The battle for Lucknow
To get a glimpse of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)‘s strategy for assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), take four seemingly disparate developments over the past week. One, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a slew of projects in his constituency, Varanasi, accompanied by a social media offensive on how the city had transformed. The subtext was clear; faith and support for PM Modi would deliver development. Two, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath spoke about the need for population control policies. The subtext of his intervention was clear to the Hindutva political constituency which has been driven by (irrational) fears of changes in the Hindu-Muslim demographic balance for decades. The population narrative, without saying so, is actually a reference to the gamut of issues meant to consolidate Hindus and deepen suspicion of Muslims.
Three, the Union government gave another extension to the commission for the sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) till January 2022. The message was clear to the non-dominant backward communities which have emerged as the BJP’s most critical base in the last seven years in UP; the government was committed to reallocating resources and opportunities within the OBC cluster. And finally, on Friday, the BJP national president JP Nadda chaired a working committee meeting of the UP unit, focused on boosting the organisational machine that has the formidable ability to create a “hawa”, a sense of inevitability of the party’s victory, and mobilise voters on polling day. It is this mix of four cards, development, communalism, social engineering and organisational work, that will constitute the BJP’s toolkit for the UP elections.
On the other side, Congress’s Priyanka Gandhi landed in Lucknow on Friday. But her reluctance to make the city her home base or be projected as the CM face, reliance on a small coterie of former left activists, and a depleted social base makes the Congress a marginal force. The Bahujan Samaj Party has been a declining force over the last four elections and Mayawati’s centralised style of functioning, absence of political ground work (she doesn’t travel to districts and villages at all), eroded base and perception of having compromised with the BJP for protection has left the party a shadow of itself. The primary opposition in the state will remain the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party. Yadav is seen as a well-intentioned leader, but it isn’t clear if the party has been able to expand beyond its Muslim-Yadav base. It is this mix of variables that will determine the outcome of next year’s elections.
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