Uttar Pradesh has historically exerted great influence (some may say undue) over national politics, having been the home of some of our most influential politicians. Which makes its politics fascinating, if not for anything else than for its impact on the Delhi throne. For the last ten years, UP politics can be looked upon, very simplistically, as a punch-counter-punch battle between two large voting blocs—-the OBC(Yadav)-Muslim combine represented by Mulayam “Netaji” Yadav and the Dalits represented by Maya “Behenji” Wati with each side trying to muscle on each other’s turf while trying to tip the scales by poaching the Bramhin and higher castes from the BJP. Kind of like Montagues vs Capulets, but with criminals, rifles, wrestlers, elephants, statues, mandir and India’s only royal family added for good measure.
For me of course what has been the most fascinating is how the Congress and the BJP have been, once again, relegated to third and fourth position-scrappers in what has historically been their “headquarters state” and how this marginalization reflects generally on the moribund state of our biggest national players.
The Congress has many problems, perhaps none more than the fact that its focus has almost entirely been on creating a stage-managed success for Rahul Gandhi, a task that is even more difficult than getting Abhishek Bacchan to deliver a hit. This time they rolled out the entire royal family, making UP a whirring circus of helicopters, plastic smiles and photo-ops. Digvijay Singh tried his best to rile up the Muslim vote-base by blubbering Batla-Batla-Batla but it is difficult to quite drive home the point of Muslim victimization when it was your government at the center that was responsible for what happened there. Salman Khursheed also tried gamely, like a kindly uncle swinging his arm around for a bowl at the family picnic, but the Congress was never in it to win. The best they could hope to get would be a manufactured triumph for Rahul Gandhi (“Look he increased the number of seats”) . They did do better than last time, increasing their seats by a whopping 6 (from 22), which was as impressive as Dad hiring 3 private maths tutors and Junior then coming with his report card and saying “Dad, half-yearly I got 2 out of 100 and this time I got 8”. What was more telling than this increase in seats was that even in the pampered home constituencies of the Prince and the Queen, they were decimated. Yes Frodo has breached Mordor and it would take a special kind of chutzpah, not that the Congress does not have a lot of it, to claim it that the royal family has the people’s love when they cannot hold their own castle.
Talking about losing safe constituencies, the BJP lost Ayodhya. If this does not convince the BJP honchos that the Mandir is no longer an issue, then I don’t know what will. The BJP at its height had great leaders—-Vajpayee as the centrist moderate statesman and Advani as the rabble-rouser who could get the base behind him. Now no one knows what they are—Jinnah fan-boys, impossibly old men nodding away in a world that has spun past, a party without an issue or a cogent strategy against the Congress, except saying “We are not the Congress”. This time, they tried to make another Kalyan Singh (who used to be their greatest OBC-vote-puller) out of Uma Bharati and Mayawati-friend-turned-foe Babu Ram Kushwaha. It did not work. The BJP actually lost 4 seats and this despite Mayawati’s social contract with Bramhins collapsing in the later part of her rule, when she aggressively returned to her upper-caste-baiting roots in order to rally the base around her. Very very sad.
It is perhaps the biggest tragedy when one needs to point to Samajwadi Party and say “That’s how you should do it.” Akhilesh Yadav, young and unfettered by history, was able to make a case that this time Samajwadi Party would be different from the English-hating, computer-bashing, gun-firing party of troglodytes that they were known to be. Then of course they do this, immediately after coming to power, showing that some things stay the same. But at the very least, they were able to project, perhaps disingenuously, something moderately fresh and even in the caste-and-religion-stove-piped landscape of UP, with tenuous alliances and violence that simmers below the surface, it was perhaps this hope, which combined with anti-incumbency, led to the BSP getting unseated from its elephant.
National parties, kindly note.