Opposition parties looked alive after a long time last week, thanks to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. He must get the credit for making even the Gandhi siblings look like die-hard politicians and street-fighters — Rahul Gandhi falling on the ground after being shoved by the UP police on the Yamuna Expressway; and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, jostled around in a melee, pushing cops and hopping across a barricade to shield a Congress worker from their batons.
Being shoved to the ground in a scuffle with the police must have been a first for Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien, too. The Adityanath government’s insensitive and inept response to the alleged gangrape of a Dalit woman by upper caste men in Hathras has brought the opposition back from the dead.
But, it’s not the opposition that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be worried about. He knows the Gandhi family better than anyone else. The Congress party’s ‘first family’ may make a dash here and a splash there once every few months but they are too delicate to bear the dust and heat of politics outside the Lutyens’ zone. Modi loves to indulge Rahul Gandhi although he may be a bit curious about Priyanka’s politics. Unlike her brother, she loves to stay in India and has shown a better grasp of opposition politics.
On his annual vacation in London, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav’s attack on the Adityanath government was limited to the Twitter universe and so was Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati’s criticism. Yadav returned home Saturday.
हाथरस कांड’ में जनाक्रोश से डरी भाजपा अपने कृत्य छिपाने के लिए DM, SP को हटा सकती है. सपा की माँग है कि इन पर FIR हो जिससे ये सच उगलें कि इन्होंने किसके दबाव में ऐसा किया.
भाजपा की नीतियों ने उप्र में DM-SP की कुछ नयी गैंग को जन्म दिया है, पहले महोबा व अब हाथरस जिसके गवाह हैं. pic.twitter.com/2OaAVhp8hQ
— Akhilesh Yadav (@yadavakhilesh) October 2, 2020
हाथरस गैंगरेप काण्ड के पीड़ित परिवार ने जिले के डीएम पर धमकाने आदि के कई गंभीर आरोप लगाए हैं, फिर भी यूपी सरकार की रहस्मय चुप्पी दुःखद व अति-चिन्ताजनक। हालाँकि सरकार CBI जाँच हेतु राजी हुई है, किन्तु उस डीएम के वहाँ रहते इस मामले की निष्पक्ष जाँच कैसे होे सकती है? लोग आशंकित।
— Mayawati (@Mayawati) October 4, 2020
As for other opposition parties, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s — as also the Left’s — love for Dalits, who constitute 23 per cent of West Bengal’s population, is likely to wane after the assembly election early next year. And protests by the so-called Jantar Mantar and Khan Market activists and politicians are right up Modi’s alley.
The top BJP leadership may, however, be anxious about the Hathras incident’s impact on the upcoming assembly election in Bihar where Dalits constitute 16 per cent of the population. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, 76 per cent Dalits in Bihar said they voted for the NDA as against 5 per cent for the UPA, according to the National Election Studies (NES), a post-poll survey conducted by the Lokniti-CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies). In an election where Nitish Kumar is said to be struggling to beat anti-incumbency, the BJP government in UP has given more ammunition to the opposition.
Yogi Adityanath’s soaring ambition
What must be disquieting for the prime minister, however, is the fact that the UP chief minister is a man in a hurry. Adityanath seemingly believes he must settle the debate over Modi’s successor sooner rather than later. Into the second year of his second term, Modi may well be looking forward to a third term but the vaulting ambitions of his party colleagues keep soaring.
A new slogan rented the air in a meeting over the proposed Film City in Lucknow last month: Yogi hai to yakeen hai (There is trust in Yogi). It alliterated with Modi hai to mumkin hai (it’s possible with Modi at the helm). Over the past three years, Adityanath has been trying to model himself on Modi.
Like the PM, the UP CM must be seen as a strong and decisive leader. The UP administration must, therefore, deal with dissenters with a sledgehammer, invoking the National Security Act (NSA), the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), sedition laws, et al.
The UP police must have the licence to kill at will in the name of encounters. Politics must be reduced to an “Ali versus Bajrang Bali” contest. Covid-19 management must be about keeping the official infection numbers down, no matter how low is the testing figure (per million).
