Opposition looking to salvage pride in UP by-polls
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had allied for the Lok Sabha election but did not join hands with the Congress. Of the 13 by-polls, the Election Commission (EC) has declared the date of just one, Hamirpur, scheduled on September 23.Updated: Sep 06, 2019, 13:05 IST
A decimated opposition in Uttar Pradesh is looking to salvage some pride in the by-polls to 13 assembly seats by taking on the ruling BJP. This will be the first electoral test since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when even a near-united opposition couldn’t stop the BJP juggernaut.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had allied for the Lok Sabha election but did not join hands with the Congress. Of the 13 by-polls, the Election Commission (EC) has declared the date of just one, Hamirpur, scheduled on September 23. This by-election was necessitated after the conviction of BJP lawmaker Ashok Chandel in a murder case.
Poll observers say the by-polls will have something for each of the parties.
“The BJP can’t afford to be seen losing ground but for the BSP it would be an occasion to test if the loyal dalit vote bank, poached by the BJP in the 2014 and the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2017 UP assembly polls, is back. The Samajwadi Party, which got fewer seats than even the BSP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls despite being in alliance with it, would be looking to restore some pride on its own ability. The Congress is now desperate to make an impression amid indications of an increasing UP role for its general secretary Priyanka Gandhi,” said veteran journalist Irshad Ilmi. Ahead of the by-polls, the BJP has engineered key defections in nearly all the opposition parties, getting three sitting Rajya Sabha MPs of the SP to switch loyalties and making a key Muslim face of the Congress switch sides.
The buzz is that the party is in touch with some key BSP MPs, who have won Lok Sabha seats in western UP. That explains why the BSP has announced candidates for all the by-poll seats, despite the EC having announced the by-poll in just Hamirpur so far. The move is perhaps aimed to thwart the impression that the party was wary of the BJP’s efforts to poach its leaders. It’s the first time since 2012 when the BSP is contesting the by-polls. “We are battle ready and the BJP, the SP and the Congress would realise that soon,” a BSP leader said. The Congress too has announced candidates in five seats, while the SP has done so in three seats. Having resorted to a novel system of inviting applications for the by-polls to screen grass roots workers, the SP is exuding confidence despite crucial defections in its ranks.
“If the BSP would like to showcase its control on the Dalit vote, for the SP it would be a test of its loyal Muslim-Yadav vote. After the Lok Sabha polls, the BSP had claimed that SP had lost even its Muslim vote, a charge that Akhilesh Yadav would want to dispel, making the by-poll battle even spicier,” says Ilmi.
“We aren’t bothered by the opposition. We would aim at winning all the seats,” says UP BJP chief Swatantra Dev Singh, a backward (Kurmi) leader who has begun touring all the seats where the by-polls would be held. The BJP has also tasked both its deputy chief ministers Keshav Prasad Maurya and Dinesh Sharma, as well as ministers with the responsibility for the by-poll seats. They are accompanied by a party hand, whose caste dynamics fits the local requirements, says a party leader.
What’s more, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected in UP at least thrice - in Greater Noida on September 9, Varanasi on September 17 (his birthday) and possibly Mathura on September 11 (though the dates are still being finalised). He is also expected in Kanpur and though these visits aren’t due to by-polls, party leaders admit that his visits will galvanise masses even more towards the BJP. These by-polls could also offer a peep into BJP’s thinking on allies. The Pratapgarh assembly seat was held by BJP’s ally Apna Dal, whose candidate Sangam Lal Gupta won on the BJP ticket in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. BJP sources said that the party might even contest all the seats itself.
“It could be a deft signal to the party’s allies to concede the numerical dominance of the BJP and stay in line. If they do, they could be rewarded, else the party could well be saying we have options now,” says Athar Siddiqui of the Centre for Objective Research and Development.
In naming candidates for five seats, the Congress has mostly relied on relatives or those close to party loyalists. For instance, it has fielded Nauman Masood, brother of UP Congress vice president Imran Masood, who lost the 2019 Lok Sabha poll from Saharanpur but still helped his party put up a decent fight.
In Zaidpur (Barabanki), it has fielded party loyalist PL Punia’s son Tanuj. For the Lucknow Cantoment assembly seat, it has agreed on a candidate, considered to be the choice of Congress Legislature Party leader Ajay Kumar Lallu.