In this age of real-time information when election campaigns are telecast live, the tussle among political parties is as much for a bigger share of the airwaves. The moving picture influences popular perception that, at times, gets translated on the ground.
For that reason, the Akali Dal’s first worry was about the saturated media coverage the Congress could receive with Navjot Sidhu’s arrival in the arena. What applies to Punjab is true of Uttar Pradesh that’s witnessing the first ever electoral tie-up between the Congress and the SP, a regional party bred on the distrust of it.
That the talking space mostly belongs to the fledgling alliance is a no-brainer. But then, it’s just the opening game of the seven-set match for the most coveted trophy that’s UP.
Narendra Modi won it in 2014 in a scenario the traces of which are on display again in the State that has 80 members in the Lok Sabha. Unlike Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi’s three-legged challenge, the PM’s was a veritable one-horse race, his rivals giving up the battle midway.
Powered by the support of youth that helped him cut caste barriers, Modi galloped home in 73 out of 80 constituencies. Akhliesh was a campaigner then, so was Rahul. But they were rivals. The three-way split-- between them and Mayawati-- of the non-BJP vote turned the contest into a cakewalk for Modi.
The tide had turned against Akhilesh within two years of his magical run to power in the 2012 Assembly polls. The youth who had backed him, shifted allegiance to the BJP against his party, the Congress and the BSP.
Over thirty months thereon, the climate isn’t the same for Modi. The UP CM is back in the game in tandem with the Congress. Or so it seems.
Having shed the family dead wood, can Akhilesh rekindle the euphoria that fetched his party a complete majority in the assembly five years ago? He hadn’t looked back then after word ---of the “cycle racing ahead”-- got out of eastern UP that voted first in the seven-phase poll.
I remember witnessing the SP leader sustaining through the long campaign the first impression of being a ‘potential winner’. The region that’ll get to vote first this time is the communally fragile western UP that gave the BJP the big push in the general elections.
Will Akhilesh get from there the head-start he had in east UP? Difficult to say! Communal tensions in west UP are down; so is the BJP’s appeal. The alliance must encash the minorities’ consolidated vote without inviting a Hindu backlash.
The SP-Congress combine would do well to emulate the Bihar model that had Muslims casting votes in a staggered manner instead of turning up in hordes. Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav were also spared rigorous canvassing for the minority vote—the community’s leaders advising them to invest energies elsewhere.
For a majority of UP’s 18 per cent Muslims-- who’ve no member in the Lok Sabha-- now’s the time to democratically avenge the 2014 ‘apartheid through vote.’ But to return victorious, the alliance needs to be trusted across identities and age-groups. Half the battle would be won if Akhilesh and Rahul can make the battle aspirational by aligning the youth with their bid for power.
Is that asking for too much, too late?
Vinod Sharma is the political editor, Hindustan Times