Assembly elections

How the Muzaffarnagar polarisation strategy paid off for the BJP (and why it's being used again)

Recent violence in western UP is aimed at splitting the alliance between Dalits and Muslims that brought the Bahujan Samaj Party to power.

Let us state at the outset that the main reason cited to explain the outburst of violence in western Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks is ludicrous. Anyone who has travelled extensively in UP, particularly around its Hindu or Muslim pilgrim towns and cities and in its highway dhabas, has lost by now a few percent of hearing capacity due to the blast of loudspeakers – the said loudspeakers usually blasting to the general indifference of the local population.

What is far more worrying is the potent mix of minority stigmatization and concerns – both legitimate and fantasised – for the safety of women. Minor local incidents have been labelled as communal. This has been backed by baseless rumours aimed at blaming a single community for the threats to women.  This is an extremely perverse way to both stigmatise a minority and polarise social groups.

Political parties have quickly been accused of fuelling and exploiting these incidents in view of the by-elections to 12 assembly seats due on September 12. It is well understood that parties instrumentalise violence, caste-based or religious-based, for political gains. In August 2013, in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election earlier this year, the Bharatiya Janata Party experimented with a strategy to polarise voters in Muzaffarnagar, aiming to break a decade-long political alliance between the Jats and the Muslims. Contrary to the 1990s' religious mobilisations, the aim here was not to build an elusive and fictitious “Hindu vote block” but to create a rift among the alliance that had enabled the inheritors of Charan Singh to dominate this area.

Rich dividends

It isn’t clear who exactly drew sword first in Muzaffarnagar but what is known is that the initial incident was local and politically insignificant. Not that cases of harassment or traffic incidents do not matter but they do not, in normal circumstances, degenerate into collective retribution against the group to which the protagonists of the incident belong. The violence that followed resulted in the deaths of at least 62 people (42 of them Muslim) and forced an estimated 50,000 people to flee from their homes.

By making sure that no member of the local dominant community would vote for Muslim candidates, the BJP actually fragmented the electorate at the right spot, and bagged the benefits in the absence of credible alternatives. The strategy worked in the Lok Sabha elections. That can be seen from that fact that the vote share density of the BJP in Western UP – both urban and rural segments – was as high as in the state’s cities, where the BJP has traditionally been strong.



The strategy worked in other areas as well. The fragmentation of the non-BJP vote was such that the saffron party was able to get more votes in 22 seats, essentially urban, than the total votes received by its three opponents combined. These urban seats usually have a sizeable Muslim population.



It would seem logical therefore that the next step should be to replicate this successful strategy to other areas soon going to the polls. Recent reports have highlighted the fact that a good share (about 10%) of the recent violence in western UP involves Dalits and Muslims, predominantly in areas that are going to by-election polls in September. This is not surprising, since local Dalit-Muslim alliances have recently helped the Bahujan Samaj Party to rise to power.

Generally speaking, the BSP rose by forging alliances between the Dalit voters and candidates carefully selected from the ranks of the local dominant groups. In 2014, the BJP campaign neutralised this strategy, as few members of the local dominant groups were even available to partner with the BSP, or were already aligned with other parties, such as the Yadavs with the Samajwadi Party. Simply put, there were no other groups for the BSP to ally with, all except the Muslims who, despite carefully spun rumours, have not been swayed by the Modi wave.

The question that begs to be answered is what are the state – and the Samajwadi Party which is in power – doing about this violence? Much has been said about the shared responsibilities of the BJP and the SP in the Muzaffarnagar riots – the BJP for having turned a spark into a fire, and the SP for having waited too long before sending the firefighters. But the point is that the SP ultimately did send the firefighters and demonstrated that the outburst of violence was not merely a matter of failing state capacity.

Violence is rife

In the current situation, the first responsibility of the SP is to reverse the general degradation of the law-and-order situation in the state. Seldom has the party in power let such a state of lawlessness and sense of impunity prevail. Physical violence is a feature of daily life in most localities, as a means to solve inter-personal or inter-caste conflicts and as an instrument to preserve the interests of dominant groups and control over the lower groups. This author conducted fieldwork in 11 villages across Baghpat and Meerut districts nine months before the Muzaffarnagar riots and found only two that did not have a recent murder story to tell. The situation cannot improve when the local police are simply not there to register FIRs and when state actors and legislators are themselves complicit in the violence – if not the actual perpetrators.

