The contours of the battle in Uttar Pradesh
The battle for Uttar Pradesh (UP) is now taking shape. With the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance, it is clear that the SP and at least five parties it has allied with will directly take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Will the Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) gain or lose in this clash?
Six months ago, the general sentiment was that SP chief Akhilesh Yadav should fight at the grassroots level. But the former chief minister (CM) had been quietly meeting disgruntled NDA allies for months. He was probably waiting for the right time.
He had already tied up with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, influential in eastern UP, Sanjay Singh Chauhan’s Janawadi Party (Socialist) and the Mahan Dal, which have influence in western UP and Rohilkhand, before he began negotiating seats in western UP with RLD chief, Jayant Chaudhary. Meanwhile, a new round of speculation has started over Akhilesh Yadav’s meetings with Sanjay Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Raghuraj Pratap Singh “Raja Bhaiya” of the Jansatta Dal (Democratic) and Krishna Patel of the Apna Dal (kamerawadi). Will this new alliance be successful?
Akhilesh Yadav’s alliance with the BSP in 2019 failed. The Congress collapsed with just 6% of the vote share and the BJP walked away with nearly 50% of the votes. In 2017, the fight between Akhilesh Yadav and his uncle Shivpal Yadav led to a decline in the SP’s fortunes. At that time, the SP tied up with the Congress, a counterproductive move for the former. The SP, which got 224 seats in the 2012 assembly elections with 29.13% votes, saw its share go down to 21.82% with a mere 47 seats. The Congress got seven seats against 28 in the previous assembly.
Akhilesh Yadav has learnt from bitter experiences that neither workers nor voters favour alliances with national parties or with those such as the BSP, which has been a traditional opponent of the SP. This explains why this time around, he has gone for alliances with smaller or sub-regional parties. However, the bigger party has to give up seats for such parties and cannot count on their loyalty. This kind of grouping may not work if the main party does not get a majority. This is what happened with the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar. The SP’s strategists are probably putting off these considerations for another day, something that could cost the party dearly. Can such disparate groupings hold?
To answer this, one has to look at the BJP’s trajectory. As expected, it is betting entirely on Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s image and CM Yogi Adityanath’s work. This is why the PM has visited UP five times in the last two months. Many more programmes are scheduled before the code of conduct comes into force. Special care has been taken to focus on regional interests, religion, development, women, Dalits, backward and forward castes and almost every possible political equation. The BJP has assigned region-wise responsibilities to three of its stalwarts — national president JP Nadda, home minister Amit Shah and defence minister Rajnath Singh. In addition, Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan and former agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh have been touring the state for months.
This is to establish direct communication with party workers, redress their grievances and ensure ticket distribution according to zonal requirements. The BJP knows that despite all the work done by the government over five years, it will have to contend with some anti-incumbency sentiments.
Now let’s look at the BSP and Congress. For the first time in decades, Mayawati is believed to be a little removed from the main electoral battle. Younger leaders such as Chandra Shekhar Azad, the Bhim Army chief, have started eating into the BSP’s traditional vote bank. In such a situation, will the BSP be able to attract Brahmin votes? The Brahmins have traditionally been with the BJP or Congress. Akhilesh Yadav plans to give tickets in large numbers to Brahmins this time around. Many experts see this election as a fight for supremacy between the BJP and the SP; they overlook the fact that this is a do-or-die battle for the BSP.
The Congress too is on the ropes. Its votebank is slowly vanishing, its workers are demoralised and ageing. There is no leader at the regional level who has universal acceptability. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is trying to impress the 5-6% “floating voters”, who have the potential to influence every election, with the slogan “Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon” (I am a girl and I can fight). She knows that women and young voters are Narendra Modi’s biggest strength. She is trying to influence them by promising 40% tickets to women in what appears to be a forerunner to 2024.
Whether Priyanka Gandhi Vadra succeeds or fails, UP’s political importance cannot be understated. The election to be fought here in 2022 will decide the future course of the nation.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal