Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Every season is an election season in the great Indian Democracy, with some or the other just around the corner. For now, the 5 states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur await elections to their respective legislative assemblies. And it is that of Uttar Pradesh, which always is the most prized and most hyped up, second in prominence only to the General elections to Lok Sabha.
By commanding 80 seats for Lok Sabha and 31 for Rajya Sabha (largest in both aspects), the sheer influence of the state on the national politics, just in terms of numbers, is hard to overstate. However, this is not alone. The state is seen as the crowning jewel, a straight pathway towards Delhi. Commanding its politics is seen as a prerequisite to forming a strong and stable government at the Centre.
Before engaging directly with the state elections, it is important that we first consider a more fundamental concept. What does one think about Identity Politics? Is it to be detested? Or perhaps protected in the wake of homogenisation of cultures?
As per the author's opinion, in the modern Indian Political discourse, while liberals would argue that politics and elections should be judged fought on factors they consider more crucial, simply: developmental aspects, the ones on the Indian Right would likely argue that while development is no doubt crucial, identity fares no less. But be that as it may, identity is a fundamental reality of our society. Whether it gets invoked to unite or divide the citizens depends upon several factors in the political and cultural matrix.
Uttar Pradesh is one such state where identity politics commands severe intensity. The loyalties of the voters remain strong. Each and every party commands a base that is either tied to it by either the caste or religion. Now, this is not to undermine the significance of governance factors, they have always played a key part. However, in the author’s opinion, it is when governance aspects combined with the identity matrix is that largely determine the election results.
The reason why identity plays such a strong part in UP elections in this particular case but also in Indian politics, in general, is to do with the simple fact that identity as a marker has had and still has significant sway in determining and shaping the cultural or social life of a person which ultimately also affected his/her economic prospects.
Image Credits: The Quint
Before we are on a pedestal to try and make sense of the 2022 elections, it is important that we take a brief look at the broad patterns of the states' election trends and politics in general.
Initial Congress Dominance: With the biggest PM(s) from INC, Pt. Nehru and Mrs Indira Gandhi, both choosing to contest from the state, UP was a Congress bastion where it swept both the General as well as state elections. If truth be spoken, political power was largely in the hands of Congressmen with their base commanding people from almost every significant identity (several castes and religion).
The Mandal Era: The Mandal Era can be rightfully termed as one of the significant events in the history of Indian politics. You may ask why? For the simple reason that it completely changed the trends in the future of Indian Politics. How? For it broke the hegemony of the INC and by the essence of Delhi in determining the politics throughout the country. We, as a nation, were about to move into regional politics. We can still see it all around us. Now elections in multiple states are determined by factors of their own and not essentially that concerning the national parties.homogenization
Thus, in the wake of OBCs demanding what they saw as their rightful representation in the distribution of political power, the hold of INC started to loosen over the state and thus was born parties like The Samajwadi Party and BSP in UP and RJD and JD(U) in Bihar.
The Arrival Of BJP: By winning elections in 2017, the party proved to be able to unite a significant portion of voters, which seemed to be divided into the impregnable walls of caste and religion.
Believe it or not, the key to winning the UP elections is in the numbers. Numbers, because the First Past the Post System commands that whoever secures the maximum number of votes wins the elections, and wins the seats in an unproportionate manner when compared to the proportion of votes secured.
Uttar Pradesh is one such state where the loyalties of the voters to their identities run profound. Securing numbers is the basic equation. Now whether one does it on issues of development and governance or by one trying to unite their tribe or community, which may or may not aggravate the other is left to politics on the ground. However, the reality is a mix of both of these extremes. Yes, the Law of Average isn’t just limited to mathematics.
Notice that the votes obtained by both SP and BSP have largely remained the same, even in the years they claimed their respective victories. This reaffirms the fact that both the parties have a strong voter base and they are likely to retain a major factor of it, unless BJP or Congress can mend their identity-centric loyalty by presenting them a stronger pull, primarily through their respective electoral-agenda issues.
Notice how BJP has gained voters since 2007 at the expense of all the leading parties of the state. Even though its share of total voters is roughly around 30-35%, the party leads by a major difference and until and unless the remaining parties can break away from this difference, they stand little or no chance to win the elections, no matter how strong the intensity of their already existing voter bases.
BY PRATYAKSH KUMAR
CO-FOUNDER THE GEOSTRATA