Uttar Pradesh elections: All you need to know about India’s political heartland

Lucknow, Hindustan Times | BySunita Aron
Jan 04, 2017 04:00 PM IST

The answer about UP’s importance lies in the electoral strength of the state that has 403 legislators and 80 parliamentarians and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) one-fourth of Lok Sabha strength comes from UP.

The political potboiler in Uttar Pradesh is always full of action, emotional drama and dialogues comparable to any top Bollywood thriller. During election time, it’s much more intense.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav with his supporters during the Samajwadi Party’s national convention in Lucknow on Sunday.(PTI File Photo)
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav with his supporters during the Samajwadi Party’s national convention in Lucknow on Sunday.(PTI File Photo)

The answer about UP’s importance lies in the electoral strength of the state that has 403 legislators and 80 parliamentarians and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) one-fourth of Lok Sabha strength comes from UP.

Uttar Pradesh will vote in seven phases starting February 11 with the final round of polling on March 8.

The upcoming elections will decide who will rule UP but it will also be a precursor to the 2019 general elections. The thriller could well be titled ‘CM Se PM Tak’ (From CM To PM). With the presidential polls also due in 2017, UP’s strength will be at play again.

Obviously, the stakes of the national parties are higher.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be aspiring for a second run, it will be a start of innings for his young opponent Rahul Gandhi. Other aspirants like Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav can aspire for the top post but they will need either the BJP or the Congress to fulfil their dreams.

However, the political scene in the state has been dominated by the other two players since early 1990’s – the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. If at all the BJP came to power in the state, it was courtesy the BSP or by breaking small parties to cobble up a majority in the state assembly.

Voters threw hung houses in the state for 14 years and that trend changed from 2007 when people decided to deliver a clear mandate. Experts believe that the communication network played an important role in this as voters are connected across the length and breadth of the state.

After three clear verdicts of the 2007, 2012 and 2014 general elections, the spectre of a hung house looms large over the state once again.

Here are the five reasons behind it:

1. There is no one issue binding the state. Demonetisation can play both ways for the BJP

2. Caste blocks are breaking, the loyalties are weakening

3. Muslims will do tactical voting in a constituency, not the state

4. People’s aspirations are high and youth will play a vital role

5. Confusion over CM face both in SP and BJP

Read| Assembly polls 2017: It will be a fight for every vote in battlefield UP


Samajwadi Party

The ruling party could have romped back to power had the family feud not played a spoiler. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is popular in the state but ironically unpopular amongst seniors in the party. The party has been battered by the power struggle between Akhilesh and his uncle Shivpal, who is supported by his father and party patriarch Mulayam, and the feud between the warring factions has refused to die down.

The chief minister took control of the party on January 1 after ousting Mulayam at an “emergency national convention” and also sacked his uncle as the party’s state unit chief. He also didn’t want parliamentarian Amar Singh in the party.

Both the factions, said sources, had submitted letters to the poll panel, staking claim to the party name and the election symbol – a bicycle, the clearest indication yet that a reconciliation was unlikely in the Uttar Pradesh’s ruling party.

Earlier, Mulayam’s refusal to name Akhilesh as the party’s chief ministerial face created overwhelming sympathy for Akhilesh but will it convert into votes. Mulayam’s politics is hard to understand.

How will it affect its prospects?

Muslims, an important vote bank of the SP, are closely watching the family power tussle. They would never sail a sinking ship. Though the SP remains their first choice, they have an option in the BSP. The Muslim community wants an alliance between the SP and Congress.

Bahujan Samaj Party

The BSP led by firebrand Mayawati was considered a strong claimant for the chief minister’s post till it was hit by an exodus of senior leaders from the party. The BSP is not new to splits and can still sail through provided Mayawati is able to convince Muslims that the exodus has not impacted her party’s health. Secondly, she is not the only claimant for anti-incumbency votes. The BJP is actively making inroads.

How will it affect its prospects?

The BSP’s core vote of 21.5% Dalits is not intact. The rainbow coalition of Dalits, Muslims and Brahmins that had brought her to power in 2007 has also split up. Though the party’s Brahmin face, SC Mishra, is extensively touring the state, her party’s fate is in the hands of the Muslims.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The saffron party has been eyeing UP ever since its spectacular victory in 2014. Party’s national president Amit Shah has launched a spate of public mobilisation programmes including the Parivartan Yatra. However, their trump card is Narendra Modi who remains a popular figure in the state. He has also been working on stitching alliances with various castes as well as smaller parties. The state’s tallest leader Rajnath Singh has appealed to the masses to end their 14-year-long vanvaas (exile). The party’s latest gamble is demonetisation.

How will it affect its prospects?

Demonetisation is seen as a national movement against corruption and black money. However, at the same time, it has raised the hopes of the people of getting a share in the recovered black money. BJP leaders are also talking about it. In case the BJP delivered on its poll promise of sharing black money with the masses, they will sweep the polls. Otherwise, demonetisation can boomerang. The other hitch is that they too have no CM face.

Congress Party

The Congress has been making desperate and sincere efforts to revive the party in the state it ruled for about 40 years. Since 1990 it has been living with a tag of an ‘also ran party’ in the elections. The party high command hired Prashant Kishore to do a miracle, a la Bihar in UP. But Bihar was a different story - the two major regional parties Janata Dal(United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) came together to form a grand alliance, whereas, in Uttar Pradesh, the SP and BSP are sworn enemies. Some efforts are on to forge an alliance between the Congress, SP, RLD, RJD and JD(U) that can actually reach the winning margin if not 300 seats as claimed by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. However, the Congress will have to accept the smaller player’s role in the state.

How will it affect its prospects?

Congress will retain its fourth position till it finds a viable poll partner. Priyanka Gandhi’s campaign may add more spice to the polls but seats may still remain elusive as they don’t have the cadre to convert her appeal into votes. Finding candidates may also be a gigantic task for the Congress.

There are other smaller players who will be take away votes in the hundreds – playing spoilers on seats heading for a close finish.


‘If Mulayam can leave son, why can’t we leave him?’: Akhilesh rises amid SP feud

For full coverage on 2017 assembly elections, click here

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