Lok Sabha 2024: What Caused Turn Of The Saffron Tide In Uttar Pradesh?

In Uttar Pradesh, a historic win for INDIA, a symbolic moment for India

Photo: Getty Images
The Big Win: Samajwadi Party workers celebrating after election results Photo: Getty Images

Mohammad Mosam ‘Lohar’ was a happy man on June 4. He spent the day watching the results of the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections on television inside his home in Palda village of Muzaffarnagar in the western part of Uttar Pradesh.

Sanjeev Balyan, the sitting Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) MP from Muzaffarnagar, had lost to the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Harendra Mallik. On the tumultuous counting day, which threw up surprise after surprise in India’s politically most significant state, it wasn’t just Muzaffarnagar that flipped.

Across Uttar Pradesh, the BJP, which had swept 71 seats in 2014 and 62 seats in 2019, was reduced to 33 seats, with the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP emerging as the dominant party across the state with 37 wins. The Congress won nine, up from just one in 2019.

Mosam, who lost his childhood home in Kutba-Kutbi (the same village as Balyan’s) to the 2013 communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, feels that the election results represent a mandate against hate. “People have voted against communal polarisation and instead voted for issues that matter to aam janta (common people),” he said.

The BJP’s surprise upset in Uttar Pradesh has led to much speculation and analysis. After two terms, the BJP, which was riding the Yogi-Modi wave, initially seemed confident in the face of anti-incumbency and projected to cash in big on the newly consecrated Ram mandir in Ayodhya.

Ayodhya and Hindutva rhetoric also featured heavily in the campaign speeches of the party’s star campaigners, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. “Why is Modi demanding 400 seats? Modi needs 400 seats to prevent Congress from putting a ‘Babri lock’ on Ram mandir,” Modi had said at a campaign rally in UP. At another rally, Adityanath had raised chants of “Jo Ram ji ko laaye hain, hum unko layenge (We will elect those who brought Lord Ram home)”.

While exit polls had predicted a comfortable victory for the BJP in UP, veteran Samajwadi Party leader Jayprakash Pandey asserted that the BJP and a majority of pollsters ignored ground realities.

“Inflation, unemployment, exam scams, atrocities against minorities and concerns over arbitrary bulldozing of homes were burning issues the party failed to address,” Pandey stated. He congratulated SP’s 78-year-old nine-time Dalit MLA Awadhesh Prasad, who wrested the Faizabad seat, home of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The leader added that projecting Modi as the one who brought Lord Ram to Ayodhya “implied he was more powerful than the deity, which hurt religious sentiments.”

“They became too arrogant,” he said.

Moreover, changing caste equations and increasing hardships for the poor emerged as bigger electoral issues for voters.

Sushma Sahu, 49, whose house in Ayodhya was partly demolished for road widening in January, said that the BJP paid the price for its hubris. “They bulldozed homes of poor people in God’s name for their political ambition,” Sahu said.

In many seats, the party suffered due to internal discontent, with BJP karyakartas distracted by accusations of high-handedness and the growing arrogance of top and senior leaders. There were also murmurs of an alleged faction war between Rajput leaders like Adityanath, Rajnath Singh and the ‘Gujarat lobby’ comprising Modi and now former Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Comments by Opposition leaders like Arvind Kejriwal, who in May, claimed that Yogi would be removed from office within two months if Modi came to power again, added fuel to the simmering fires of discontent.

“The temple would not have been possible without Yogi Adityanath or his predecessors,” his aide and senior priest at Gorakhnath Dham Dwarikanth Tiwari had told Outlook.

Gorakhpur-based independent journalist Syed Ali feels that the Rajput unrest might present Yogi with an opportunity to consolidate Kshatriya voters behind him. “It is clear from the results that the Rajput anger was real and affected the party’s fortunes in many seats,” Ali stated.

A notable outcome of the India bloc’s campaign was the consolidation of Dalit, OBC and Muslim votes. SP’s ‘PDA’ strategy and ticket distribution resonated with voters.

