Are by-poll results UP’s way of saying Love Jihad no more?

Having lost 3-8 to Samajwadi Party in UP by-polls, BJP says this wasn’t a mandate on Modi’s governance; Akhilesh mocks NaMo’s achchhe din line

shantanu

Shantanu Datta | September 16, 2014 | New Delhi


Akhilesh Yadav and Amit Shah: In Uttar Pradesh, it`s a high-stake fight for both.
File photos

On April 4 this year, Amit Shah, then the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) election in-charge of Uttar Pradesh and then PM candidate Narendra Modi’s Man Friday, held meetings in Bijnor, Shamli and Muzaffarngar districts as the mercury and the election temperature started rising. According to reports, Shah had allegedly said it was time to seek revenge for the Muzaffarnagar riots of autumn 2013 by casting votes en masse for the saffron party in the Lok Sabha polls.

"A man,” Shah had purportedly said, “can live without food or sleep. He can live when he's thirsty and hungry. But when he's insulted, he can't live. Apmaan ka badla toh lena padega.”

Muzaffarnagar voted on April 10. And it voted overwhelmingly for Shah’s party – the BJP’s Sanjeev Balyan polling over 65 lakh votes against runner-up Qadir Rana’s (BSP) 25 lakh. Overall, the party won 71 out of UP’s 80 Lok Sabha seats under Shah’s leadership – about 15 or 20 more than he himself was reportedly expecting.

Two FIRs were registered against Shah for the ‘hate speeches’ in the riot-hit areas, and the polarisation along communal lines was complete, said social and political observers.

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Fast-forward about 150 days. Shah is now the party president, a court on September 11 returned the police chargesheet against him seeking more work on it, and 11 assembly constituencies of UP voted in the by-elections held two days later.

The BJP had won 10 of those 11 seats in the last assembly elections, with its ally, Apna Dal, winning the other one. That the BJP’s stakes were high in the bypolls for these seats was clear from the fact that it let loose rabble-rousing leaders such as Yogi Adityanath, the party’s Lok Sabha MP from Gorakhpur, and fanned a funny-sounding phrase with pretty frightening outcomes – Love Jihad. It meant Muslim men ‘trapping’ non-Muslim women into marrying them, and converting them to Islam.

Although home minister Rajnath Singh told the media late last week that he had “no idea” what Love Jihad is, Adityanath and many other leaders purportedly knew it well enough to address crowds and warn them of the Islamist plans.

The idea was simple at its core, cried opposition parties: polarise the communities at the local level so that they vote on religious, rather than caste, lines. That, opposition leaders say, is how the BJP got votes in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this summer, backed and fronted by the Modi wave. Expecting the Modi wave to hold ground, the idea, they said, was the same for the saffron party.

The electronic voting machines had another story.

On September 16 – four months to the day since Modi’s historic win – the BJP won only three of the 10 seats its MLAs had vacated to fight, and win, the Lok Sabha polls. The Samajwadi Party, the ruling party in the state which was decimated this summer and could return only four members to Lok Sabha, won eight.

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Even in western UP, near the ground zero of riots, the SP’s Ruchiveera won from Bijnor, one of the places where Shah had made the controversial speeches in April, by over 11,000 votes; while Nawab Jan defeated the BJP’s Rajpal Chauhan in Thakurdwara by over 27,000 votes.
So, did polarisation not work? It would seem so.

Did raising the Love Jihad bogey not work? It would seem so.

Is the Modi wave abating? The BJP says no.

While conceding that the results were “not as expected”, BJP leader MA Naqvi said by-polls mostly depend on local issues and the state units will have discussions.

In next-door Bihar, where, too, the BJP lost to the Lalu Prasad-Nitish Kumar-Congress combine, which won six of the 10 seats that went to polls, the party’s senior leader Shahnawaz Hussain was quick to blame the state unit leaders, including himself. “The result is not as we expected. The state BJP takes responsibility. We must not compare this with the Lok Sabha elections results,” said Hussain, one of the few BJP candidates to lose in the Hindi heartland in the general elections.

So, if the UP elections are not a mandate for the Modi days, and since it cannot, in all fairness, be a thumbs-up for the Akhilesh daze in UP (if the votes were cast solely on the basis of local issues, many say even a Martian would have trounced any candidate put up by Akhilesh Yadav’s party), what does it say?

At the risk of sounding cynical, it would be puerile to imagine it as only a vote against communalism. It’s a bit of this, and a bit of that – a bit of being fed up with the garbage being fed by the rabble-rousers, a bit of coming together of the others (remember: SP supremo Mulayam Yadav had sent feelers to join ranks with BSP, which Mayawati rebuffed. But remember also that the BSP did not take part in these by-elections).

But in what could worry the ruling dispensation in New Delhi a bit, it’s also a vote that says enough with the wave and surfing on it. Now get on with it, or face the inked finger.

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