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Ground Report: The Tide Has Turned Against BJP Across Caste Groups in UP

From Lucknow to Varanasi, voters are no longer charmed by muscular nationalism and Hindutva. With livelihood issues and inflation becoming poll issues, there is a perceptible voter transfer on the ground from the BJP to INDIA alliance.
A BJP rally in Goa. Photo: X@visrane

It was about 7 am. Lucknow was slowly getting to work, with school buses hitting the roads and chai shops starting to draw more crowds. Yogendra Yadav, Rahul Shastri and I were looking for a breakfast place. Three of us had departed from Delhi the previous night intending to travel from Lucknow to Varanasi, taking the road not taken through the villages and low-profile constituencies, hoping to get our ears to the ground and do a ‘dipstick’ election survey.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Lucknow being the state capital, from where all the government action happens, we thought it would be better to ask people about corruption, and what they think about it. We caught up with a government official, who agreed to speak to us on the condition of anonymity. “Corruption rate has increased. But more important is the issue of the appointment of those linked to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) in key administrative positions. Right-leaning colleagues are being given preference. Other opposition-linked caste groups are being sidelined. The problem has become systemic. The situation is such that some of these people, heading departments, openly support one party,” the official said.

After a frugal breakfast, we hit the road towards Barabanki.

In no time, we were in the countryside amidst peppermint fields and buffaloes. As part of our survey, we began going from hamlet to hamlet. It was around mid-day, Rahul shared with us an interesting conversation he had with a Gujar Muslim man. “Goonda (Criminals) existed before and they exist even today. Only their faces have changed. Ram Mandir was okay, but giving preference to one community over others will be bad for the country.”

I personally interviewed many farmers, tenant farmers, workers, buffalo herders, and unemployed youth. The most interesting perspective came from an elderly blind man, who identified himself as “Harijan”. “We will stay with BSP [Bahujan Samaj Party]. We are Harijan and we will vote Harijan. If we are 50% of the country, then we should have some stake in the government too. And when it comes to the Ram Mandir, what do we Harijans have to do there? We won’t be given entry without paying money. The Congress and BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] are both Brahmin parties and we won’t go in either,” he told me when I sat down with him outside his mud hut.

Our car was by now turning towards Gangaganj and we had a few hours before lunch. So, we made a few stops along the way touching rural and semi-rural areas. But the big stop and an unexpected conversation came up at lunch. Yogendra Yadav was engaged in a conversation with a man who identified himself as a BJP organiser. I thought perhaps he was a Brahmin. I sat along with them and listened to him. He said, “I work to get votes from the BJP, in fact, this year too I will get others to vote for BJP, but not vote for them myself. The reason being the tyranny of Modi-Amit Shah. They will sell the country. Hence my personal vote will not go to the BJP,” the man said.

Also read: ‘Majority to Become Second-Class Citizens’: Modi Fires up Hindu Insecurity in Last Leg of Campaigns

A little surprised we all continued our survey. Before crossing into the Unnao district, we spoke to some women near a little market settlement. All of them had just received houses under the PM housing scheme and had become ardent supporters of Modi. The mood at this settlement and in Unnao was similar. At this point, Yogendra Yadav made an interesting observation. He said, “Majority of non-dominant Dalit groups had shifted back to INDIA alliance.”

We drove till about 5:30 pm, before turning back to Rai Bareli for our night halt. Here a group of netizens were waiting to hear about the elections and tell us their reports. We talked late into the night. Before the next day began, I started talking with Yogendra Yadav about his impressions of the day.

“Day one and we had our first big question – Can the BJP’s seat share go beyond 2014 and 2019? Will it cross 64 seats? We started from Lucknow and moved towards Barabanki, Mohanlalganj, and Unnao. We met around 150 people, some in villages, at shops, at roadside marketplaces, etc, and we didn’t meet a single person who had voted for another party and was now shifting to the BJP. We were sure of one thing that the BJP votes aren’t going up. And we met a large majority of people who had previously voted for the BJP and now were shifting to the INDIA alliance or BSP. People wanted to change things. So day two, we are trying to find out the quantum or the size of this change as we move towards Allahabad,” he said.