Rajputs have been a core BJP vote bank for years. But the party’s strategy to consolidate other backward class (OBC) votes and ‘middle castes,’ along with its Dalit political outreach, has left the community feeling alienated. In 2014, the party gave 21 tickets to Kshatriya candidates, 19 of whom won. This time, they only disbursed ten tickets to Rajputs in UP and fielded “anti-Rajput” leaders, said Thakur Puran Singh of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, who called for boycotting the BJP in the polls.

Socio-economic issues like unemployment, stagnating sugarcane prices, the addition of a land clause in economically weak section (EWS) relaxation, and the stray cattle problem due to the slaughter ban also emerged as key issues for rich, landowning, and EWS category Rajput farmers like Beeram and Pinku Singh of Bijnor.

“Sugarcane prices have risen by just Rs five and we end up spending about Rs 3,000-4,000 a month on hiring extra labour to protect crops from stray cattle,” they said.

A notable outcome of the calculated campaign run by the INDIA bloc was the consolidation of Dalit, OBC and Muslim votes. SP’s PDA (Picchda Dalit Alpsankhyak—Backward, Dalit Minority) strategy and ticket distribution resonated with voters across the state, with the party sending eight SC candidates, 20 OBC candidates and four Muslim candidates to Parliament. Across the 17 SC reserved and non-reserved seats, a large number of Dalit voters swung towards INDIA, hurting both the BSP and BJP, which had previously dominated non-Jatav caste votes. Jatavs have been BSP supporters in the past but with the decline of Mayawati, the community had increasingly been voting for the BJP since 2014.


Aligarh Muslim University political science professor Mirza Asmer Beg felt that the INDIA bloc successfully managed to articulate the tensions over reservations being felt by the marginalised.

“They spread the message down to the grassroots that if the BJP gets a full majority, they will change the constitution and the reservation rules,” Beg claimed.

The Muslim-Dalit combine also emerged as a reliable vote bank in seats like Nagina (SC) where Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan wrested the prestige seat from the BSP.


Speaking to Outlook ahead of the polls, Azad had said that “uniting Dalit-Muslim voters was essential for political emancipation of the marginalised since it brought together two important representatives of the historically deprived and oppressed.”  

Some political observers have stated that Yogi should shoulder responsibility for the party’s loss in the state. Beg, who works regularly with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), feels that Yogi, who has relentlessly campaigned in the last few months for the BJP and Modi, hosting almost 170 rallies in and outside UP, and has led the party to victory in the past four elections, should not be made a scapegoat for the BJP’s failure. “This is a failure for the PM, not the CM,” he stated. 


The results symbolise the comebacks of both the Samajwadi Party and Congress. The latter managed to defend Raebareli, while also wresting back Amethi by slaying the ‘giant slayer’ Smriti Irani, marking a symbolic win for the Gandhi family. With a copy of the Constitution in hand, Rahul Gandhi, in his media address in Delhi, thanked the “political wisdom” of the people of Uttar Pradesh and credited the “poorest, weakest sections of people” for winning the fight to save democracy.

The numbers call for introspection, as INDIA’s success in UP, the heartland of its Hindutva experiments, marks a symbolic shift from the majoritarian politics that have dominated the state since the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. Outgoing MP Balyan had been key to the BJP’s Jat consolidation in 2014 and 2019, breaking into Mulayam Singh Yadav’s ‘M-Y’ (Muslim-Yadav) coalition.


After ten years of hate, some hope to mend broken bonds. Ravinder Singh Chaudhry, father of a Hindu boy whose killing sparked the 2013 riots, noted that before the violence, Muslims and Yadavs had shared mutually amicable socio-political bonds. “Violence has to be punished, and I am still fighting for justice for my son. But with time, it became evident that BJP politicians used my son’s death to divide the communities for political mileage. They did not care about bringing justice to anyone, Hindu or Muslim,” he stated.

(This appeared in the print as 'UnPredictable')