The shifting grounds of Uttar Pradesh politics

Intense political campaign by all parties in UP is signalling a tough fight for BJP. Just a couple of months ago, it seemed invincible.

Published: 10th February 2022 08:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th February 2022 08:40 AM   |  A+A-

BJP Flag, Congress Flag

Representational image of BJP and Congress flags. (File photo | PTI)

By Express News Service

Intense political campaign by all parties in UP is signalling a tough fight for BJP. Just a couple of months ago, it seemed invincible. It was praised for changing the discourse of politics from caste to development. The grand narratives of BJP appeared accommodative, inclusive and development oriented.

In this election campaign, we see three significant signs of change. First, there is a distinct social realignment of support base of different parties that is reflected in their political alliances. Second, everyday issues are giving a tough fight to the grand narratives of social justice, Hindutava, nationalism and development. The diluted grand narratives at best acquire a supplementary status. Third, identity politics of caste has gained a new legitimacy amongst the public.

New social realignments
The new social alignments are most visible for BJP and SP. We see a reversal of BJP’s social engineering with the exit of significant backward community leaders just before elections. Their discontent was not sudden. It was simmering. They joined the BJP bandwagon individually, in the hope of getting new recognition. They joined as leaders of their communities but the benefits to their communities were often not channelled through them. The connect between the leader and the community was usurped by the party, which created an alternate leadership within the community. These leaders have definitely taken a chunk of their people’s support away from BJP. Similarly, the farmer movement has taken away the large support of Jats from BJP in the western region. BJP’s truncated social base once again appears to be Hindu, urban and upper caste centred.

Another kind of realignment is visible at the front of SP whose core support base, the Yadavs, had become a new untouchable under the fierce communal polarisation in the state. The mahagatbandhan enabled SP to make inroads into the support base of BSP. Many of its leaders joined SP. The long silence of BSP further enabled SP to project itself as the only winnable option against BJP. This led discontented OBC leaders and communities to join hands with SP. The discontented communities have no natural inclination towards SP. They remember the strong intra-community rivalries with Yadavs, but they are still ready to consider this alliance if they get adequate representation to their community.

Everyday issues vs grand narratives
The lived reality of people and their problems seem to have acquired centrestage. BJP seems to have realised that hard Hindutva might evoke strong reaction. So there is no campaigning around the question of Love Jihad, cow protection brigade or Ramjanambhoomi. There are no direct communal appeals and BJP’s counter campaign comes in the form of its narrative around law and order. The communal appeal is laced around law and order by linking it with riots and the honour of ‘bahu beti’. Development is projected as the outcome of a riot-free state. Through this, BJP is attempting to project its progressive modern image.

For backward communities and small farmers, issues like destruction of crops by stray animals, increasing input cost of agriculture and inflation matter more. A respondent from Prayagraj said, “During this government’s regime only three things grew in size — bulls, coins (small coins that are not used and only accumulate) and sadhus.” People in general seem to appreciate the ruling regime’s focus on road infrastructure, but some of them feel highways facilitate the business community more and have no direct impact on the poor. Reservation and no recruitment in vacant government positions bother youths of these communities.

A fear-free community, a riot-free state can think of industry and employment is the position of BJP on this. Grand infrastructure, the focus of Central budget, will generate employment is the placard of BJP. Portrayed achievements of the last government also revolve around basic amenities like toilets, gas connection, housing and free ration. Likewise, SP seems to be less vocal on social justice, like reservation for backward communities and crime against Muslims. There seems to be an unsaid promise between leaders and the community on these issues. Agriculture, electricity and employment dominate the electoral promises. There is no big dream to chase in this election. Reality is biting hard on politics.

Caste & identity politics
The narratives of elections above caste, progressive BJP beyond petty identity politics, all seem to be stories of the past. Caste is being strongly invoked by all parties including BJP. Politics in UP was never beyond caste, but the calculus of caste remained under cover inside party offices. In this election, we see all the analysis around the caste calculus in mainstream media. Everyone seems to be interested in which caste is going where. We also see people feeling the pinch of BJP’s caste behaviour. They share that they voted for BJP thinking they will get a level playing field but the experience turned otherwise. They now think that caste operates within BJP blatantly and the upper caste has a distinct advantage. Community identities around caste have reached a new level and are bargaining hard with parties for position and material benefits.

What would be the final outcome of these changes would be revealed later. However, there are definite breaks in the mode of functioning of parties and people’s perception of party politics. While people are forcing parties to respond to their immediate needs, parties are fighting around who can directly distribute more benefits. New frontiers of party allegiances are evolving and bigger dreams of justice, development and nationalism have been kept on the back seat for future deliberation.

Dr. Shilp Shikha Singh
Assistant Professor Giri Institute of  Development Studies


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