IN a three-cornered contest, the BJP might well be pushed to the wall with the minority Muslim vote ranged against it. It is in this context that the Lotus party is seeking to project itself as a saviour of the other backward classes in a desperate bid to regain power in UP after 14 years. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Modi’s diktat of steering clear of giving tickets to the relatives of party leaders, the party has just done that.
With Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on a 3,500 km ‘Kisan yatra’ in the most populous and crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra played a vital role in hammering out the seat adjustment with the Samajwadi party. With 105 seats going to the Congress, the SP will contest the remaining 298 seats in the 403-member legislative assembly.
The old lady of Bori Bunder managed to clear the first hurdle of getting past the three figure mark amid speculation that Priyanka’s role can catapult her to the national scene.
The bitter struggle in the first political family of UP, Samajwadi party patriarch and the wrestler-turned-politician Mulayam Singh Yadav has lost the battle for the cycle symbol. His marginalisation is all too apparent.
The autonomous Election Commission of India granting the crucial cycle symbol to youthful chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s faction of the SP was a severe blow to Mulayam Singh or Netaji as he is widely known.The ECI’s decision was on account of the large majority of legislators and party loyalists vociferously endorsing Akhilesh Yadav’s leadership had won the day.
The mantle of leadership in the SP founded by his father 25 years back passed on to Akhilesh Yadav on January second. This facilitated the smooth installation of the chief minister as the national President of the SP. Since then he has gone from strength to strength.
Things have since moved fast in forming a la 2015 Bihar style of “mahagathbandhan” for keeping the Lotus party at bay in UP. The JD(U) and RJD have extended support. This portends resurrecting the Congress to some extent having been in political wilderness in the state for the last 27 years. It managed only 28 seats in the 2012 assembly elections.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh appears to have gone off the radar of both the SP and the Congress. The SP made it clear it is not interested in a tie up with Ajit Singh’s RLD and the Congress has also not evinced interest. On the other hand, Akhilesh Yadav does not want to alienate the dwindling Mulayam Singh loyalists. The effort is to undertake a delicate balancing act ensuring the renewal and strengthening of the SP.
Worried by the SP-Congress truck, the BJP is once again at its game of communal polarisation. In a three-cornered contest, the BJP might well be pushed to the wall with the minority Muslim vote ranged against it.
It is in this context that the Lotus party is seeking to project itself as a saviour of the other backward classes in a desperate bid to regain power in UP after 14 years. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diktat of steering clear of giving tickets to the relatives of party leaders, the party has just done that.
The saffron brigade appears to have alienated its supporters of small traders as well as the Brahmins. In the general elections in 2014 the BJP secured a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha for the first time since it was formed in 1980.
It managed a staggering 71 seats in the Lok Sabha out of the 80 from UP finishing with a tally of 73 along with its allies in the NDA bagging two. It is unlikely that the BJP will be able to replicate that humongous performance in the ensuing Februry-March elections.
Judging by the BJP’s first list of candidates it has not given a single seat to a Muslim candidate along with banking on communal polarisation in riot affected western UP. Tickets have been distributed to leaders involved in communal incidents including sitting MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, both of whom are accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The wife of the BJP/RSS leader accused in last September’s Bijnor incident has also been fielded.
This has sent a wrong signal to the minorities. The BJP has again resorted to playing the communal card amid reports that the dominant Jat community is disillusioned with it. With reservation for Jats in a limbo, they might desert the BJP this time and consolidate the minority votes in favour of the SP-Congress alliance.
The outcome in UP will set the stage for the saffron brigade in the general elections two years later in 2019. The surgical strikes on terrorist camps across the LOC in Pakistan in October last year and the big ticket demonetisation undertaken by the Prime Minister on November eighth are the two main planks of the BJP’s campaign strategy in UP.
As the main campaigner for the BJP, Modi created problems galore with demonetisation because of poor planning coupled with the centre’s failure to anticipate the problems which got compounded in the wake of the RBI issuing new directives on a daily basis for nearly a month.
The Lotus party is also handicapped as it has not announced a chief ministerial face in the critical Cow belt. The Modi government desperately needs to increase its strength in the Rajya Sabha where it is handicapped being in a minority. This has compelled the BJP led NDA at the Centre to resort to ordinances which has been decried by constitutional experts.
Important legislation pertaining to economic reforms has invariably hit a wall and fallen by the wayside in the Rajya Sabha.
With BJP strategists focussing on non-Yadav OBCs, the party is wooing the most backward castes which can alienate the Brahmins as they don’t vote in sync with the OBCs. On the other hand, the Samajwadi party government has not crowned itself with glory during its rule in Lucknow over the last five years. There were too many centres of authority. Despite that Akhilesh Yadav has focussed on development which is critical for UP and appears to have caught the imagination of the youth.
In all this Mayawati of the BSP who fancied her chances of becoming the chief minister for a record fifth time in UP appears to have lost the plot because of the SP-Congress alliance. Her gambit of splitting the 20 per cent Muslim votes in the state might not fructify.
Akhilesh Yadav’s test lies in leading the party to victory because of the BJP’s negative campaign against him. That is not his only challenge in the seven-phase assembly elections in UP but overcoming the problems arising once the dust at the hustings settles down.
The writer is a senior journalist and commentator.