It is not Hindutva but the social combine built largely with the help and association of its alliance partners that appears to be helping the Bharatiya Janata Party establish its presence in Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP's resurgence — which was also predicted by exit polls after the first three phases of the assembly elections in 177 seats — comes alongside the decline of the ruling Samajwadi Party which was considered until now as the harbour of the Yadav-Muslim vote.
"Just as it happened in the Bihar assembly elections, in UP too we are growing because of the combine," claimed JD-U leader Sharad Yadav. This, he maintained, was why the Rohilkhand region — considered Mulayam's stronghold because of the 40 per cent Muslim and 30 per cent Yadav population — seems to have tilted towards the NDA.
The presence of allies like the JD (U) and the Apna Dal have fuelled the BJP's hopes of capturing a majority of the 226 seats spread over the next four phases of elections in central and eastern UP where criminalisation defines politics. Up for grabs on Monday are 57 seats where the Kurmi vote would play a role, particularly after senior leader Beni Prasad Verma's exit from the SP and Apna Dal's induction into the NDA grouping.
The NDA's social engineering is reflected in the line up of leaders leading the campaign. Besides the BJP leaders, who are expected to garner the upper caste vote, Apna Dal's Sone Lal, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and JD-U's Sharad Yadav are expected to add to it by bringing the Yadav, Kurmi and the other backward votes in tandem with BJP leaders Kalyan Singh and Vinay Katiyar. Plus, the perceived dent in Mulayam's base may have prompted the Muslims to seek an alternative anchor-perhaps also among leaders of other non-BJP formations in the NDA.
According to this assessment, the expanded social grouping signalled by the BJP-led combine has turned the UP battle into a direct contest between the NDA and the Bahujan Samaj Party, seen as the main alternative to the ruling SP, in the polls.
Besides Sharad Yadav, who is camping in UP, a strong contingent of Bihar's ruling party leaders, including JD-U's Nitish Kumar and BJP's Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, some ministers and about three dozen legislators will visit UP to solicit support for the BJP and JD (U) candidates. They will concentrate mainly on bordering constituencies as well as the Varanasi and Gorakhpur regions, Modi told Hindustan Times. Nitish will campaign on April 25-26.