Crowd waves to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati during BSP public meeting at Sitapur. India's biggest state, Uttar Pradesh, goes to the polls from February 8. HT Photo
Politics is not always about right and wrong, but in Uttar Pradesh this time it would seem to be all about who is getting it right and who is getting it wrong.
No prizes for guessing the winner in the wrong category, it is the BJP by a long mile, with the runner-up being the BSP. And on the right front, it is the Congress and the SP. Of course, all elections in this highly complex state are unpredictable but developments on the ground this time have given us a rough idea of which way the wind is blowing.
Social alliances hold the key to this election and this is where the BSP is slipping. Mayawati’s core constituency was the Dalits but once having established her hold on them, she had spread her net to other castes, including the Brahmins. But, the BSP seems to have spread itself too thin, with the non-Jatav Dalits looking for greener pastures in the form of the Congress and SP.
The BJP has been firing in all directions, largely blanks with even its tradition support base of upper castes being wooed by a resurgent SP, an aggressive Congress and the BSP. The SP, which had through its earlier blunder of cosying up to former BJP leader Kalyan Singh lost its supremacy with the Muslims, seems to have enticed them back into its camp with some degree of success.
The Muslims have also hedged their bets by throwing in their lot with the Congress in pockets, thanks to the secular credentials of campaigner-in-chief Rahul Gandhi. Then there is the accessibility factor. While Akhilesh Yadav, son of SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Rahul Gandhi are known to plunge into the crowds, eat at the homes of people and push the development agenda, Mayawati looks remote and out of touch with the very people for whom she was once a messiah of change. The BJP’s Uma Bharti, president Nitin Gadkari’s brahmastra, is ill at ease in the state and can at best attract some of the backward caste vote. The Muslims certainly have not forgotten her enthusiastic ‘ek dhaka aur do’ when the Babri Masjid was under attack.
It is ultimately the right social alliances which will bring in the votes and determine post-poll electoral tie-ups. If the Congress does better than it did last time — and there is no way it can’t —and the SP maintains its present upward momentum, we might well be looking at a change of guard in Lucknow. For the BJP, this will be a crucial test of Mr Gadkari’s political acumen or lack of it.
Mayawati could have played the caste plus development card, indeed on the latter front there have been significant gains, but she has frittered away the advantage. Much like Mark Antony’s allusion to Julius Caesar, the good that she has done is being overlooked thanks to her somewhat imperious ways. If the run-up to the polls is any indicator, it will be the old social alliances which will swing the votes. In which case, those who have got it right this time around can look forward to a new innings in the complex configuration of the state’s politics.