BJP prepares security pitch to bury Covid failures

UP polls: BJP prepares national security pitch to bury Covid failures

BJP will play up national security issues to drown local concerns, and has many balls in the air, the Taliban, violence in Kashmir

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Credit: PTI File Photo

A few weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation of large denomination currency notes in November 2016, a Left party politician went to an industrial cluster in Uttar Pradesh where he had considerable support. He expected seething rage from people whose cash reserves had been compromised by the government's bizarre decision. To his utter bewilderment, he found admiration for the surgical strikes that the government had undertaken against Pakistan based terrorists in September 2016. Then the penny dropped on him. Contrary to his Marxist beliefs, the communist leader realised that the people of Uttar Pradesh give far greater precedence to nationalism than the economic distress caused by demonetisation and job losses.

The question gnawing political strategists is what will work in the 2022 UP Assembly elections. Would the tumult of the last few years aggravated by Covid-19 mismanagement and deaths take a back seat against the looming national security issues like the violence in Kashmir or the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, or would that be the other way round?

Also read: Lakhimpur Kheri violence 'absolutely condemnable', says Nirmala Sitharaman

This understanding is critical to answering questions raging furiously on TV debates ever since Congress general secretary for UP Priyanka Gandhi went to the state to express solidarity with the grieving farming community after five protestors were brutally run over by the speeding motorcade of a central minister's son. It's a simple question that has been given excessive spin by the PR boys of the Congress party: "How will Priyanka Gandhi's arrest on the Lakhimpur Kheri issue and her aggressive campaign help the Congress in the Assembly elections a few months away?"

Voters seldom make up their minds based on one campaign or even a successful roadshow that politicians are known to organise in crowded bazaars. Priyanka Gandhi's handlers did precisely this to create a chimera of hope for a party that is finding it difficult to retain middle-level leaders - tired as they are of sitting out as forgotten members of a diminished organisation. Politicians are quite hard-nosed on these matters. They are unlikely to be swayed by roadshows till the party shows big bucks or resolve to return to power, or contrarily has an alliance with one of the two parties that really matter in the populous state- Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) or Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). 

In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress tied up with the SP but failed to make an impact as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to get about 40 per cent votes - far more than the combined votes of the alliance partners. The Congress got an embarrassing 6+ per cent votes and were responsible for sinking the ambitions of its alliance partner, the SP. The BSP's performance was decent without being spectacular, but it wasn't enough to challenge the juggernaut of the BJP. Psephologists believe that the Congress will need an exponential leap in its vote share if it wants to out-jump SP and BSP to effectively challenge the ruling BJP.

Also read: Adityanath accuses Congress-led states of 'blackmailing' during Covid crisis

Despite being in power since 2017, the BJP does not look very confident about being voted in based on its performance. There are more cutouts, TV ads and hoardings all over the state and in the national capital, Delhi, announcing what they have done for the people than actual work on the ground. Despite their loud proclamations, the UP government failed to provide medical care when the pandemic swept the state. Horrific images of people quarantined being served food like stray animals or dead bodies piling up at mortuaries went viral on social media. Besides, there was a bizarre undercounting of the dead and infected. According to a UP opposition leader, each of the 95,000 villages saw deaths ranging from five to 25. That's the reason the floating bodies in the Ganges and hastily buried bodies on the banks of the river captured the imagination of the masses.

UP's opposition parties, like the SP and BSP, have made perfunctory noises about the poor quality of governance provided to the people of the state during the pandemic. Fearing retaliation, they have not attacked the government on its various acts of omissions and commissions. Despite that, the SP did remarkably well in the panchayat polls held in August 2021, nosing ahead of the BJP. Subsequently, BJP used strong-arm tricks to increase its numbers by weaning away independents. Still, the results were a firm indication that it could be a tough battle for the ruling party if people ended up voting on the Yogi Adityanath government's performance. Even the timetable of the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya failed to enthuse the party's supporters.

Expectedly, the BJP will try to avoid the local concerns of the masses and play up national security issues. For that, it has many balls in the air. They might invoke the same imagery of Balkanisation as the late prime minister, Indira Gandhi, used. Hence, when the Taliban took over Kabul, how the issue was hyped up in UP and other parts of the country suggested as if the Afghan religious extremists had attacked India. The natural corollary to the fear of the Taliban was how it might deepen extremism in Kashmir with all the anti-Indian forces joining hands. This warped mindset was also visible at the Lakhimpur Kheri fracas, where the farmers killed by the murderous vehicles were dubbed Sikh separatists or Khalistanis. 

Estranged BJP leader Varun Gandhi derided attempts to create a Hindu-Sikh conflict in Kheri. This was a continuation of the insidious campaign the ruling dispensation has run against Punjab, Haryana and UP farmers that have agitated for almost a year against the farm laws. Voices from the ruling party have been calling the protestors Khalistani anti-national. Many faithful believe the farmers are agitating at the behest of some foreign powers and that the government is correct in standing up to the pressure. Routinely the tweets of Rihanna and Greta Thunberg are given as evidence of this foreign hand.

Uttar Pradesh elections are still a few months away, but going by the bloody standoff in Lakhimpur Kheri and how the ruling party and the opposition have stepped out to campaign suggests that the polls will be an affair to remember.

(The writer is Editor of the Delhi-based magazine, Hardnews)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.