Two young turks Akhilesh Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav handed over big blows to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recently concluded bypolls in the Hindi heartland. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are key to the BJP’s bid to retain power in 2019 as the party won one-third of its total tally from these two states in 2014.

The two leaders entered into strategic alliances, campaigned aggressively and reached out to voters beyond their traditional support base to cause this upset halting BJP juggernaut.

How Did the BJP Win in 2017?

To dislodge SP from power, it was important for the BJP to negate the caste based voting pattern which UP was famous for. It entered into alliances with smaller parties like Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party of Rajbhar community and Apna Dal, which represents the Kurmis.

It managed to create a unified Hindu vote exploiting the anger amongst non Yadav OBCs and Dalits who were out of power by adopting an all-inclusive strategy.

The fact that it didn’t declare a Chief Ministerial candidate helped. On the other hand, BSP gave a call to Dalits and Muslims thereby following an exclusionary strategy which alienated other sections of voters. Akhilesh was popular among all sections of society particularly the youth. However, his tie up with the Congress, was seen by its non-core voters as an attempt to unify the MY vote block, thus signalling a wrong message.

From Hindus to Upper Castes to Dalits: BJP Managed to Garner Votes From All Sections

The result of BJP’s innovative experiment was that it received support from all sections of the Hindus, more than 60 percent votes of upper caste and non Yadav OBCs (core voters) as well as one-third votes of Dalits and one-fourth of Yadavs (non-core voters). This propelled BJP to its best ever performance in UP breaking its Ram Mandir movement record bagging 40 percent vote share (29 percent core and 11 percent non-core). However, after coming to power, BJP rewarded its traditional core voters with ministerial positions and somewhat sidelined its non-core supporters. To manage inner party dynamics, and also accommodate a key Modi-Shah aide at the top, the party ended up giving 2 out of 3 top slots to upper caste (CM + Deputy CM).

With Mayawati on Board, Akhilesh Went Tough on BJP

Akhilesh was quick to pick up that this exclusionary tactics of BJP would cause heartburn among OBCs and Dalits. He decided to directly take on the BJP in Phulpur, fielding a candidate from the same community of Patels. BSP’s decision not to field a candidate meant the significant Pasi votes could go to BJP like in 2017.

He reached out to Mayawati and brought her on board cementing the Dalit votes (22 percent of population).

This in the end proved to be the master stroke. The campaign focused on failures of the Modi government especially on the job front as the constituency has some 60 percent youth voters.

What Was Akhilesh’s Strategy in Phulpur and Gorakhpur?

  • Tapping resentment among OBCs and Dalits
  • Alliance with BSP, Dalits 22% of population in both seats
  • Alliance with Nishad, 17% of population in east UP
  • Door to door campaigning by both sides in their strong holds
  • Exploiting anger of disgruntled and unemployed youth

In Gorakhpur, seat which BJP and allies held since 1989, SP went in for a strategic alliance with NISHAD party, representing the communities with traditional occupations centred on rivers. When the decision was made, BJP ridiculed the move, stating SP doesn’t even have a candidate for the seat. Here again, the Dalit vote was very important (22 percent of population).

SP exploited the fact that Gorakhnath temple’s views were not considered and Yogi’s choice was denied ticket.

With its broad understanding with BSP, Akhilesh managed to create a broad coalition of Dalits, OBCs, Yadavs and Muslims, calling out BJP as a ‘manuvadi’ party.

Ensure JDU’s Vote to Defeat BJP: Tejashwi’s Strategy in Araria

In Araria, RJD candidate received 43 percent vote share and had won in 2014 primarily because BJP (27 percent) and JDU (23 percent) contested separately. With JDU on its side, BJP was confident of snatching the seat which it won in 2004 and 2009 despite Araria having a sizeable Muslim population of 43 percent. Tejashwi stood up to the challenge. He had to ensure JDU votes didn’t transfer to BJP. He first tapped disgruntled Manjhi and got him to his side to make a dent into the Mahadalit votebank of Nitish.

Tejashwi campaigned hard explaining the minority community how Nitish betrayed them aligning with the BJP.

This way he ensured one-third of JDU votes, mostly minorities and Mahadalits, shifted to RJD. While RJD recorded 49 percent vote share, NDA could garner only 42 percent.

What Was Tejashwi’s Strategy?

  • Alliance with HAM, Mahadalits 8% of population in Araria
  • Accommodating Congress in Bhabhua seat, ensuring no heartburn
  • Aggressive campaign leading to hard core Muslim sympathizers leaving Nitish

In Jehanabad too, through the strategy of consolidation of Muslim votes and weaning away section of Mahadalit/OBC votes, RJD was able to retain the seat with 5 percent more vote share. Tejashwi also displayed the maturity of his father Lalu, handling the tricky seat sharing talks with Congress and ensuring anti-BJP votes are not divided.

To conclude, the two young men have provided a template for the opposition to take on the BJP displaying immense maturity, adopting some of its best practices in social engineering and at the same time plugging loopholes in its ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ model. The replication of this model on an all India basis will require a lot of hard work from various regional parties and Congress, some give and take, to survive the BJP onslaught.

This article first got published in TheQuint.

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