Elections in India: Why did Modi’s BJP lose its stronghold in Uttar Pradesh? | News from the 2024 elections in India

New Delhi, India – It was April 1, All Fool’s Day.

The Indian elections had not yet begun, but columnists in Delhi were already announcing the verdict on the biggest prize of all: Uttar Pradesh (UP), the northern state that is the largest in the country and sends the most part of legislators to the nation’s parliament. . The state’s 80 members of parliament in a chamber of 543 often make or break the national government.

In 2014 and 2019, they made fortunes for the Bharatiya Janata Party, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party winning 71 and 62 seats in those two elections. Columnists were predicting a repeat, a done deal for the BJP.

But Hakim Sahib, a full-time beggar and part-time politician from Meerut, a western city in Uttar Pradesh (UP), was not amused. “The BJP will not win more than 40 seats in UP because there is a strong undercurrent against the party,” he told this writer.

Two months later, when the results were announced on June 4 after seven stages of a staggered poll, it turns out that Sahib had been prescient, unlike the vast majority of pollsters who had predicted a sweep for the BJP in UP and India.

As the election campaign unfolded in this state of more than 200 million people, the signs were there: Modi and the BJP were clearly a powerful force, but there was also palpable, seething anger among many voters – including their traditional supporters. – by the upper echelons. unemployment and inflation. A clever strategy by the opposition alliance INDIA turned a BJP campaign slogan seeking 400 seats in parliament into a narrative against the ruling party: the opposition claimed that the BJP could take away constitutional rights from historically disadvantaged communities, such as Dalits, who They sit at the bottom. of India’s caste hierarchy, with such a broad mandate.

All of this bore fruit in the result that Sahib had predicted: the BJP ended up with only 33 seats, and its allies won three more. The regional Samajwadi Party, a member of the INDIA alliance led by the Congress Party, won 37 seats. Congress itself won six more. That result, along with losses in the western state of Maharashtra, has forced the BJP to rely on alliance partners to form a government, without achieving a national majority of its own.

The rumors that led to this moment were not limited to traditional critics of the BJP. Some ordinary voters who pushed for his rise were also disappointed.

Fall in Ayodhya, fall in Varanasi

In 1992, the BJP led a campaign that culminated in the demolition of the 16th-century Babri mosque in UP’s temple town of Ayodhya. On December 6 of that year, when images of the demolished shrine shocked the rest of India and shocked the world, Mohan was on the scene, part of the mob that vandalized the mosque.

In January this year, Modi consecrated a grand Ram temple at the same place – the Hindu deity Ram, according to ancient scriptures, was born in Ayodhya. It was a moment that, like the 1992 demolition, was projected around the world and emerged as the launching pad for Modi’s 2024 re-election campaign.

But when this writer spoke to Mohan (who asked that his last name not be used) in April, he made it clear that he had quit the BJP. He has an unemployed son, who was initially tempted to join the Modi government’s plan to send Indian workers to Israel as laborers amid the war in Gaza. The son finally rejected that option.

“This time the BJP will not come to power in the parliamentary elections. I will call you on June 4 to confirm,” Mohan stated.

I was partially wrong: the BJP is all set to form the next government, with its allies. However, in Faizabad, the constituency that includes the Ram temple, the BJP lost. And Mohan’s comments were reflected in sentiments that voters shared even in Modi’s own parliamentary constituency in Varanasi.

His approval is visible in infrastructure development works throughout the city: a road to the airport; he cleaned the banks of the Ganges; Roads were widened to Varanasi’s biggest attraction, the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

But these changes have stripped the city of its identity, said Vishambhar Mishra, a professor at the city’s Indian Institute of Technology and director of the Sankat Mochan Trust that campaigns to clean up the Ganges.

“Varanasi used to be the city of streets and back streets. People could start from anywhere and negotiate the lanes to reach the ghats and take a dip in the Ganga,” he said. Meanwhile, the Ganges remains dirty, despite the government’s multiple promises to clean it, a contradiction routinely highlighted in posts on social media platform X.

On the Ganges, boatman Bhanu Chaudhary, who took this writer for a ride, said: “There is a lot of anger among the people because there is no work.” Chaudhary is a graduate, but he is forced to row boats for visitors to the city because he has no other job.

That anger manifested itself on June 4. Modi won the seat, but with his margin drastically reduced, from 480,000 votes in 2019 to 152,000 this time. Many of the constituencies near Varanasi, which the BJP hoped to win thanks to Modi’s presence in the city, joined the INDIA alliance.

People play drums in front of a vehicle carrying a large garland-adorned portrait of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, as they celebrate his birth anniversary in Mumbai, India, Sunday, April 14, 2024. Ambedkar, a Dalit, and a prominent Indian freedom fighter, banned caste-based discrimination.  (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
People play drums in front of a vehicle carrying a large garland-adorned portrait of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian constitution, as they celebrate his birth anniversary in Mumbai, India, April 14, 2024. Ambedkar, a Dalit and a prominent Indian freedom fighter, banned discrimination on the basis of caste. Analysts believed that the Dalit movement moved away from the BJP in the recently concluded elections (Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo)

Losing the Dalit vote

But the main reason voters turned away from the BJP may have been the party’s own statements, observers say.

The slogan insisting that the BJP-led alliance would win 400 seats scared many Dalits, who feared that the party could change the constitution (the drafting of which was led by Dalit icon Bhimrao Ambedkar) to deny them hard-won protections, he said. Inderjit Singh, a teacher. in Gorakhpur, a city in northern UP. “Many seats escaped the BJP fold,” he said.

Initial data suggests that the opposition alliance INDIA has successfully united a coalition of Dalits, other traditionally disadvantaged communities – known as Other Backward Classes (OBC) in India – and Muslims in many parts of the state.

“They want to change India’s constitution and end job reservation,” said Gautam Rane, a Dalit activist who campaigned against the BJP. The BJP has denied having any intention to take away the benefits Dalits are promised in the constitution, including quotas in government jobs and educational institutions.

Rane said many Dalit voters had abandoned the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has long led the community in UP, because they felt it was now too weak to take on the BJP. The BSP still won 9 percent of the state’s votes, but lost in all constituencies – it had won 10 seats in 2019.

Meanwhile, Modi’s anti-Muslim comments during the campaign (he referred to them as “infiltrators”) galvanized the community, which constitutes nearly 20 per cent of UP’s population, behind the opposition alliance, he said. Nawab Hussain Afsar, editor of an Urdu daily based in Lucknow, the state capital.

And they counterattacked with their votes.

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