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HindustanTimes Sun,14 Sep 2014
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Run up to Lok Sabha polls: This time, it’ll be a manager’s show in Uttar Pradesh

Sunita Aron, Hindustan Times  Lucknow, January 28, 2014
First Published: 01:37 IST(28/1/2014) | Last Updated: 11:15 IST(28/1/2014)

The one name that influenced the politics of Uttar Pradesh — and the other northern states — most is Ram Manohar Lohia. The ‘Who’s Who’ of UP – from Netaji Mulayam Singh Yadav of the SP to Babuji Beni Prasad Verma of the Congress — still swear by Lohia.

But they have probably forgotten Lohia’s take on elections. He called it a mela (festival).

Today, it’s a serious occupation in the state, with three Ms — Mulayam, Mayawati and Modi – a couple of Gs — Rahul and Priyanka, obviously — and a K — Arvind Kejriwal — vying for the voter’s mind space.

The names themselves, however, make little sense unless they are propped, nurtured and managed cleverly. For, what meets the eye till now is the big guns’ rallies, but what is going to remain behind the scenes is meticulous management of vote-banks and booths.

Management has become even more important in UP, as caste loyalties and equations are changing every election. Add to the mix the recent trend of high turnout and shrinking victory margins, the national debut of the Aam Aadmi Party looks more threatening. No one is feeling safe and sure.

Graphics: THE UP TANGLE

Take, for instance, the BJP rally in Gorakhpur on January 23.

The ‘saffronites’ were all smiles when their PM candidate Narendra Modi managed to provoke the voter’s aspirations in UP’s most backward region.

But the Modi entourage didn’t leave the venue after the rally, as they usually do. The backroom men, led by Modi’s trusted aide Amit Shah, stayed back to study the rally’s impact — whether the euphoria lingered on even after the show.

Shah went around collecting booth-level information on the party’s organisational strength, poll preparedness and the voting pattern in the Gorakhpur division. He had to, because the BJP won only two of the nine Lok Sabha seats in the division in 2009.

About 200 km away in Lucknow, Mulayam and his chief minister son Akhilesh Yadav fumed.

The reason, obviously, was the effect Modi managed to create among voters.

Mulayam seemed to know the chinks in Modi’s armour and invoked the bloody Gujarat riots of 2002 at a rally in Varanasi on the same day. But Modi had his defence ready: The communal harmony in his state during the last 10 years was there for everyone to see.

Mulayam had to hastily go back to defend his Muslim vote-bank and immediately elevate three Muslim ministers  — all from western UP, which has 31 seats  — to the cabinet rank. In 2009, he lost a bulk of Muslim support because of his alliance with Ram temple hero Kalyan Singh.

What’s more, the Muzaffarnagar riots may hurt the SP despite Mulayam giving UP its first Muslim police chief and also identifying 428 Muslim-dominated villages for development under the Lohia scheme. But Tariq Khan of Congress said, “Management of Maulanas helped in the good old days, but it won’t work today.”

Some observers feel the fight for UP will be primarily between the BJP and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, as both the SP and the Congress are facing anti-incumbency.

Mayawati’s two-pronged strategy is aimed at attracting the anti-incumbency vote  — especially of Muslims and backwards  — without losing the Jatavs, her core constituency, which is vulnerable to BJP’s catchphrase of Hindutva.

Though Mayawati stayed away from Muzaffarnagar, her decision to drop sitting MP Qadir Rana – allegedly involved in communal violence  — speaks volumes about her compulsion to toe a neutral line to prevent the Jatavs from going the saffron way. She has already spoken about Jatav-Muslim unity at a rally.

The upper castes, the mainstay of the BJP and the Congress, have been shifting parties during the last few elections.

The Congress, left without a stable vote-bank, is now working on empowerment at the booth level.

But the Congress made a late entry although the BSP, BJP and the SP began a gigantic micromanagement exercise for 2014 polls almost a year ago.

Speaking to a channel, Akhilesh recently described Modi as the hare narrated in Aesop’s Fables— he didn’t mention who the tortoise was, though.

He also refrained from conceding that as of now the hare was miles ahead and managing its race well, as always.

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