The BJP’s 4-1 sweep of the five state legislative assembly elections held in February-March has attracted detailed reportage and analysis by respected media pundits and prophets. However, few, if any, have provided a satisfactory explanation for the triumph of BJP in four of the five states which went to the hustings, especially the comprehensive re-election of BJP — the ruling party at the Centre — in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state.
The consensus of expert opinion is that it was a combination of the charisma of prime minister Modi, construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, upgradation of temple spaces in Mathura, Varanasi, Char Dham and dog-whistle hindutva propaganda that engineered BJP’s victory. According to media pundits, these factors superseded anti-incumbency and negative realities such as rising prices and unemployment and won the day for Adityanath, the first chief minister in 25 years to be returned to office in Lucknow.
Admittedly these factors influenced the final verdict. But perhaps a determinant often dismissed as ‘welfarism’ in the media played a more important role. According to BJP spokespersons, in the period 2017-22, the Adityanath government built 4.4 million homes for targeted poor as against 50 million in the past 30 years. Moreover, in a state in which only 13.2 percent of rural households have tap water connections, the BJP administration claims to have provided 2 million connections in 2020-21 and made an election promise of 22 million by 2024. In addition, it supplied 2 million free-of-charge gas cylinders to 2 million households; built 26 million toilets and distributed free rations to 15 million targeted poor households during the pandemic lockdown.
Although casually dismissed as mere welfarism, these carefully targeted initiatives had a powerful demonstration effect in rural UP. Especially since ground level BJP/RSS cadres ensured last mile delivery of declared allocations and provisions. Although similar declarations and provisions have been made in the past by other parties, in a state notorious for official corruption, allocations have been routinely siphoned off by venal bureaucrats and middlemen.
The differentiating factor of BJP welfarism is that the party has the advantage of its own and RSS cadres who ensure that proclaimed benefits reach targeted beneficiaries. This was a decisive factor that won the BJP its most recent mandate, and the women’s vote in particular.
For champagne socialists who dominate the roundly trounced Congress party and media pundits, a gas connection, tap water and a toilet in the house are taken for granted. But for voters in the bottom deciles of the country’s iniquitous socio-economic pyramid, law and order and modest comforts are life-changing experiences. BJP’s leaders and strategists grasped this reality and won the day.
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