Who will the 20-crore population of Uttar Pradesh anoint as chief minister, is perhaps the most crucial question on the minds of most people these days. It would have been nicer had the evolved voters of the state considered the policies of the parties rather than just the faces of candidates. But this was inevitable. Adopting a herd mentality has become our destiny.
Let us begin with the Samajwadi Party. The conflict in Uttar Pradesh’s ruling party has hijacked almost the entire media space of late. Last week’s reconciliation between father and son, in poetic style, raises a relevant question: Was the entire conflict scripted? People are free to speculate, but one thing is certain: Akhilesh benefited tremendously from the long-drawn theatre of the absurd. He emerged as the leader of consensus within the party and whatever little resentment people had with the government was pushed into the background.
After the tie-up with the Congress, Akhilesh has become the most prominent face of the secular coalition. It was hoped that the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) will also be part of the coalition, but in his ambition to be a hard bargainer, RLD leader Ajit Singh lost out on the opportunity.
The SP was apprehensive that they would lose Muslim voters had they joined hands with the RLD. The solidarity between the Jats and the Muslims has diminished to a huge extent after the Muzaffarnagar riots. As far as the Congress is concerned, even in a state of disarray it commands around 10% of votes. The coming together of the SP and the Congress will help unify the traditional voter as well as consolidate Muslim votes on its own. The coalition also hopes to attract women voters and neutral voters from the upper castes. The reason? Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav are young leaders and they could be bolstered by the presence of Dimple Yadav and Priyanka Gandhi.
They should not forget that they are facing a cadre-based party like the BJP. Narendra Modi himself has reached the power corridors of Delhi with sack-loads of development promises. After demonetisation, he has tried to project himself as a messiah of the poor. It is for the first time that a leader of a supposedly Right Wing party is speaking the language that could put even Leftist parties to shame. Will his new image, will he manage to overcome caste loyalties the way he did in 2014?
To achieve this goal Amit Shah has been busy for many months preparing a strategy. He managed to sway the Jat voters in 2014 using the Muzaffarnagar model. Even in these elections, he is toying with the polarisation formula. Apart from this, Shah has tried desperately to woo the vote bank of the extremely backward and the poorest Dalits. To fortify itself, the saffron party has even allowed traditional foes into the BJP fold. Who would have imagined that leaders such as Vijay Bahuguna, Yash Pal Arya, Swami Prasad Maurya and Rita Bahuguna would be heard singing Rashtra-aradhan (the theme song of the RSS)? I won’t hesitate to include Uttarakhand with Uttar Pradesh. Simply pick up the list of BJP candidates and you’ll see that the old faithfuls have been sidelined for outsiders and the forward castes discarded for extremely backward candidates. This has led to open dissidence within the party.
Political pundits may call it a risk, but Amit Shah, who has a portrait of Chanakya in his room, believes one needs to take hard decisions in politics.
Now let us look at the electoral arithmetic of Mayawati, one of the major contenders for power. She was the first to come out with her list and she did not hesitate to give 97 tickets to Muslim candidates. Clearly, she is eyeing the Muslim vote bank of the Samajwadi Party. Experts say she has fielded Muslim candidates only in those constituencies that have close to one lakh minority voters. None of these constituencies has less than 30,000 Dalit voters. The BSP believes Dalits and Muslims not only vote for a common candidate, more than 90% of them make sure they come out and vote. If between 180,000 and 200,000 votes are polled in these constituencies, and the Muslims and Dalits are united in their thinking then the BSP will be a winner. These are the parameters Mayawati has kept in mind while giving tickets to the forwards, backwards and the Dalits.
The bigger picture is clear. Even as the SP-Congress coalition and the NDA have jumped into the fray keeping in mind the equations of power, in her political exile, Mayawati has brewed caste equations like milk and sugar a number of times.
During this period, naturally, there was heartburn in most parties and turncoats changed their political affiliations. Political conspiracies are being hatched at a fever pitch in the Hindi heartland. The advocates of a caste- or religion-free democracy can feel ashamed.
This political theatre has another tragic aspect. Thanks to the shenanigans of politicians in the blind race for power, the issues essential to Uttar Pradesh’s development are being pushed out of the discourse. It is a scenario that scares me.