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Narendra Modi tries to fashion a credible rhetoric for Uttar Pradesh

The 'Giant Dodder', popularly known as 'Amar Bel' or Immortal Vine is one of the most destructive parasitic vines in India. It grows so prolifically over its host tree that it eventually kills it. Unkind social media critics have used the epithet 'Amar Bel' for Independent Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh after he suddenly appeared onstage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lucknow. Not only did the PM appreciate him in his speech but Singh promptly declared afterwards that his entire life would henceforth be dedicated to the service of Narendra Modi.

While one can understand why a regional satrap like Mulayam Singh Yadav once needed Amar Singh as a facilitator to tap the world of business and glamour, surely the prime minister needs no such introductions. He would not want to be seen with the kind of people who he thought needed to be weeded out from the corridors of power in Lutyen's Delhi -- unless he has a political use for them.

The only reasonable explanation of the Prime Minister hobnobbing with Singh is that he may come in handy to tackle the Samajwadi Party (SP) in UP. Nothing worries the BJP more than the alliance of the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Political observers predict that if they come together with the Congress, the alliance may capture upto 60 seats out of 80 in UP in 2019. No one knows the fault lines of the SP and the frailties of its leaders better than Singh.

He may also be useful in the post-election scenario, should the BJP need to open dialogue with the SP. The relationship between Modi and Amar Singh may, therefore, yet evolve into a symbiotic one rather than the parasitic one that 'Amar bel' implies.

Not one to put its eggs in one basket, however, the BJP also has other strategies up its sleeve to wean the SP's voter base and prevent the Other Backward Classes (OBC) from voting en masse in UP and elsewhere.

It has passed a Constitution Amendment Bill which gives statutory status to the National Commission for Backward Classes. That is a signal to the OBCs that the Modi government is committed to their welfare.

More significantly, the BJP will also try to fragment the OBC vote. To this end, the party may rely on the report of the Justice G Rohini Commission on sub-categorisation of the OBCs. Its report reviewing the inequitable distribution of benefits of reservations among the OBCs in the central list is likely to be submitted soon. This will hit the dominant OBC castes (read Yadavs in UP and Bihar) and strengthen the argument for sub-quotas for non-Yadav OBCs within the 23 per cent OBC quota. The commission is also expected to recommend the inclusion of new caste groups as OBCs.

As for the BSP, the BJP will do nothing to alienate the party or its leader Mayawati. Once again, the strategy is to attract a section of the Dalits, especially non-Jatav voters, to the BJP. This will be achieved by bringing an amendment to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act which will restore the stringent provisions for arrest and no-bail for the accused.

The Modi government is intent on undoing the Supreme Court judgement of March 20 which prohibits immediate arrest based on complaints of cruelty against SC/ST citizens, mandates a preliminary inquiry, and provides for anticipatory bail. Initially, the Modi government was not unhappy with the dilution of the SC/ST Act provisions. However, the SC/ST community forced the BJP to reassess its stance because of its successful nationwide protest on April 2.

A day later, the government rushed to file a review petition against the March 20 judgement and sought a stay citing law-and-order issues. That plea was rejected summarily by a bench of Justice U U Lalit and Justice Adarsh Goyal that had passed the earlier order.  

However, worried by the growing anger amongst the Dalits, the BJP then orchestrated a demand through its Dalit ally, Ramvilas Paswan of Lok Janshankti Party and BJP’s Dalit MP Udit Raj, urging the government to undo the court order. The Union Cabinet promptly approved an amendment to the SC/ST Act to nullify the apex court order. This is likely to happen before August 9, when another nation-wide protest has been called by Dalit groups.

Simultaneously, the government has also proposed reservations in promotions for the SC/STs in the Supreme Court. In short, everything is being done in the run-up to 2019 to project the BJP as a pro-Dalit party despite its governments overseeing anti-Dalit violence in Gujarat, Saharanpur and Bhima-Koregaon, the prolonged imprisonment of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and burning down the homes of a Dalit MLA and an ex-MLA in Rajasthan.

The potential downside is that as a consequence of these rectification measures, upper castes and OBCs who perceive themselves to be at the receiving end of the 'misuse' of the SC/ST Act, may get estranged from the BJP.

The upper and the middle castes may yet rally to the BJP's side through communal polarisation sought to be achieved by the publishing of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. This measure could have been postponed till after the 2019 general elections but its usefulness for polarising the rest of the country against Bangladeshi 'infiltrators' is significant in a pre-election scenario. Communal polarisation is a time-tested strategy for the BJP to rally dithering voters of all hues across the Hindu caste spectrum.

Layer these moves with the development and investment rhetoric – 81 projects worth Rs. 60,000 crore (600 billion) inaugurated in one day by the prime minister and the promise of the 'world's largest mobile factory' by Samsung in Greater Noida in UP – and the BJP could have a credible narrative for the state with the largest number of Lok Sabha seats.

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(The writer is a journalist based in Delhi)

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