The Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh are mostly banking on the anti-incumbency factor to dislodge the Yogi Adityanath government. But is it enough? Discontent is only one part of the electoral matrix and who the voters choose also depends on what they are offering.
Here, I see a lack in the opposition parties. I call this deficit the extra ‘2ab’ factor. In his 2015 speech in Toronto, Canada, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that while India and Canada growing separately would be a² + b², when joined together they would be (a+b)², which is equal to a² +b²+2ab, with the ‘friendship’ giving an extra ‘2ab’.
I would like to extrapolate from this formula and say that if ‘a’ and ‘b’ are the general, run-of-the-mill-type poll promises, then all four political parties— BJP, SP, BSP and Congress—have made more or less similar announcements. If we check their manifestos/pledges/speeches and social media posts, we can easily observe identical poll promises like improving law and order, women empowerment, development, capacity enhancement in the education sector, creating employment and so on. As all the four political parties have ruled the state of UP and that too for a considerably long spell, everyone knows that no party is going to do miracles.
The ‘2ab’ factor is missing in the campaigning of opposition parties, if we use Modi’s maths.
Policing, development, increasing capacity in education and hospital beds are matters of governance and all parties deliver something in such areas. Take the example of expressways. Mayawati and the BSP can claim that the Yamuna Expressway was made during their tenure. The SP government led by Akhilesh Yadav can claim the Ganga Expressway, whereas the BJP made the Purvanchal Expressway. Similarly, all parties are claiming that their performance was better than others in the field of law and order. Most of these claims are contested by rival parties, and voters have to depend on the pitch and tone of the claims to reach some conclusion. This is the limitation of a² and b².
So what about the extra ‘2ab’?
Extra ‘2ab’ that BJP offers
I call ‘2ab’ the emotive factor. If a politician ignores voters’ emotions then they are taking a big risk. Most people make decisions or form opinions on the basis of emotions. That is the reason that many despots, despite performing quite badly on all economic and human development fronts, win electoral battles.
Donald Trump won in the US in 2016 not because he was promising anything great for jobs and growth, but because he vowed to make (white) America great again. Narendra Modi wins not because people believe that he will make India a $5-trillion economy, create two crore jobs every year, ensure that by 2022 every Indian lives in a pucca house and bring back black money from Swiss banks. His voters never ask for accountability on these counts. He wins because he connects to the emotions of a majority of Indians — Modi came back in 2019 without having delivered on his economic and human development promises.
In the UP elections, the BJP made promises about the economy, job creation, agriculture growth, health, education and so on. This is its general a² and b². But it has something extra, the ‘2ab’ factor. That consists of things which Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi are talking about or hinting at. For example:
– We will not allow Yadav Raj to return.
– We are making a grand temple at Ayodhya. We have transformed Kashi. We will also deliver the promises on Mathura.
– Prominent Muslim leaders are in jail. In some cases, their properties have been confiscated. They will not be allowed to grow again.
– We will ensure that cows and other Hindu religious symbols are protected.
– We will not allow ‘Love Jihad’ to happen. Your girls are protected from Muslim boys.
– We will not allow Muslims to turn India into Ghazwa-e-Hind.
– We will work for Hindus. But more importantly, we will not work for Muslims.
फर्क साफ है! pic.twitter.com/3rAhXyF1dU
— Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) February 14, 2022
This does not mean that BJP is not campaigning on the basis of development and welfare schemes. The short list above only demonstrates that it is promising something extra.
UP is not great again
The problem with the SP, BSP and Congress is that they do not have the ‘2ab’. In the battle of emotions, they do not have substantial offerings. They have failed to provide a counter-narrative to the communal emotive campaign of the BJP. The opposition parties are mostly talking about governance and trying to invoke memories of a time when they were ruling UP and trying to compare it to Yogi’s tenure. The SP, BSP and Congress are hoping that voters will go down memory lane to remember how things were 5, 10, or 30 years back, respectively.
SP has that extra bit in terms of assurance to the Muslims that they will be safe. But the Muslim vote is not enough to win many seats. The BSP used to have its own mojo — it would usher in Bahujan Rule. But now it is going soft on this plank due to electoral arithmetic. Despite that, the promise that a Dalit will rule UP again will certainly fetch it votes.
UP is still largely an underdeveloped, agrarian economy with hardly any big ticket foreign investment or big industrial projects. It lies at the bottom of state rankings in terms of health, education and women empowerment. Uttar Pradesh’s per capita GDP is comparable to the most underdeveloped countries such as Vanuatu and Benin. The only solace is that its numbers are still higher than Bihar. No party can claim that it has made UP great.
So, in the last five years, the BJP has delivered on emotional factors and promises instead. And in the end, the electoral outcome will probably depend on that emotive ‘2ab’.
The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has written books on media and sociology. He tweets @Profdilipmandal. Views are personal.