Apologies to the non-Hindi readers, but one needs to understand this to decipher the sense of what rural Uttar Pradesh is talking about at the moment: ‘Sau din chale adhaai kos’ (Walked a 100 days, traversed two-and-a-half miles). That’s the take of many in describing the efforts of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi in UP. They feel that his efforts won’t pay off as they should when the results are declared in the state. This election might result in an interesting turn of events for future political discourse. And the results will impact the national political scene for some time to come, as UP has been turned into a laboratory by the political class.
The BSP, essentially a Dalit party, has given approximately one fourth of its tickets to Brahmins, a firming up of the experiment carried out last time. It is also desperately trying to reach out to the Muslims, fielding as many as 85 Muslim candidates, the maximum by any party. It’s not ancient history that reminds us that the Congress ruled the state for decades thanks to this Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit combine. It was reduced to nothing eventually when this combination deserted the party.
The BJP, supported aggressively by the upper caste Hindu — read Brahmin-Thakur — has decided to completely embrace the backward communities like the Lodhs, Kurmis, Kushwahas etc in the aftermath of the Brahmins deserting it for the BSP in the last elections. The results of the BJP’s experiment were exemplified by Uma Bharti (Lodh), borrowed from Madhya Pradesh, leading the party campaign. Babu Singh Kushwaha was included and ‘self-suspended’ from the BJP despite grave charges of corruption even at the cost of alienating its traditional middle class votebank.
Of late, the ghost of Kalyan Singh (a Lodh leader) seems to be looming large over the BJP’s political moves, even though he deserted the party a long time ago. Will all these manoeuvres make the BJP a dominant player? The answer lies in a twisted take on a rural proverb in the words of an old man in Varanasi (referring to the BJP maha-aarti and Uma Bharti’s protest against Muslim reservations) — ‘Aarti bharti toh sab thik hai par moos mutaai toh haathi thodey ho jaayi? (It’s a mouse fattened, not an elephant).’
The SP, the biggest challenger to the ruling BSP, has, however, kept it simple. It’s focusing on consolidating its traditional votebank of Yadavs and support bank of Muslims by distancing itself from Kalyan Singh and making Azam Khan more visible than ever. But there’s also a generational shift from its earlier position of banning English and computer education in the state to projecting a young Akhilesh Yadav and promising to distribute a tablet to every class 11 student. The party’s cleverly working on its organisational strength and it’s positioned itself as the alternative, hoping that it will benefit the most from anti-incumbency. Early ticket distribution has given the SP a headstart in the campaign.
So will UP be a tale of two crown princes and a queen bee? Will Akhilesh Yadav’s hard work and organisational skills bring him the pot of gold or will the queen become the unassailable leader by mastering the magical mix? Or will the crown prince of the Congress hit the bull’s eye in UP like he did in the last parliamentary elections? His unrelenting campaign has generated enough steam but can he bring it to a boil? A woman from Barabanki mischievously refers to the curious case of ‘badi ketlee chota dhakkan’ (a big, fat kettle with a small lid). Though Rahul Gandhi is turning out to be a big kettle, his undoing may be the organisational shortcomings of the UP Congress Committee, which is definitely an inadequate lid.
Come what may, the Congress has only one way to go and that is up. So does the SP. The BSP will go down but it remains to be seen by how much. Therefore, as of now, winners will be losers and losers may rule UP once again.
Anmol Saxena is bureau chief, Al Jazeera English, India
The views expressed by the author are personal