Keeping up with UP | With Yogi’s hat in the ring, the pressure on CM aspirants
Yogi Adityanath resolving to contest the elections may have several reasons behind the decision
The political uncertainty that has often plagued Uttar Pradesh has had one clear consequence. It has made chief ministerial candidates wary of contesting assembly elections.
As election narratives grew more complex with the rise of regional forces in the state in the 1990s, aspirants for the top post began opting for the safer route to power, which the states bicameral legislature offered. Uttar Pradesh is among the six states in the country to have the system in which the assembly has two houses- the UP legislative assembly and UP legislative council. The other five states are Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana.
The members of the legislative council, also called the upper house, are elected - one third by the local bodies, one third by the members of the state assembly, also called the lower house, one-sixth are nominated by the Governor from various fields, 1/12 are elected by graduates and 1/12 by teachers in direct polls.
Thus, with the provision that allows a six-month window to become a member of either house after taking the oath of office, the last three chief ministers – Mayawati (Bahujan Samaj Party), Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) and Yogi Adityanath (Bhartiya Janata Party) went the way of avoiding standing for election, and becoming MLCs.
Of course, in a state as big and complex as UP, and competing narratives and ambitions within parties themselves, there is always uncertainty on who will be picked as Chief Minister. While Yogi Adityanath, then leading the Hindu Yuva Vahini was not sure of becoming the CM after the BJP’s landslide victory in 2017, Akhilesh Yadav too was far from certain about getting the chair even after he had led his party to victory in 2012. His uncle and senior SP leader Shivpal Singh Yadav was, at the time, rooting for his brother and the then national president Mulayam Singh Yadav to take the charge of the state and appoint his son Akhilesh as deputy CM.
Mayawati however has never faced a challenge from within the party, being the clear front runner for the post after the BSP won a majority in 2007. In fact, she drove a hard bargain on the post even when the BSP was the smaller coalition partner in 1997 and 2002.
Interestingly then, while Akhilesh Yadav and Yogi Adityanath have never contested assembly elections before, Mayawati has contested twice before, in 1996 and 2002, from Harora.
There is, therefore, a marked difference from the days when chief ministerial candidates first contested elections, and then jockeyed for the top position. Only last in 1989 was there a real struggle for the chief ministerial chair post an election when Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ajit Singh of the Janata Dal both contested for the position.
Interestingly, the Congress or even the Bhartiya Janata Party rarely announce their chief ministerial candidates before the elections, using the alibi that the newly elected MLA’s will elect the leader of the house. In that sense then, the clear choice of Yogi Adityanath by the BJP as the chief ministerial face is an exception, rather than the rule.
The eventual chief ministers in the history of Uttar Pradesh’s politics have also rarely changed seats. For instance, CB Gupta of the Congress contested thrice from Ranikhet (now in Uttrakhand) in the 1960s, Chaudhary Charan Singh contested twice from Chaprauli in western UP, Narain Dutt Tiwari contested thrice from Kashipur( now in Uttarakhand), Kalyan Singh nine times from Attrauli in Aligarh, and Mulayam Singh Yadav twice from Jaswantnagar. Even Rajnath Singh in 2002 contested from Haidergarh, a seat that he won in 2001 in a by-poll held after he had become CM in an unstable political arrangement. Singh was the third chief minister appointed by the party high command in five years.
Leaders then took pride not only in contesting elections but also in winning their seats without needing to campaign, such was their confidence. Cut to the past few elections, where chief ministerial faces have avoided fighting elections, arguing that they were required to campaign across the state for their political parties.
But with chief minister Yogi Adityanath now throwing his hat in the ring, the pressure is going to mount on all the chief ministerial aspirants – Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party as well as Priyanka Gandhi Vadra of the Congress. So far, while Mayawati is non-committal, Akhilesh Yadav has left it to the party to decide. For the Congress, it is yet unclear if Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will contest, or even be projected as the CM face in this round of elections.
Yogi Adityanath resolving to contest the elections may have several reasons behind the decision. First, he has thrown down the gauntlet to his competitors, both in the opposition and within the BJP. Second, his announcement has dispelled all speculation that he was to move to the Centre after the assembly elections. Third, it displays his confidence in winning the state, despite a recent history of the party in power failing to hold on to its mandate.
The speculation now is therefore on which seat Adityanath fights this all-important election. BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Mathura Harnath Singh Yadav, in a letter to national president JP Nadda has requested that Adityanath be fielded from there. Mathura is the third religious centre on the BJP’s radar after Ayodhya and Varanasi and the chief minister has publicly said that like Ayodhya, there will be a temple in Mathura.
Mathura is a seat dominated by Jats, but is also a stronghold of the BJP, which has won six of the eight Lok Sabha elections since 1991. While Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary won the Lok Sabha seat in 2009, the Mathura assembly constituency has similarly leant towards the BJP since 1991, the Congress the only spanner in the works twice, in 2007 and 2012. The other seats in discussion are Ayodhya and Adityanath’s hometown of Gorakhpur.
Ayodhya is also a crucial seat for the BJP, which it would like to win at any cost.
In 2012, when the Samajwadi Party won from Ayodhya in a rare blip for the BJP, Mulayam Singh Yadav described the victory in the temple city as ‘the people forgiving him for police firing on kar sewaks' and had caused much embarrassment to the BJP. Now that the construction of the Ram temple has begun after the Supreme Court ruling, the BJP wants to take no risks. Who better then, than Yogi Adityanath himself?
From her perch in Lucknow, HT’s resident editor Sunita Aron will highlight important issues related to the coming elections in Uttar Pradesh.