या देवी सर्वभुतेषु शक्तिरूपेण संस्थिता
नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः
With the Uttar Pradesh polls slated for 2017, it is time for the Bookkeeper to turn attention to this key electoral state. With a state assembly of 400+ seats and sending the largest contingent of MPs to the Lok Sabha (80), it is impossible to overstate the importance of winning in U.P. Especially so, for the BJP which is seen to be on an resurgence and winning here will be key to the political position of Narendra Modi, and his bid for 2019. It should not be forgotten that in 2014, U.P. contributed 73 out of its 80 Lok Sabha seats towards the Modi victory.
The Bookkeeper is disturbed on learning of rumors that the top bosses in the BJP are considering going into this battle without a general, i.e. without nominating a Chief Ministerial candidate. While this strategy (if one may call it that) may have worked in Maharashtra, one needs to remember that Maharashtra polls were right on the back of the Modi wave sweeping the Delhi Durbar. A more cogent example would be of Bihar where this farce of ‘collective leadership’ failed so miserably that BJP nearly halved even its (then) current strength. It is not for nothing that the Bookkeeper is opposed to such a flaccid move of going without a leader.
Prima facie, the BJP can take two routes if it chooses to go with declaring a CM candidate (and the Bookkeeper ardently hopes they do). Either they go with a hardline face that will appeal to the core or then with a consensus candidate who will be a pacifist among various factions of its structure. The Bookkepper however, feels that U.P. polls are too important to risk on hardline Hindutva alone or a pure developmental agenda (as a pacifist is likely to do). These polls offer a unique opportunity for the BJP to pull an Ace out of its pack and stump its opposition on multiple fronts at the same time.
Smriti Irani, the Bookkeeper believes, is this Ace. The most important advantage of Smriti is that she is not typecast as a caste leader. In fact, it is not easy to forget her moving statement from Lok Sabha, “…mera naam Smriti Irani hai, meri jaat bata kar dikhao…” (My name is Smriti Irani, try and guess my caste). In a state that is arguably that has the most caste-ridden voting patterns, putting up a candidate like Smriti makes it very difficult for opposition to garner votes on a pure identity basis. Samajwadi Party with its Yadav-Muslim combination, or the Bahujan Samaj Party with its primarily Dalit mandate will find it hard to counter someone like this. The Bookkeeper writes this, not based on hope, but on fact. In 2014, Narendra Modi was able to fire the imagination of Uttar Pradesh and win the Varanasi seat despite technically being an outsider to the state. While Narendra Modi is an OBC he did not use his caste in any of his campaigns and an analysis of voting pattern shows that he was able to garner broad based support across castes throughout the State (table taken from CSDS studies):
The presence of Smriti Irani as the leader of the campaign will no doubt attract the women voters of the state. Women voters are increasingly making their presence felt, and voting independently of their husbands or fathers. In fact in the last Bihar assembly elections it was said that Nitish Kumar had been successful in carving out a “women’s constituency”. There is no reason why Smriti Irani as the face of the campaign cannot do the same for BJP in Uttar Pradesh. On a more political note, she will be a perfect pre-emptive strike to reported plans that Priyanka Gandhi may be the fulcrum of the Congress campaign in the state. With her ambiguous caste, Smriti will also be a handful for Mayawati’s “dalit ki beti” line. Also, it is needless to add that Smriti will serve as an inspiration to women in Uttar Pradesh that is currently ruled by Samajwadi Party whose patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav has (in)famously described the heinous crime of rape as “Ladko se galti ho jaati hai” (Boys will make mistakes). The Bookkeeper believes that nominating Smriti as the CM candidate will take the thunder out of three opposing campaigns in one fell swoop.
It is not as if the Bookkeeper only sees circumstantial benefits of nominating Smriti Irani, but he is also cognizant of her abilities. She has shown herself to be an able politician. She has managed to hold her own, whether it is in TV studios v. a hostile media, or it is on the ground in Amethi, or even in parliament where she has been needlessly personally targeted on several occasions. It is noteworthy that despite having just a few weeks to campaign in the Gandhi family bastion of Amethi, Smriti managed to reduce Rahul Gandhi victory margin to just about 1 lakh votes in 2014, from 3.7 lakhs in the prior election.
In conclusion, the Bookkeeper sees Smriti Irani as the perfect face to represent BJP in the UP assembly polls. She will enable people to vote above caste, she has enough Hindutva credentials without being seen as hardliner, as a woman she will appeal to the ‘silent vote’, that too across religious spectrum. She will provide a great opponent to faces like Priyanka Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. Most importantly, with her ‘screen presence’ on the political spectrum, BJP will finally be able to make this election about their local leader (Smriti) vs. local leaders of other political parties, instead of having to make Narendra Modi the face of every campaign. Being the last major election before the general election of 2019, it is a political necessity to have this buffer. The Bookkeeper hopes that good sense prevails in the BJP and they seriously consider nominating a CM candidate, and that candidate is Smriti Irani. It is also important that the BJP takes this decision quickly so that Smriti has enough time to assemble a team of her choice and to campaign throughout the state. Let it not make repeat the Kiran Bedi-Delhi gaffe again. The Party cannot afford it.
The Bookkeeper is not associated with Smriti Irani in anyway, indeed she does not even follow me on twitter as on date, but writes this piece as an observer of Indian politics.
While due care has been taken in compiling various data points, the Bookkeeper does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the number.
Pic Credit: up.nic.in