Will the Lakhimpur Kheri tragedy hamper BJP’s juggernaut?

As the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh are being fought on caste, communal and law and order issues, the opposition senses an opportunity to arrest the influence of the BJP and get ready for the 2024 general elections.
Will the Lakhimpur Kheri tragedy hamper BJP’s juggernaut?

Recently, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra visited Lakhimpur Kheri along with Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and few others and attended the last prayers for deceased farmers. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) held the antim ardas for the deceased who fell prey to the violence. Suffice to say, the Lakhimpur Kheri incident has created discontent across the nation. However, the larger discourse to arrest the BJP’s juggernaut is the talking point these days.

As the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh are being fought on caste, communal and law and order issues, the opposition senses an opportunity to arrest the influence of the BJP and get ready for the 2024 general elections. The state has been in turmoil for the past few weeks over the fallout of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident where a speeding car registered in the name of Minister of State Ajay Mishra along with two other cars mowed down three farmers and a journalist who were at a protest site. His son, Ashish Mishra, was reportedly travelling with the convoy according to the opposition parties. In retaliation, an angry mob lynched the driver and two others. This has set off a huge political controversy with the opposition raising a hue and cry.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath immediately swung into action, not in diffusing the tension, but in blocking all routes that lead to Lakhimpur Kheri. Priyanka Gandhi, the general secretary of the Uttar Pradesh Congress was not allowed to visit the site. She was detained by the police at the Sitapur-Lakhimpur border. Former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav who tried to protest outside his house was detained and put under house arrest.

Opposition parties demanded the immediate resignation or dismissal of Ajay Mishra and want a judicial inquiry into the case. As no action was taken, the Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance of the case and questioned why no arrests were made. In a stinging remark, the court said that the UP police did not seem to be serious in tackling the brutal crime. Very soon, Ashish Mishra was arrested by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of UP police as discrepancies appeared in his statement.

Caste politics is the name of the game

A major reason why Ajay Mishra has not been removed from the ministry is because of his Brahmin identity. Brahmins constitute as much as 12 percent of the population in UP and can be a major deciding factor in the coming assembly election. It was the support of Brahmins that helped the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) gain power in 2007 and was a driving force behind BJP’s thumping victory in 2017.

Delhi based political analyst Dr. Sajjan Kumar points out, “Even in states where the Brahmin voters are less than five percent, they hold prestigious and influential positions in the socio-economic sphere. UP is no different. So, the larger population share, coupled with the socio-political and intellectual influence of the Brahmins, make them crucial voters for political parties in UP.” Since the 90s, Brahmins have been the core voters of the BJP. The removal would have upset the community especially in the Central UP region. With elections round the corner, it’s a risk that BJP cannot afford to take.

The role and presence of Jats is another significant factor that plays a major role in the political dynamics of the state. They constitute 8.6 percent of the population. In Western UP, they are a significant 17 percent having a direct influence on as many as 40 assembly seats. According to a post-poll study of the 2012 Assembly election by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, BJP got just seven percent Jat votes. However, post the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, this number went up to a whopping 77 percent showcasing the deep polarisation in western UP politics.

The farmer’s agitation essentially led by Jats may result in BJP losing their support in the upcoming elections. This comes in the wake of Akhilesh Yadav announcing his party’s alliance with Rashtriya Lok Dal for the upcoming elections. With this move, the Muslims and the Jats who had separated after the riots, may come together to back the alliance.

What is Rakesh Tikait’s role in this?

Rakesh Tikait, the national spokesperson of Bharatiya Kisan Union, emerged as the undisputed farmer leader in the agitation against the three farm laws. His active role in quickly resolving the Lakhimpur Kheri incident has made many in the opposition party question his loyalty towards the cause.

According to Dr. Kumar, Tikait had two options before himself, either defuse the situation quickly by making realistic demands or make unrealistic demands and allow the situation to linger on. “Had Tikait chosen the second path, it could have changed the nature of protest from ‘farmer versus government’ to ‘Sikh vs Hindu’. This would have disturbed the social harmony not just within UP but nationwide and its implication would have been felt internationally considering the strong Sikh diaspora,” he added. While some opposition parties are accusing Tikait of taking “blood money” for the victim’s families by demanding compensation, Dr. Kumar calls his decision “mature”.

Significance of the UP Election

While UP’s significance in the Lok Sabha election is huge given its 80 Lok Sabha seats out of 543, the state also has an important role to play when it comes to deciding who becomes the next President of the country. In the presidential election, votes of both MPs and MLAs are counted. The vote of MLAs of each state depends on its respective population and number of seats.

UP, which has 403 MLAs which is the largest that any state has, can be a deciding factor. The presidential election is scheduled just after the UP election as the tenure of President Ram Nath Kovind ends in July 2022. Currently, the National Democratic Alliance led by BJP has 49.9% votes for the presidential election. However, this could dramatically change if the BJP loses a significant number of seats as it will have to persuade smaller parties for votes to elect the president they want.

The opposition senses a great opportunity here and is doing all it could to take on the BJP. If BJP wins, it will also make up for their recent loss in West Bengal against Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress. If the opposition is able to stop the BJP’s juggernaut in UP, it will be a huge psychological win and perhaps, the decline of BJP as an electoral force.

The article is written by Ashish Chandra, Nishit Navin and Sangam. They are currently pursuing their master programme in Mass Communication in Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC), Symbiosis International (Deemed University), Pune. The views expressed in this article are the authors' own. The Bridge Chronicle neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.

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