Uttar Pradesh, an epicentre of tumultuous events that have shaped the history and politics of India, is reeling under the cold wave. Things promise to heat up with the forthcoming political battle next month, when the state goes to poll for 402 state assembly seats.
Stakes are high for all – political parties and citizens – as the 2017 assembly polls could determine the future turn of political events in India in the months leading up to the 2019 General Elections.
Who’s who of stakeholders
There are three principal stakeholders in the Uttar Pradesh elections, the foremost being Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His political popularity is at an all time low.
Why are the stakes so high for him? The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will contest the elections based on his popularity, policies and programmes. Amit Shah, known for his organisational skills, had scripted the UP turnaround with a watertight strategy helping Modi win a mindboggling 73 out of 80 seats in the 2014 General Elections. This score has powered its overall tally of over 280 seats in the Lok Sabha. Whether the same magic can be repeated remains to be seen.
Next is Mayawati, the supremo of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who champions the cause of the downtrodden. Despite being in power for three terms, the stakes for the Dalit Queen are quite high. For the last five years, she has been out of power, not just in the state but at the centre as well. Will she make a comeback on account of the vertical split in the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP)? Will the Muslims who form one-fifth of state population vote en bloc in her favour? These questions plague the minds of her followers.
The last stakeholder is the ruling Samajwadi Party, led by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who has matured and has focussed on delivering development in the state. He led a silent and successful coup against his own father and founder of the party, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and uncle Shivpal Yadav. Subsequently, he was awarded the bicycle symbol and the party name by the Election Commission of India on January 16, which seems to have cast the die in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Polls.
The Congress (I), which was reduced to a mere 44 seats in the Lok Sabha Elections in 2014, is trying to script a comeback. Having won only 28 seats in the 2012 Assembly polls, the Congress will be the biggest gainer on account of the rise of Akhilesh Yadav; an imminent electoral alliance is likely to be announced any time now.
Will the demonetisation decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi work in favour of BJP? Many political observers are betting that the biggest monetary experiment will hardly matter. Amit Shah has described the demonetisation move as a ‘pro-poor’ measure and wanted it to be the main poll plank in the assembly elections in all the five states. Demonetisation will be campaigned by BJP as a destroyer of corrupt traders and helper of the poor masses.
So, the BJP is trying to portray itself as the new messiah of the poor. Interestingly, the first list of candidates announced by the party focussed on the combination of non-Yadav OBCs, Brahmins, Rajputs and Jats.
However, the rabble-rousers, such as Yogi Aditya Nath and Varun Gandhi, have been sidelined for reasons best known to the party.
Failing to get any credible face for the UP election, the BJP has adopted a two-pronged strategy of asking the rank and file of the party to popularise Modi’s initiatives amongst the grassroots and allowing its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh, to micro manage the election arrangements – from selecting the candidates to managing the polling booths.
It has to be seen how much of this gamble will help the BJP.
The Samajwadi Party, according to BJP party insiders and sympathisers, believes that Akhilesh Yadav has an upper hand as Muslims will vote for the SP-Congress combine, despite the fact that Mayawati has announced about 97 candidates from the Muslim community. SP’s electoral arithmetic as always been centred on consolidation of the Muslim vote bank along with the Yadav votes.
It is important to understand that Muslims are known to go with a party or alliance that stands the best chance to defeat the BJP. The Akhilesh-led SP-Congress combine could provide them this option.
Indian politics is all about surprises. What if Narendra Modi – the man whom the BJP and RSS are trying to sell in the absence of a major party activity or credible leader in the state – pulls an ace from his sleeve in his budget proposals?
Smaller parties, such as RLD headed by Ajit Singh, JD-U, RJD, Sanjay Nishad’s Nishad Party, Peace Party, Mahaan Dal and Apna Dal (Krishna Patel faction) have also decided to join the ‘grand alliance’ bandwagon in Uttar Pradesh.
Electoral victories are often celebrated with festive pomp. In November 2015, arch-rivals, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, came together to script a stunning victory in the Bihar Assembly polls, halting BJP’s winning streak. The loss was seen as a massive setback for the BJP-led NDA, particularly because the voters had rejected PM Modi’s ‘development agenda’ and supported Nitish Kumar. For the BJP, Diwali was neither bright nor sweet in 2015.
Now, it is to be seen whether counting of votes on March 11 will spread the right hues ahead of Holi – the festival of colours, celebrated to mark the arrival of spring across North India.