UP elections: It’s bumpy ride on the road to power | assembly-elections$uttarpradesh-2017 | Hindustan Times
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UP elections: It’s bumpy ride on the road to power

Polls half way through, but no one knows which way the wind is blowing

assembly elections Updated: Feb 27, 2017 16:12 IST
Sunita Aron
‘Kam Bolta Hai’ video being played on an LED screen in Azamgarh, the parliamentary constituency of Mulayam Singh Yadav.
‘Kam Bolta Hai’ video being played on an LED screen in Azamgarh, the parliamentary constituency of Mulayam Singh Yadav.(HT Photo)

The drive on the road to power has never been smooth in a state with multiple claimants to the throne. But this time around, it is a bumpy ride, full of twists and turns, for all the major poll charioteers.

Ostensibly the simple reason is that first time in last two decades; the fight has turned triangular with the two national parties – the BJP and the Congress—also joining the race. The moribund BJP is resurgent after the spectacular victory in 2014 general elections while the Congress has taken a piggy-ride on SP’s cycle.

Issues that dominated the campaign before the start of the elections has given way to caste and candidate as the political discourse moves from demonetisation, surgical strikes to donkey and discrimination on religious lines. Even in the prestigious Banaras Hindu University (BHU) where 30 to 40 percent of the professors and students do not use their caste against their names, feel caste is playing a subtle role.’

Ask the students and they reel out favourites of various classes, if not caste. “Students from lower strata of the society support Akhilesh while those from upper and middle classes favour the BJP.”

Read more| Only your wife stands by you in tough times: Akhilesh Yadav | HT Exclusive

A drive both ways from Lucknow to Varanasi, through the prime constituencies of Rae Bareli and Azamgarh, covering over 700 kms, brings forth the fluctuating fortunes of all the major players, making it hard even for the pollsters to predict the party that will rule the state for the next five years. This is when 262 of the 403 seats have already seen polling.

Lucknow is the Lok Sabha constituency of Union home minister Rajnath Singh, Rae Bareli the bastion of the Gandhis, Varanasi takes pride in sending Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Lok Sabha, while Azamgarh is represented by Mulayam Singh Yadav, UP strongman and father of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.

They all are stalwarts and their personal prestige is at stake in their Lok Sabha constituencies – each with five assembly segments. But none can be confident of sweeping the elections in their own strongholds, what to talk of the state. As confusion persists, the safest refrain is ‘We are heading for a hung house.’

Despite Modi’s personal charisma and Akhilesh Yadav’s popularity, their parties are engaged in a neck-and-neck race. And much to their surprise, Mayawati is silently gaining ground even though the caste calculus still disfavours her party’s ambition to rule the state the fifth time.

People discussing politics in Mohammadabad constituency. (HT Photo)

This is despite the fact that all leaders have some development works to showcase in their constituencies. And though their poll speeches are laced with development promises, at the ground level caste has overtaken aspirations. Ironically, the young, who are itching to change the country’s politics, are also divided on caste lines in the countryside.

Is there any issue then? Yes, for academic debates. Is there an undercurrent for Akhilesh, Narendra Modi and Mayawati? Yes in pockets. That’s the scene.

Twenty-five kms from Varanasi is Chaubeypur, which comes under Ajagara constituency; shopkeepers lament the pathetic condition of the road in their market. But when it comes to elections, they are clear the determining factors will be caste and candidates.

Read more| UP elections: From drama to dialogue, Rajnath strikes a chord with his audience

Jitendra Jaiswal said, “This seat will go to SP as their candidate is good. People are upset with sitting BSP MLA and there is no BJP candidate as the seat has gone to ally Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party. But I come from Shivpur assembly constituency where BJP is winning 110 percent.”

Move ahead another 25 kms in Yadav dominated Saidpur vidhan sabha constituency, where Shyamji Yadav said, “It’s a close contest between SP sitting MLA Subhash Pasi and BSP’s good looking Rajiv Kiron. Modi and Shah will not make a difference. Akhilesh is good but people are unhappy with Subhash Pasi.”

‘Meri jai, mera candidate’ ( My caste and my candidate) feeling was best reflected in the statement of Kishore Kumar Bind in Ghazipur Sadar, where the SP has come back in fight by replacing unpopular sitting MLA Vijay Mishra with Rajesh Kushwaha. BJP has fielded a Bind here. “Everyone is casting for their own biradari, I will also do the same though victory will depend on the support of Rajputs. As of now every party is trying to divide the Binds, but if we unite, BJP will win.” A Bind sammelan was organized two months back.

Even in Varanasi, swept by the BJP in 2014, people are sceptic about the BJP winning all the five seats because of internal dissention. Amit Shah has been trying to iron out the differences. The BJP had won two of the five seats in PM’s Lok Sabha constituency. This time it’s not going to be easy even if the party rides on Modi’s popularity to win all the seats.

Two reasons cited are, ‘BJP does not have a CM face and demonetisation impacted the poor and traders. On the other hand, Akhilesh is popular while Mayawati has caste support.’

In Baburu market area in Azamgarh, a crowd is watching ‘Kam Bolta Hai’ on Led screen. Party activist Rampurak Yadav is quick to say, ‘we are winning 8 of 10 seats here, one less than 2012.’ While family feud may not cast a shadow over the results , Mulayam Singh Yadav’s absence from the poll scene is worrying many.

Like Varanasi and Azamgarh, Rae Bareli may not remain the Gandhis bastion even though the SP is a poll partner.

Public calculations thus are: SP-Congress could have scored on Akhilesh’s popularity if BSP had not made steady gains. This could prove to be advantage BJP.

The real battle then is likely to be fought after the polls when satraps break or make friends to reach the magic figure. Already they are gearing up for the final battle while hoping voters to give them a clear majority.

Read more: BJP is rattled, wants to malign SP-Congress alliance, says UP CM Akhilesh Yadav