The Sangh has to recreate the nineties’ rise of BJP in UP to come close to power in 2014. For that, Narendra Modi will have to do a Kalyan Singh.

The BJP and its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, have been effectively talking up the saffron stock in the national media. But, there still is no discernable wave across the Indian countryside, compared with its successful campaigns of the 1990s.

What does that mean for the BJP’s poll prospects in 2014?

Coalition partners

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Sangh Parivar’s electoral alliance, is down to just three parties — the BJP, the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal. According to the seats won in the current Lok Sabha, these three parties have a presence in States that add up to about 350 seats.

The NDA has won 131 out of about 350 seats, which means it is virtually absent in about 200 constituencies, out of a total of 545 seats.

For instance, the BJP or the NDA doesn’t exist (according to their tally in the current Lok Sabha) in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Odisha, which account for 175 seats in the Lok Sabha. And in these States, the BJP cannot historically or realistically win elections without a pre-poll alliance.

Meanwhile, the old allies, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and Tamil Nadu CM J. Jayalalithaa, are not exactly warming up to the prospect of an alliance with the BJP.

None of them is in a mood to accommodate the BJP, leaving only the former Andhra Pradesh chief minister, the desperate Chandrababu Naidu, seeking Modi’s hand.

So, in most of these 175-200 seats the BJP will have to wait for a post-poll ally. But conversely, the big winners in these 175 seats will have the luxury to pick and choose their national partner!

Only a party that has a fair chance to make a government can be a potential suitor to the regional parties holding the key to 175 seats.

Uttar Pradesh factor

The Ganga-Jamuna plains are best suited to help NDA scale up its tally in 350 seats from the present number of 131 to, say, about 180. The BJP had done fairly well in its traditional strongholds of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Rajasthan in 2009. Its ally, the Shiv Sena, had 11 seats or about 25 per cent of Maharashtra’s 48 seats. Punjab only holds a maximum of 13 seats for the BJP-Akali Dal alliance. But the BJP had only 10 seats out of 80 in 2009 from UP.

Interestingly, UP has never really been a stronghold of the Sangh Parivar’s political affiliates, the Jan Sangh and the BJP. It was Choudhury Charan Singh’s Samyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD) government in 1967 that first offered a slice of the power pie and let the Jan Sangh dare to dream big in the heartland. Then the RSS veteran Nanaji Deshmukh picked up the Aligarh RSS district karyavahak and school teacher Kalyan Singh for a leadership role.

After the 1967 experiment at a coalition government, through the seventies, the Jan Sangh attempted to woo the district level leadership of the various constituents of the SVD till the entire Opposition finally coalesced into the Janata Party.

Backward Castes

But once the Janata Party split over the RSS membership of some of its members and the BJP was formed in 1980, the new Sangh Parivar party drew a blank in UP in the 1980 and 1984 general elections.

Even in 1989, at the peak of the Bofors anti-corruption campaign, the BJP despite its electoral understanding with the Janata Dal could only win eight seats. The JD had 53 seats in comparison, proving once again that all the efforts at co-option of the remnants of the Janata Party had failed.

Only the movement to demolish the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya to “reassert” the Hindu identity could make any difference to the party’s poll prospects. Probably for the first time in the history of India, the Sangh could forge a “Hindu identity” that papered over the deep caste fault lines by bringing backward caste leaders to the forefront.

RSS strategist K. N. Govindacharya theorised the effort of promoting backward class leaders as “social engineering”..

Govindacharya crafted the slogan Chaal, charitra aur chehra, the face or chehra being that of the backward classes.

“The dais or manch makes all the difference,” says Govindacharya while explaining what chehra or the face of a party means. Kalyan Singh, the then leader of the legislative party in the assembly, was made the face of the Ramjanmabhumi movement by the RSS.

Meanwhile, the upper castes had abandoned the declining Congress, reposing faith in the Sangh as the protector of their “rightful place” atop the caste pyramid. Now, with other backward classes (the mere face of the movement) like Lodh Rajputs represented by Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti, and Kurmis by Vinay Katiyar, being co-opted into the Hindutva fold, the Ramjanmabhumi movement or the Mandir movement offered an opportunity for sanskritisation (upward mobility) to the middle peasantry. For every peasant caste, perennially seeking a twice-born kshatriyahood, razing Babri Masjid was like time-travelling to tame Babur to become the sword arm of a new Hindu nation.

It worked miracles for the BJP. From just eight seats, the BJP’s tally went up to 52 in UP in the 1991 elections. That is, a little less than half of the party’s total tally of 121. Then came the demolition on December 6, 1992. The echoes of the crashing monument and the newly acquired kshatriyahood of the middle peasantry helped the party retain 51 seats in 1996. The 13-day government, the prospect of a brahmin from Uttar Pradesh becoming the Prime Minister, took the UP harvest to 57 in 1998 out of the 183 seats it won across the country.

Then the chief minister (Kalyan Singh) turned dissident, trying to trip Vajpayee in Lucknow, bringing the party down to just 26 (plus three seats in Uttarakhand, which by then had become a separate State).

The nineties’ rise of the BJP in UP was over with the removal of Kalyan Singh. The party won just 10 seats in the next two elections.

Now, in 2014, will Modi’s backward caste social origin be enough to recapture the middle peasantry? Presently the only road to Raisina Hill for Modi is through the heartland. And as yet, there is nothing to prove that Modi has rekindled the neo-kshatriyahood of the OBCs.

(This article was published on November 17, 2013)
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