Yogi Adityanath is a Thakur and thus the powerful community had an upper hand in governing UP. It is said that the other powerful blocs, like the Brahmins or even OBCs, are unhappy with BJP. Is that so?

A section of observers so argued. But Yogi has the image of a Hindutva icon which offsets the caste fragmentation. I feel it will not influence the election in a big way. Secondly, a thought developed that Brahmins are upset with BJP because of many Brahmin mafias were killed in police encounters. But Brahmins are generally BJP friendly. It appears a majority of them, let's say 70 per cent, will vote for BJP. Samajwadi Party (SP, the main rival of BJP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP, party of Dalits) have tried to woo the Brahmins but largely failed. The other big bloc – the Dalits – is with the BSP and the main Dalit group, the Jathavs (about 11% of UP) as well. However a section of the non-Jathav Dalits is expected to move to BJP. In addition there are 50 odd small castes. They usually go with the local dominant elite. I assume they will go with the BJP because (Hindu nationalist) Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has worked among them over the last years.

Now, that leaves us with the OBCs and the most powerful bloc among the OBCs is the Yadavs (the pastoral community). They are totally with the SP. That is the core base of SP – the Yadavs and the Muslims (together above 30%). This time SP has tried hard to align with the non-Yadav OBCs as well. That is why we can see so many non-Yadav OBC leaders, Swayam Prasad Maurya, Dharam Singh Saini, Dara Singh Chauhan (all formerly BJP’s ministers) joining SP. These are powerful leaders and they will benefit SP. But anticipating these defections, BJP developed its own OBC leaders. So it will not be a cakewalk for SP. In addition, BJP has the inherent advantage of Hindutva. In some places the caste factor may fracture Hindutva but Hindutva is capable of smoothing caste-driven ruptures to an extent.

You once said, RSS worked among small caste groups.

Yes. RSS has done substantial work among most backward castes and marginal Dalits. However, SP also has increased its social (caste) base.

BSP, though in power a decade ago, appears to be silent and invisible.

BSP avoided big rally based politics, all along. BSP was always dependent on small meetings and door-to-door campaigns rather than big rallies like SP or BJP. So the media concluded that the contest is between BJP and SP as BSP is absent. While it is true that BSP has failed to expand its base like SP, BSP cadres have been working in small groups in villages and engaging with its voters through digital platforms unlike in the past. In some places BSP will ensure a triangular contest mostly benefitting BJP. It may hurt BJP in some seats.

Congress lacked district level presence. Now they have managed to put an organisation in place. If these local offices can survive for the next two years, then in the 2024 national election it would immensely help the party

What about Congress?

Congress is visible in social media. They also hosted some rallies and have a face in Priyanka Gandhi. They got 7-8% votes in UP in the past as various communities voted for them. But they do not have the base owing to lack of organisation. Yet Congress has advanced a bit. Congress lacked district level presence. Now they have managed to put an organisation in place. If these local offices can survive for the next two years, then in the 2024 national election it would immensely help the party.

Following farmers’ struggle near Delhi, Hindu and Muslim Jats (an agrarian community) of western UP (earlier riots in UP mostly occurred in western UP due to their traditional animosity) have come together. Since the Jats are very powerful in the area, will this be a problem for the BJP?

BJP withdrew farm bills and got a foothold in western UP (where BJP got 66 out of 76 seats in 2017). They started a dialogue with the Hindu Jats, the dominant elite, which was not possible earlier during farmers’ agitation, so BJP gained some ground. Western UP has strong leaders representing Jat Hindutva. The Muslim population is high (as high as 40% in some areas) in parts of western UP, they are powerful and thus Hindus feel insecure. BJP is expected to address this narrative. If it works, Hindu-Muslim unity will suffer, benefitting BJP. Having said so, BJP is not comfortable in western UP (because of Jats) and focused more on the eastern UP.

In villages we now find even poor Muslims admire Modi. Of course, during the elections they will not vote for the BJP but there is a change in the nature of the religious identity-based mobilisation

The Hindu-Muslim factor has become difficult to explain in UP, with two simultaneous developments. On one hand, Yogi Adityanath announced an anti-terror squad in Deoband town which houses Asia’s largest Islamic seminary Darul Uloom and there is communal provocation at multiple levels. On the other hand, we have not yet seen any communal flare up to the extent 2013 riots in western UP benefitting BJP. Even, in some cases – like when people launched an anti-Muslim phone application – they were promptly arrested and denied bail. Does this indicate that the BJP is not favouring a full-scale communal flare up before the polls?

In my last book (Republic of Hindutva) I pointed out that the nature of communal mobilization has changed – it is much softer and subtle. The kind of communal mobilization that used to be orchestrated cannot happen in the same way. One big reason is BJP’s intention to give a message to the Muslims that the party needs them. A change in approach is visible and you have cited an example that they have arrested app-offenders promptly. In villages we now find even poor Muslims admire Modi. Of course, during the elections they will not vote for the BJP but there is a change in the nature of the religious identity-based mobilisation. However, a hidden mobilization is there through slogans, statements etc but it is more subtle. A flare up like 2013 is not expected.

Despite these difficulties and SP’s growing vote base, we hear that BJP is expected to win, albeit with reduced margin and fewer seats than 2017.

There is a saturation point and BJP cannot go below that point. Akhilesh Yadav (SP chief) has definitely grown by building social (caste) alliances. But he will reach his saturation point too and cannot grow after that. A gap of 7-8%, with BJP on top, will be maintained till the end. Of course BJP’s seats will decrease, but they will be back in power comfortably.

We had a sense from outside a few months back that Adityanath is the face of the campaign and not Modi. Seems that has changed or was it always Modi?

In the initial days of the campaign, when they were talking about development, Prime Minister Modi was more prominent. But now Adityanath has picked up. Modi is always a factor in UP or any election in India, without him it is difficult to build a grand narrative. Now, they have Amit Shah too. He is going to all areas and mobilising at the grassroots level, doing small meetings. Shah is campaigning in Kairana (western UP), an area from where Hindus were fleeing.

But no reason to think they were separate – Modi and Yogi. In fact there is a slogan in UP – ‘Modi-Yogi ek hi’, they are together. But it is true, if BJP wins, it will hugely benefit Adityanath.

But isn’t that a worry for the national BJP? If it wins this election led by Adityanath, he will increasingly see himself as a player in the center (Delhi) and nationally which will be a concern for the Modi-Shah regime. Moreover, Adityanath is neither from BJP nor from RSS (as he entered politics as the head priest of Gorakhnath Math, a Hindu temple, in eastern UP).

Absolutely, no doubt. Adityanath is already the leader of the present and will be the leader of the future (in case of a victory.) In Congress politics (when a state-level leader used to challenge the national leadership) Adityanath would have been defeated by his own party. But BJP's politics is futuristic in nature. It necessarily does not focus on one individual but on the organization. They will think in terms its ideology and long-term interest. So, Adityanath is expected to rise.

I agree that he is not from RSS. But it also is a fact that he now has a strong support in RSS. Because, he has established that he is aligned with the ideology of the RSS.

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