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Cadre & caste do the trick

New Delhi, May 16: Amit Shah’s appointment as the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh minder was followed shortly by the Muzaffarnagar communal violence.

Shah was appointed in June 2013 and the flare-up occurred in September.

Given his history in home state Gujarat — where he earned notoriety for allegedly overseeing “encounters” — the temptation was to link Shah with the riots and launch a campaign that he was out to polarise Uttar Pradesh to maximise the BJP’s gains in the Lok Sabha polls.

The campaign was predicated on the belief that the BJP could win an election only by playing the “communal card”. There was no evidence to establish that Shah had instigated the violence. Three of the BJP’s MLAs from western Uttar Pradesh had made provocative speeches shortly after Hindu homes and properties were attacked.

Local apocryphal tales had it that Shah went “in disguise” to Dalit-Jatav villages in the affected region and distributed food and medicines to the victims who appreciatively said their “leader” Mayawati was “pandering” to the minorities while a “man from Sabarmati” was there to “share our grief”.

But if facts are sifted from fiction, the most startling outcome to emerge from the Uttar Pradesh election is the wipe-out of Mayawati’s BSP. The BJP and its ally, the Apna Dal, have 73 of the 80 seats while the BSP, once a pre-eminent force, scored a duck.

So what was the magic Shah worked in India’s most populous and politically significant state? It was no magic, after all. A combination of adept cadre and booth management, reorganisation of caste arithmetic, selling Narendra Modi and the “Gujarat model” and, most critically, breaching the formidable caste support of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and the BSP did the trick.

From a high of swinging 57 seats in 1998 to a low of 10 in 2009, the Uttar Pradesh BJP was a text-book case of how to fritter away a mandate.

When Shah stepped in, the party was in the clutch of geriatrics and under-performers who resented the presence of an “outside meddler”.

Shah decided to connect with the BJP’s district, block and village-level representatives over the heads of state leaders. Sources said he consulted even BJP president Rajnath Singh, who is from Uttar Pradesh, “only when he thought he needed to”.

Through grass-root leaders, he discovered the BJP’s membership lists were “flawed” and riddled with “fake” names. Shah was told that to enhance their own relevance, state leaders “enrolled names” and nobody cross-checked their veracity. Shah did, to the relief of several “genuine” old-timers who complained of being given a wide berth by the state heavyweights.

Having cleaned up the workers’ rolls, he formed booth committees. To ensure no false names were listed, he asked for soft copies of CVs that contained names, professions, mobile numbers and addresses, accompanied by photographs. Copies of the CVs were sent to the district offices and the Lucknow headquarters so the workers could be reached at a moment’s notice.

Shah called the workers himself whenever he had to and not through cabals that had entrenched themselves in Lucknow. The sentiment among the workers was they “felt wanted” after decades. He discovered that not having fought the panchayat polls for years, the BJP’s grass root apparatuses had fallen in disuse.

If revving up a rusted organisation was one prong of his strategy, the other was reviving the BJP’s old social coalition of upper castes, backward castes (excluding the Yadavs) and Dalits.

In the process, Shah found that even the Yadavs and Jatavs, thought to be traditionally loyal to the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, evinced a keen interest in the BJP.

Both groups seemed fed up with their original parties: the Yadavs alleged Mulayam and his son, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, were out to sub-serve the minorities or their own family members.

By the time the elections got underway, the Yadavs and the Jatavs figured out that it was time to throw out the Congress government in Delhi and bring in a new one without “wasting” their votes on the Samajwadi or the BSP. A vote for either was tantamount to a vote for the Congress because they had supported the UPA government. The new catch phrase was this was a rashtriya chunav (national election), meant to install a “strong and stable” government at the Centre.

Shah also roped in the Apna Dal, as the BJP’s sole Uttar Pradesh ally. A small outfit of backward caste Kurmis, it rarely picked up a seat in the past elections but ended up taking away a chunk of the Kurmi votes in the central and eastern parts this time. The alliance worked because the votes of both parties transferred mutually with ease and brought the BJP big gains.

The nitty-gritty worked, Shah “educated” local leaders on the “Gujarat Model”, emphasising it was not about “favouring” big business, as the Opposition propagated, but in using surplus revenues earned by a government to fund social schemes like girl child education and village electrification.

The Gujarat narrative sold because almost every village in Uttar Pradesh sends migrants to Modi’s home state. They return with stories of how the “lights and fans” never go off, the roads are smooth and women travel on two-wheelers on their own at night without fear of being hurt or waylaid. So, when Rahul Gandhi trashed Modi’s template, he found no takers.