While the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) victory in Uttar Pradesh may have surprised many, it goes to show that the three narratives from the very beginning of the poll campaign — rashan (free ration), bhashan (speeches promoting the Hindu-Muslim divide) and kada prashasan (tough law and order) – spun by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the RSS campaign, had definitely swayed the electorate in the saffron party’s favour.
The BJP, under Modi, Amit Shah and Adityanath, have yet again spun people’s aspirations into something they feel but not see. Even with raging unemployment in UP, the BJP scooped up a thumping victory.
The RSS had worked on spreading the word about how nobody went hungry under the Modi and Yogi governments during the Covid-19 pandemic. This, they said, became possible because of the free ration scheme that had reached every poor person’s home. With packets of salt distributed among the poor that had Modi’s photo on them, free ration ensured that hunger did not grow into a big issue in the election.
While stomachs were kept filled, fiery speeches by CM Adityanath, PM Modi and scores of lower-rung BJP politicians occupied the mindspace of the UP voter and kept the content-sharing universe chugging. Speeches meant to polarise voters on communal lines went viral. The bhashan kept the us-versus-them mind-set fired up. One without the other would not have taken the BJP to the finishing line.
UP CM Adityanath turned into the law-and-order politician; both his supporters and critics started saying that law and order had improved under him, before rattling off names of Samajwadi Party candidates with alleged criminal backgrounds.
Of course, ‘law and order’ was code for showing the Muslims their place in the Indian society under the Adityanath government. Like Bihar, ‘law and order’ became a savarna code for Yadav-ruled gundaraj in UP.
When the BJP came to power in 2014, it was on the back of a new promise of addressing the growing aspiration of Indian youth. Many at that time had even mocked NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and said that India’s youth want real jobs. Not only has India witnessed the failure to create jobs, the BJP government has in fact presided over a massive loss of jobs in recent years – 30 per cent decrease between 2016 and 2021, according to a report by Centre for Economic Data & Analysis (CEDA).
Despite this poor track record, the word aspiration has stuck to Modi and Adityanath politics.
The story of the last eight years is one of how the Modi propaganda machine has turned the notion of aspiration successfully and cleverly from a tangible measure of jobs into an intangible entity of emotion and pride. There was a new barter between the government and the voters. As long as the citizens are convinced that the nation was better off now in some abstract understanding of strength, they would not hold the government responsible for non-creation or loss of jobs.
Among the BJP voters today, there is a general sense of India becoming ‘strong’, even though the economy is weakening, and social harmony is getting fractured with time.
In spite of so many journalists traveling across Uttar Pradesh reporting on massive joblessness, there is apparently very little street anger around the issue. More importantly, instead of jobs, people got ration. And this is different from the Congress’ NREGA. It seems that Uttar Pradesh is just satisfied that no one went to bed hungry.