‘The existing assertion of Hinduism is not free from caste’: Understanding UP elections with Prof. Afroz Alam

UP elections are important for Muslims and they have to vote cautiously, said Prof. Afroz Alam. | Photo by arrangement

Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of assembly’s seats (403) for any state in the country. Parts of UP voted on Monday (February 14) in the second of the seven-phased assembly elections.

In the last assembly elections in 2017, UP voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP. The party picked Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister. But this time the BJP appears to be on a sticky wicket because of farmers’ protests and the tie-up between Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal to challenge Adityanath. 

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In an exclusive interview with TwoCircles.net, Prof. Afroz Alam, who is head of the Department of Political Sciences at MANNU talks about the prospects of the BJP and factors that might swing the results.

Below are the edited excerpts: 

How important are these UP elections for Muslims of India?
It is important for them because they have to vote cautiously. They have to choose who is going to make laws, policies and decisions in the interest of the people. The fight is unequal. Until the politics will not shift to the citizenship framework, you cannot defeat Hindutva or any identity-based politics. The moment you will start talking about identity, the numbers come into play because in a democracy number counts. Muslims have to acquire an overarching consensus to ensure representation.

How have the politics of Identity influenced the thoughts of people in India?
Identity politics is good so long as it empowers the people, but if identity divides the people it is not in the favour of Muslims who constitute only 20 per cent. The moment they will articulate their identity powerfully. There will be counter assertions and being a minority. The only way to assert your identity is as a citizen because Hindu right-wing politics want you to assert as Muslim only. However, the moment you will assert your identity, it will encourage them to assert theirs. This is certainly going to help them this time as well.

Do you think the farmer’s protest will have any impact on UP Elections?
Only secular protests and secular movements will have an impact. The moment you reduce the agenda to identities, it helps the parties that represent the majority. Farmers’ agitation is certainly going to hamper BJP in Uttar Pradesh, particularly in western UP. This time BJP will not be able to retain that many seats. They will lose 10 percent of their vote share.

Do you feel the same for anti-CAA protests?
The movement was a genuine movement for the cause of citizenship but BJP has all the resources at their disposal including the control of the mass media and social media. They are easily able to circulate their messages in a twisted form. The battle is unequal. They say we are here to represent the interest of the Hindus only. We are living in a majoritarian state and the majority is Hindu. They say all religions are equal but Hindus are first among the equals. 

Do you think Karnataka is being made an epicentre for the UP elections?
BJP was not able to establish a narrative in UP. The narrative was farmer agitation, Hathras’ case and misgovernance during Corona. So the government needed a narrative. We need to join the movements which are employability and education-based because identity-based movements serve the BJP. Any place could have been made an epicentre but Karnataka is best suited. Everyone loves their religion. There is nothing new about this. While previously there was a dialogue, now we are turning into competitive communities. We need to introspect to decide our future.  

Has the Congress party reached a state where one can say that they are not in the race at all?
Congress needs to find the reasons again for why they have remained the dominant party in the last 60 years. The ruling elites within the community are not representing the interest of the community. They are solely worried about the privileges they have acquired over time. They want them to remain intact. They need to do things at the grass-root level.

Samajwadi Party has announced some welfare schemes in its manifesto. How do you see them?
Tell me a government in the past who has remained true to the manifesto? Tell me a time when the manifesto has been discussed after the elections for the full 5 years? Tell me a time when the manifesto has been a guiding light for political parties except for cadre-based political parties i.e RSS. The subject of enquiry is what you have done when you have remained in power. A party is supposed to do the welfare of everyone in a fair manner. Having a separate scheme is not a solution. Don’t make too many promises. Just make your government schools at par with private schools. Come with an incentive that can help the poor. It matters only if the governance is delivered. Create a law and order situation.

Do caste equations cease to exist now Since the BJP has been trying to unite the voters under the larger Hindu Identity or do you think this is an oversimplification.
Caste is a social reality. Caste equations will not die that easily. The existing assertion of Hinduism is not free from caste. The ruling caste, within the Hindu framework, remains higher. Cleavages exist but these cleavages compromise for the sake of larger benefits. The moment they will get the opportunity, they will assert. 

What is the political future of Uttar Pradesh?
For BJP it will not be an easy victory but there is every chance that BJP will remain in power because there is no strong anti-incumbency that wants to replace Yogi Adityanath. He may be wrong but he is a symbol. The discontents and dissatisfaction with the government are real but the identity has the potential to make them vanish.

BJP will lose ten percent of vote share. Let us give the liberty to think about the larger issues and empower ourselves. Otherwise, we will be caught in artificial constraints created by ruling elites.


Musheera Ashraf is a special correspondent with TwoCircles.net. She tweets at @Musheera_Ashraf