One possible explanation for this state of affairs is that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is not in control of his own party and cannot activate the local cadres to stop or mitigate the violence. In Mayawati’s time, a BSP MP or MLA crossing the yellow line would be sent an invitation to waltz to jail with the Black Cats, under the eyes of the press, invited for the occasion. The BSP could afford to do that as its elected representatives were drawn from local elite groups detached from the local Dalit population who form the bulk of the party’s voters. Party affiliation was not even a prerequisite. These MPs and MLAs were expendable.

This is not the case for the SP, who tends to select its candidates from the same sociological pool of local elites as the BSP, but draws them generally from the local party cadre. The reason is that the local SP leaders and the local elite groups tend to be the same people. The SP is essentially the party of the new elites and its local organizational strength depends from its local representatives. Expelling its members therefore come at a greater cost than for the BSP, since it is usually followed by the breaking up of its local branches.

An uncooperative bureaucracy

Another possible explanation, less common, is that Akhilesh Yadav is finding it difficult to assert his authority over a bureaucracy that has seen a lot of water flowing under the bridges in the derelict state of Uttar Pradesh. Reports suggest that the bureaucrats – notably in the police force – are increasingly less cooperative with a government that seems unresponsive to the ground situation.

There is a third possible explanation, which suggests that the SP has cynically allowed the situation to deteriorate, hoping that it will backfire against the BJP after having hurt the BSP. This argument does not hold water as the same wait-and-see strategy adopted by the SP at the beginning of the Muzaffarnagar riots clearly backfired, a fact it could not but notice.

The amplitude of the current outbursts of violence seems disproportionate for the political gains at stake – a mere 12 assembly seats and not even a chance to defeat the SP’s majority at the Vidhan Sabha. The real objective is the next assembly elections in 2017, which are still far away. But by letting the situation rot and even degenerate, the state government may expose itself to the risk of President’s Rule.

Gilles Verniers is a Ph.D. candidate at Sciences Po, Paris and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ashoka University, Haryana.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

These GIFs show you what it means to miss breakfast

That monstrous roar is your empty stomach.

Let’s take a glance at your every day morning routine. You crawl out of bed, go for a quick shower, pull out and wear your neatly ironed clothes at the speed of light and then rush out of the house, making sure you have your keys and wallet in place.

Giphy
Giphy

You walk into office, relieved because you have made it to work on time. Stifling yawns and checking emails, you wonder how your colleagues are charged up and buzzing with energy. “What is wrong with these people” you mumble to yourself.

Giphy
Giphy

Slowly, you start to change. You start snapping at colleagues and start arguing with your computer. You take out your frustration on anything or anyone in sight.

To add to the aggressive behaviour, you’ve completely lost your focus. After some time, you simply forget what you were doing.

Giphy
Giphy

Unable to bear the hunger pangs, you go for a mid-morning snack. It is only when a colleague asks you for a bite do you realize that you have developed into a fully formed, hunger fueled, monster. Try not to look at yourself in the mirror.

Giphy
Giphy

If only you had spared not even twenty or ten but just 5 minutes in the morning and not skipped breakfast, your story would look completely different - as you will see in this video.

Play

The fast dip in your mood and lack of focus is because your body has missed its most important meal of the day – breakfast. Research has shown that skipping a meal, especially in the morning, worsens the mood because there is a drop in the blood sugar. This in turn affects the levels of serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals produced in the brain that control our moods and feelings. In simpler English, not having breakfast is going to make you really cranky and confused!

Morning is also when the body needs maximum nutrition to function efficiently through the day as you’ve just woken up from a full 7 hours of no food (and if you’re sleeping less than that, that’s a whole other article).

So in short, having a breakfast could make you go from looking like the earlier GIFs to this:

Giphy
Giphy

But with changing lifestyles and most people hard pressed for time, a healthy breakfast is taking the backseat. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. MTR has come up with a range of widely loved Indian delicacies like Poha, Upma and Halwa which can be made in (hold you breath) just 3 minutes! All you have to do is add hot water and wait for 3 minutes to get a delicious and filling breakfast.

Giphy
Giphy

These amazing and delicious breakfasts can be made in a jiffy and consumed with the least hassle, even in the midst of your frenetic morning routine. So grab your #MTRbreakfastin3 to start the day on an awesome note.

Click here to make breakfast a part of your morning routine.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of MTR and not by the Scroll editorial team.