One of the first things the Yogi government has done to deal with the nationwide outrage over the alleged gangrape is to get a new Additional Chief Secretary (information department) Navneet Sehgal, a blue-eyed boy of both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati during their tenure. Yogi is certainly not the first leader to reduce governance into an image-management exercise.
Opposition parties don’t see the mirror
To be fair to the Adityanath government, the opposition leaders crying hoarse about the dismal law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh don’t look in the mirror. BJP-led UP topped the list of crime against women with 59,853 cases in 2019, 408 cases more than the previous year, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. Congress-run Rajasthan came second with 41,550 cases in 2019. What’s alarming about Rajasthan was an increase of about 50 per cent in crime against women over 2018 (27,866 cases). In 2019, the rate of total crime against women (cases per lakh of population) was 55.4 in Uttar Pradesh, 62.7 in Left-ruled Kerala, 110.4 in Rajasthan and 144 in Aam Aadmi Party-ruled Delhi. Given population variations in different states, the crime rate gives a more realistic picture than the absolute number of cases. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal were among prominent leaders who joined the protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar against the Hathras incident last week.
There were 545 alleged Dalit rape victims in UP in 2019, according to the NCRB; this number was 556 in Congress-ruled Rajasthan. In terms of the crime rate in this category, Rajasthan did worse than Uttar Pradesh — 4.5 against 1.3. Kerala had the worst crime rate (rape cases involving Dalit women) of 4.6.
Akhilesh Yadav, Adityanath’s predecessor, can’t speak much on this score. In 2016, his last year in office, UP registered the highest number of crimes against women and came second only to Madhya Pradesh in terms of rape cases.
These comparative numbers, however, don’t represent the true picture in terms of the public impression about the Adityanath government. Yogi has been under attack from the opposition parties for his government’s alleged bias in favour of the upper castes, especially Kashtriyas, his caste. His government was accused of trying to shield Kshatriya rape accused, including Chinmayanand and Kuldip Singh Sengar.
Modi needs to teach ‘raj dharma’ to Yogi
The UP Police’s atrocious handling of the Hathras ‘gangrape’ incident could only deepen this impression of ‘Thakurwad’ against Yogi Adityanath. This threatens to undo the gains the BJP has made under Narendra Modi — expanding its traditionally upper caste vote bank to include backward classes and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Conscious of the BJP’s expanding social base, the opposition has been using every opportunity to try to paint Modi and his government as anti-Dalit — starting with Hyderabad University scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide in January 2016, flogging of Dalits by cow vigilantes in Gujarat’s Una, Bhima Koregaon violence in Maharashtra in January 2018, and dilution of the SC/ST Atrocities Act (which was later recalled by the Supreme Court), among numerous others. Modi weathered it out in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, with 34 per cent of the Dalits voting for the BJP, up from 24 per cent in 2014, according to the National Election Studies.
In that election in UP, 76 per cent of the Jatavs (Mayawati’s core vote bank) voted for the Mahagathbandhan (SP-BSP-RLD alliance) and 17 per cent for the NDA, said the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey. Among the non-Jatavs, however, 48 per cent voted for the NDA and only 42 per cent for the Mahagathbandhan.
Opposition parties’ campaign against the BJP, however, did seem to strike a chord in some states. In Gujarat, there was a dip in the BJP’s support base among Dalits — from 39 per cent in 2017 assembly election to 28 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha election; for the Congress, it increased from 53 per cent in 2017 to 67 per cent in 2019.
In Maharashtra, 30 per cent of the Dalits voted for the BJP and the Shiv Sena in 2019, down from 56 per cent in the previous Lok Sabha election (NES 2014). There were similar trends in many other states.
While the BJP’s expansion among the backward classes has continued, the party’s new social base may prove to be tenuous if it fails to obviate growing public perception about its pro-upper caste leanings. PM Modi may like to instruct Yogi Adityanath to follow ‘raj dharma’, an advice he had received from then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002. The No. 2 in the government at the time, L.K. Advani had come to the rescue of then Gujarat chief minister. It is unlikely to work the same way in the current dispensation at the Centre if the UP CM were to find himself in a similar situation.
Views are personal.