Uttar Pradesh was a parched land for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for 14 long years. Ever since the then Chief Minister Rajnath Singh lost the plot in the 2003 state assembly elections, the saffron party found itself on the sidelines of the country’s politically most crucial state.
In election after election, the BJP was battered by regional satraps like Samajwadi party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati. In 2017, its political “vanvaas” (exile) ended and the party romped home with its highest seat tally ever — 312 in a house of 403.
Building on the stunning victory of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, where the party won 73 of the 80 seats on offer, the BJP’s well-oiled organisation and a frenzied campaign by Prime Minister Narenda Modi, party President Amit Shah and many regional leaders ensured the end of the exile and a return home in style.
The party promised a dejected population the moon and swayed them in its favour. People, fed up with the BSP and the SP misrule, had little option. The development Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s brought was for all to see but apparently the electorate was miffed with the SP’s internal feud and the decision to join hands with Rahul Gandhi’s Congress.
The results were catastrophic for the SP and the Congress, the former slipping to its lowest-ever tally of 47 and the latter doing no better than its last showing.
The BJP’s “Dalit nahin Daulat ki beti” (Not a Dalit but the daughter of wealth) credo gained currency during the campaign and the BSP, which was largely being viewed by the media and political observers as a serious contender for the throne, was reduced to an abysmal 19 seats. The corruption charges stuck to Mayawati, already rattled by many desertions in the party.
Uttar Pradesh has always been the pivot of all politics that the saffron fold ever practised or preached. From a party of two members in the Lok Sabha to a centerstage challenger to the grand old Congress, the state has played an important role. It was here where the BJP’s biggest political asset and electoral ace — Ram Janmabhoomi — existed. But after reaping the harvest of the “Jai Shri Ram” wave in the late 1990, the BJP found itself mired in inner-party bickering in the early 2000s.
Its tallest leader in the state, a backward Lodh, Kalyan Singh, had rebelled against the party high command, then comprising Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, and had to be ultimately thrown out. His replacement, Ram Prakash Gupta, could neither hold the party together nor the government. His forgetfulness became the butt of many jokes in political and bureaucratic circles. Kalyan Singh would often ridicule him on how the “beginning of BJP’s end” was for all to see.
And, as Kalyan Singh plotted his next moves — not to win seats but to dent the BJP — from his Mall Avenue bungalow, which also housed his close associate Kusum Rai, who was a cause of consternation when he was the Chief Minister, the BJP high command saw the damage that the tall backward leader was causing to its foundations in the Hindi heartland. Gupta was soon replaced by Rajnath Singh, the shrewd Thakur leader from eastern Uttar Pradesh — but apparently that was too little too late.
Under Rajnath Singh, who was often accused by colleagues and opponents of promoting only Thakurs, the BJP’s citadel cracked and the party lost power, coming down to two digits in the state assembly. Mandarins in the party stitched up an alliance with the mercurial Mayawati despite stiff opposition from the Brahmins and the Thakur lobby, who were still smarting under her past slogans like “Tilak Tarazoo aur Talwaar, inko maro joote chaar”.
After a brief, 56-day spell of President’s rule, BJP-BSP thrashed out differences and Mayawati became the Chief Minister for the third time round. But the problems kept mounting and Mayawati resigned in August 2003, parting ways amid acrimony, to end one of the strangest alliances in Indian politics.
In August the same year, Mulayam Singh Yadav was sworn in as the Chief Minister with the support of BSP dissidents and ran the government until 2007. It is widely speculated that a group of BJP leaders convinced Vajpayee that Mulayam would help in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. This never happened but the SP made it to the Lok Sabha with its strongest contingent ever of 39.
Lawlessness and mis-governance led to Mulayam Singh’s loss at the hustings in 2007 and Mayawati returned with an absolute majority — and the BJP still remained on the fringes. In 2012, Mulayam Singh’s son Akhilesh Yadav led an impressive campaign and got a majority (for the first time) for his party.
The BJP, though looking upbeat yet again, did not move up in the electoral stocks. Its golden run started in 2014 when it peaked with 73 seats in the general election and, to its credit, it managed not only to maintain the lead in 2017 but also bettered it.
In March, however, when it picked firebrand monk-turned-politician Yogi Adityanath for the Chief Minister’s post, it left many amused — and many alarmed. Nine months down the line, though there have been no communal conflicts, Adityanath continues with his Hindutva agenda and the BJP continues to win elections — something most guess were things mandated from the head of the Gorakshnath Mutt.