Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president Amit Shah once said, “UP is the last frontier we have to conquer.”
After losing Bihar in a nail-biting match, Uttar Pradesh is going to be a tough row to hoe and perhaps even insurmountable if Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati emulate the grand alliance of Bihar.
The acute differences between the SP and BSP leadership could give the BJP some relief but politics is all about the imponderables. Before Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar hugged and made up, they were foes for decades.
Mulayam may come under pressure from his Bihar friends to replicate their formula. Lalu with his cordial relationship with both Mayawati and Mulayam may play the role of a mediator.
The stumbling block, if any, would be, “Kaun banega mukhya mantri?”
To throw a spanner in the works, a beleagured BJP may woo Mayawati, promising her the state in lieu of her party’s support in Parliament -- a formula straight out of their great leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s playbook. All this could seem far-fetched today.
As of now, its good news for UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is taking corrective steps for a re-run and Mayawati, who may not have to worry about the BJP taking away the larger share of the anti-incumbency votes in the state.
Lying low since the party’s rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Mayawati has resurfaced, promising development instead of parks and statutes.
After the BJP’s caste calculations and communal card failed in Bihar, the party high command might have realised that winning states with strong regional forces is a different ball game as voters are guided by leadership and local issues.
Perched on a communal tinderbox, Uttar Pradesh can only hope for a course correction by the BJP high command, realising the so-called love jihad, cow slaughter ban and beef issues can get some emotional brownie points but not votes like the Ram temple issue had managed.
Political analyst from Gorakhpur Rajesh Singh said a fortnight before the results, “The BJP lost the election the day RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat demanded a relook at the quota policy, followed by the killing of two Dalit children in Haryana. The 5% floating vote deserted them.”
The fact is people connect with the local chief ministerial candidate more than the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Bihar has endorsed it and the BJP itself has experienced it with the party doing better in states where it entered the poll arena with a declared chief ministerial candidate -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
The BJP high command may want to tweak its poll strategy of not projecting a CM pick in Uttar Pradesh as the two rivals -- the SP and BSP -- would have no ambiguity on this count.
As of now, unlike Bihar’s straight battle between the NDA and grand alliance, UP will see a fierce contest between three strong political forces -- the SP, BSP and BJP -- making the caste complexities tougher than in the neighbouring state.
The battle to get to the throne starts now though in the period between the Bihar results and the UP election in 2017, two more crucial states, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, will go to the polls.
The BJP high command while taking a vow to unseat the Samajwadi Party did not realise that getting to the throne is going to be tougher in a state where a margin of three to four votes decides who will rule the state.
The BJP cannot afford to lose Uttar Pradesh that gave it 73 seats (including two of ally Apna Dal), almost a fourth of its total Lok Sabha tally. It will not be merely a loss of face but would sound the death knell for the party’s aspirations to rule the country for a decade.
The Bihar elections were still on when a senior journalist from Delhi walked into my office in Lucknow and said, “My bet is on Mayawati. She will form the next government with or without crutches.” There are also those who find Akhilesh to be a good guy with the right intentions.
Sadly, no one is talking about the BJP, for now.