Day two began with excitement as we were touching two VIP constituencies Rai Bareli and Amethi, apart from Pratapgarh, Macchali Sehar and Phulpur.

My first interaction was with a bunch of Brahmin women in Bella Tekai village. These women angry at the inflation, pledged their vote for the Congress party after having voted for the BJP in 2019. The majority of them believed that if members of the Gandhi family contested from either Rai Bareli or Amethi, they would win. When I ventured into the Pasi section of the village, people had a similar mindset. I spoke with a Gupta family, “It’s getting harder to survive every day. We make little from farming, it is our shop that sustains us. We had voted for the BJP last time, but this time we are voting for the Congress, especially as Rahul Gandhi is contesting from our area.”

The day was getting hot, yet we moved ahead. In many places, we found that the people were less terrified by the heat, and more by the BJP. Often times people would be reticent to speak out against Modi, as they feared they would be “picked up by the police”, many also answered using euphemisms. Others simply refused to talk fearing we were undercover agents. Having covered elections since 2014, this was the first time, I saw a deep sense of fear in people.

Speaking of fear, I travelled far from Lucknow, touching Salon in Amethi and now in Pratapgarh. Here after doing my surveys, I caught up with Yogendra Yadav who was in a conversation with a Rajput man who was into agriculture and also owned shops. “BJP is going to lose this seat because the candidate is the incumbent one, and he (candidate) had paid 15 crores for the ticket, and despite RSS’s opposition, he got the ticket. The candidate (Gupta) is quite a discourteous man, who openly abuses Brahmin and Thakurs and he barely escaped a good trashing. He is corrupt who eats up 70% of the MPLAD funds. Plus people have lost the passion for Modi,” the Rajput man said.

We continued our journey to Allahabad for the night halt. Before we began day three, I sat down with Yogendra Yadav again to comment on Day two. “Yesterday, a farmer was telling me, since Modi ji said he is also a ‘chowkidar’, we all have become watchmen ourselves protecting our fields from the stray animals at night. Stray animals are a big issue. There is also a big dissatisfaction among the youth on unemployment, inflation, etc. First day we saw that a wind was blowing, and second day we can confirm that this wind was blowing away from the BJP. Plus this is not just limited to one region, but spreading all over. People are also coming back to Congress, particularly in Amethi and Rai Bareli. BJP’s talk of 70-75 seats in UP is fast fading dream, as the BJP is losing its ground support. How low this will go, we have to see,” Yadav said.

On day three, we decided to cover Meja (Allahabad), Mirzapur and Varanasi. But we decided to take the rural route. Our first stop for the day was a big village off Naini. Here I interacted with Maurya, Rajput and Brahmins. Speaking with an elderly Maurya woman, I realised that traditional caste loyalties were now shifting. At first, the woman and her sons were deflective, but later they opened up and minced no words to express their displeasure at the past two BJP candidates in the area.

Next, we moved to a Nishad-dominated village. Here the issue was totally different. All people from the community were hostile towards the BJP, as since the BJP government the right to sand mining from the Nishad community had been taken away. They said that now big contractors with JCBs were digging the sand, and their ( Nishad) traditional occupation had been destroyed. People spoke in favour of INDIA Alliance candidate Ujwal Raman Singh as the potential winner.

We then took the highway to Vindhyachal Devi temple, had a lunch stop there, and proceeded on to Chunar and finally Varanasi. In three days, we had met over 500 people between Lucknow and Varanasi. And now it was time to draw conclusions, I looked toward Yogendra Yadav for insight.

“We could clearly see that across all caste groups, there is a shift away from the BJP. For example, even the Brahmins, over 15% of them, were shifting out of the BJP. The Thakurs were a major upper-caste groups to leave the BJP. Pasi and Kurmi are reporting a big shift away from the BJP. Among the OBCs some sub castes reported a 50% shift from the BJP. The BSP vote base is solid, but we may see some Dalit votes also shifting to the Congress/INDIA alliance.”

In my own reading of things, UP is expected to witness a tectonic shift. 2024 will be much different from the Modi wave of 2014 and the Modi-Shah duo may be getting the biggest shock from UP.

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