While the state’s ‘first family’ was engaged in an intense battle over the party symbol, Mayawati’s trusted lieutenant Naseemuddin Siddiqui had already completed his first round of ‘Muslim Bhaichara meetings’ in the western part of the state. Mayawati meant business.
Behenji’s mandate to Siddiqui was crystal clear – remove all misgivings and fears about BSP’s past or post-poll relationship with the BJP. She herself tried to dispel doubts about her political path in case of a hung house. The troubling question was: What if she joined hands with the BJP to form government after the polls?
Siddiqui’s silent campaign activated the party cadre that held small meetings and night halts in villages. They discussed Muzaffarnagar riots, Kairana exodus, ‘Love Jehad’ and how division of their votes could install Modi rule in the state.
Alongside, community feasts were held for the Dalits and the Muslims.
The head start gave BSP a definite edge over rivals as it surfaced as a party giving a mighty fight to the Narendra Modi’s BJP while Yadavs were caught in a family feud. Demographically, west UP is Mayawati’s influence area more than the Yadavs, because of the substantial presence of Dalits and Muslims.
But the SP-Congress alliance seems to have taken the wind out of her sails as the straws in the wind indicate that the alliance had, indeed, started late but has arrived in western UP.
Though the 73 constituencies going to the polls on February 11 are primarily strongholds of the BSP and the BJP, the alliance has hijacked the poll discourse. BSP had won 28 and was runner up on 33 constituencies. SP had won 24 and was runner up in merely 12 seats. BJP, which developed the area after 2014, had barely won 11 seats and was runner up on 10. Ajit Singh’s RLD, a factor here, had won 9 and was runner up on another 9 seats.
In the words of Om Prakash Sharma, MLC from teacher’s constituency, the people have taken a fancy for the alliance. “It appears that both BJP and BSP may suffer in their strong areas,” Sharma, who knows the pulse of the place, said emphatically.
Somewhat agreeing with his observation, former student leader Ravi Prakash said, “Rashtriya Lok Dal has fielded candidates to damage BJP more than winning seats. It appears only Hindu-Muslim polarisation can save the BJP now. But provocative speeches so far have had no impact on either of the two communities.”
Saffron clad Yogi Adityanath, especially deployed by the BJP, had in the last two days made statements raging from ‘UP will turn into Kashmir’ and ‘eve teasers would be publicly hanged,’ that only manifests the party’s desperation to keep the communal fire burning till the polls.
What has changed the scenario is the traction of the young leadership among the youth as they see it as a symbol of their empowerment.
Ravi Prakash said youth, cutting across caste lines, were favouring Akhilesh Yadav. Even in places like Baraut in Baghpat, the crowds were not only huge but there was a real frenzy.
There are many factors that seem to be changing the way west UP has voted over the years.
The alliance, despite very new on the state’s political horizon, has registered its presence in all castes and communities. Muslims have fully accepted it and Rahul and Akhilesh have become their first choice.
While many BJP leaders insist that Muslims will not support the alliance in 105 constituencies where Congress has fielded candidates because of its role in the demolition of the Ayodhya shrine, the community leaders insist that minorities will vote for alliance and not Congress in those weak constituencies. They have also sent a message to all and sundry not to react to provocative statements and preempt polarisation on communal lines.
The youth are favouring the young leadership of Akhilesh as they want a young CM. Though his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav have been issuing damaging statements, the voters look at it as a ‘ghar ghar ki kahani’.
The Yadavs, who are sympathetic to Mulayam, however, say, “People always salute the rising sun while admiring the sunset.”
Though law and order remains an issue against Akhilesh, people are willing to give him another chance with the hope, “Once he sheds the baggage he will improve.”
Demonetisation is going largely against the BJP in trader dominated west UP. Traders insist that while they will vote for the BJP, they will not mobilise support for the saffron party, as in the past.
Mayawati remains a factor but she is fast losing out Muslims support.
In 2012 polls, west UP was the last to go to vote. Many were of the view that beginning of voting in west UP would favour the BJP and the BSP, but it seems the young are out to rewrite history.