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Two major players and an ambitious rookie blazed the campaign trail in Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, vying for 80 Lok Sabha seats — the highest among states.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose party sees him as a PM prospect, went for each other’s jugular.
Both ignored Arvind Kejriwal’s roadshow, but the Aam Aadmi Party leader and 49-day Delhi chief minister took on both and more. His party shrewdly fed the buzz that he would contest against Modi.
AAP leaders even chose the seat — Varanasi, a seat now represented by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
Kejriwal, who pulled of a giant-killing act in the Delhi assembly polls by defeating three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit, did not comment on this mouth-watering contest at the national level. The BJP, so far, has not said where Modi will contest the elections.
All three leaders enjoyed live coverage on TV and digital space and will also get acres of newsprint. Here is a look at who said what and what each hopes to get from India’s most populous state, which is seen to hold the biggest key to crack the complex code of general elections.
First off the blocks: Mulayam Singh Yadav at Allahabad
Agenda: He reached out to Muslims, sharpening his attack on Modi. “ They apologise after mass killing of Muslims ,” he said, in a reference to the 2002 Gujarat riots under Modi’s watch as chief minister.
The parallel reference was to BJP president Rajnath Singh’s February 25 statement that Muslims should vote for the saffron party, which was ready to apologise for “any mistake and shortcoming on our part”.
Why: “Only the Samajwadi Party cares for Muslims. Muslims know that the SP won't tolerate injustice against them,” said Mulayam.
Muslims make up 20% of the population in UP and also have a 17% vote share.
Mulayam lauded Muslims for consistently supporting the SP since 1987 and said no party could lure them away.
His pitch comes at a time when the ruling SP is facing massive criticism over its handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots in western UP last year. This has led to talk that the SP can no longer take the support of Muslims for granted.
What he stands to gain: A strong showing will boost his national credentials and in case of a hung verdict he could be a kingmaker or even the king if the Third Front has the numbers.
Modi hits back, from Lucknow
Agenda: He targeted Mulayam over lawlessness in UP, citing "150 riot cases" in the SP government's brief stint as compared with "none in BJP-ruled Gujarat in the past decade".
Reacting to Mulayam’s reference to the 2002 Gujarat riots, he said the SP was raking up the issue of secularism to reap political advantage. He said Muslims in Gujarat were better off than their counterparts in UP.
Why: There is a talk that Modi might contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from a key segment in UP. Besides, pollsters are projecting the saffron party could win as many as 40 seats in the state. The BJP had won 10 seats in UP in 2009.
What he stands to gain: He sent close aide Amit Shah to UP months ago, leaving no room for doubt where his focus was. He remains the only leader heading to the elections as a PM candidate.
Arvind Kejriwal roadshow in Kanpur
Agenda: The 49-day Delhi chief minister claimed the AAP would win 100 Lok Sabha seats and the next government could not be formed without his party’s support.
He kept up his attack on India's richest man Mukesh Ambani in poll season even as he accused the Congress and the BJP of having a "setting" with the businessman.
The word "setting" used in this context by Kejriwal is a typical Indianism for an understanding on the sly.
Why: Kejriwal has been targeting Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and its chairperson Ambani over the government’s decision to raise natural gas prices from April 1. According to Kejriwal, this is being done to benefit the businessman.
He has also accused Ambani of stashing money in illegitimate accounts aboard. RIL has dismissed his allegations.
The AAP star is still banking shock and awe methods to shake up the established political order.
What he stands to gain: His anti-corruption plank has takers, but may or may not work in the rough-and-tumble of UP politics. Heading for a national debut, he does not have baggage to contend and makes biting remarks.
For instance, "All the riots are engineered by politicians, but Muslims go and sit in the lap of the Samajwadi Party and hold the hands of the Congress, while Hindus go to the BJP. This time, don't get trapped by them.”