and her caste has numerical presence in select constituencies in UP. BJP should display grace and now induct Kalyan Singh as well to add firepower however marginal it might be. Even tactical deployment of Sadhvi Rithambara, now doing some outstanding social service, can be considered.

Political opposition is about occupying mindshare combined with solid grassroot work. Thing that was ticking for Rahul and his dynasty brigade in UP so far was, thanks to Congresss’s supreme PR machinery (nationally and in local media), he was projected as one man crusader taking on the might of Kumari Mayawati. It helps if editor of NDTV is a wife of powerful member of Rahul Babalog brigade to create such a make believe imagery. This impression was successfully created despite shameful tactical deals that UPA managers cut with Kumari Mayawati when corruption scams threatened further embarrassments on account  of robust parliamentary interventions by a spirited opposition

Thankfully grassroot network of BJP(read Sangh) remains largely  intact though weakened to some extent. This deficiency can now be supplemented with dedicated band of Ramdev followers. A huge Hindu canvas needs to be built and harebrained strategies like projecting Kalraj Mishra etc needs to be abandoned right now. As long as Digvijay Singh , great Rajput of Sagarika Ghose’s dreams, continues his single minded focus on delivering minority votebank to Congress, expect a nice little counter mobilization to crystallize in UP. Question though would be whether it’s Mayawati or BJP, who will be beneficiary

From a social engineering perspective if a significant attrition of Yadav votebank can be achieved vis-a-vis strategic positioning and campaign of Baba Ramdev without overt playing of caste card, it would be a welcome development and possibly the best fallout for BJP from the Baba Ramdev movement. Samajwadi Party like family enterprises should be obliterated and any meaningful rebuilding of energetic Hindu Samaj needs to be achieved through permanent mobilization of intermediate caste groups like Yadav.

Even a solid second place finish would serve BJP well for its 2014 nation-wide electoral revival

PS-Deliberately did not deal on economic dimensions that needs to be highlighted for attempting the BJP revival in UP. This is will be dealt sepeartely