Rejuvenated from its Assam victory, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has now started preparing for the mother of all electoral battles in Uttar Pradesh early next year.
The state is critical to the party’s aspirations of retaining power at the Centre as well as increasing its strength in the Rajya Sabha. However, the contest here will be tough owing to a more crowded electoral battlefield when compared to the ones at Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry.
In the 2012 assembly polls, around 220 political parties had entered the poll arena. Of these, ten – barring the Independents – had won seats ranging from one (Apna Dal) to 224 (Samajwadi Party). Now, with even more political parties jamming the already crowded electoral space with a ‘now or never’ mission, it is going to be a fierce battle for every vote.
However, the BJP can take solace from the fact that the opposing parties are unlikely to form a united front against it. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s desperate effort to build an alliance of the Congress, Rashtriya Lok Dal and other smaller parties cannot take off without either of the two regional forces – the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) – coming aboard. Second, the Bihar rout cannot discount the BJP’s overwhelming victory in the state during the Lok Sabha polls, where it won 71 of 80 seats and gained leads in over 300 of 403 assembly segments.
The BJP’s real worries will be the SP and the BSP, two regional parties that have dominated the state’s political landscape for over 20 years.
While chief minister Akhilesh Yadav hopes that the recent trend of voters favouring prevalent governments in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Bihar will give it a second chance, Mayawati is banking on anti-incumbency votes to return to power.
However, even those predicting Mayawati’s return to power concede that the BJP will be no pushover in the coming elections, considering that it polled over 42% votes in the 2014 polls.
The results of the 2012 assembly polls help one gauge how close the fight will be. Of the total votes polled, six national parties bagged 53.10% votes; two state parties – the SP and RLD – took away 31.46% votes; while a huge chunk of 16% votes was claimed by other caste-based parties. Although the BSP polled 24, 43,269 votes, about 4% less than the SP, it managed to win just 80 seats against the winning party’s 224.
So, every party of significance is chalking out strategies and requisitioning surveys to lay the groundwork for fiery election campaigns to follow. The Congress has hired master-election strategist Prashant Kishor to helm its efforts, but it remains to be seen if he can pull off a success story here.
Given Uttar Pradesh’s penchant for caste politics, everybody is trying to grab a slice of the pie. As most of the major castes are already aligned with specific parties or leaders, efforts are on to woo members of sub-castes and their leaders. The OBCs, who account for 50% of the vote bank, have 70 sub-castes – including the numerically and politically powerful Yadavs, Kurmis and the Lodhs. Similarly, 21% scheduled castes have 65 sub-castes, including the dominant Jatavs.
Another strategy is to divide vote banks by polarising communities. While Dalits and Muslims clashed in Azamgarh recently, the Muzaffarnagar riots demolished the Jat-Muslim vote bank that former prime minister Charan Singh had built so assiduously.
As the stakes are high for all the key players in the Uttar Pradesh elections, brace yourself for a nail-biting battle to come.