The political chessboard in Uttar Pradesh

Politicians often find opportunities in tragedies but forget about them when their purpose is fulfilled. But, does any party or person benefit from Lakhimpur Kheri-type tragedy?
From Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to Akhilesh Yadav, every opposition leader is gearing up for the assembly elections. On the other side, we have Yogi Adityanath with the image of being a staunch nationalist. In such a scenario, which way will this upcoming battle go? To come to any sort of answer, we have to wait till all the pieces have fallen into place on the political chessboard. (Subhankar Chakraborty/HT PHOTO) PREMIUM
From Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to Akhilesh Yadav, every opposition leader is gearing up for the assembly elections. On the other side, we have Yogi Adityanath with the image of being a staunch nationalist. In such a scenario, which way will this upcoming battle go? To come to any sort of answer, we have to wait till all the pieces have fallen into place on the political chessboard. (Subhankar Chakraborty/HT PHOTO)
Published on Oct 17, 2021 02:27 PM IST
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ByShashi Shekhar

Right after the assembly elections of 2012 in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Hindustan launched a popular campaign called Rajneeti Khatm Kaam Shuru (politics ends, work begins). It was meant to keep reminding the elected representatives that they have been chosen on the basis of the promises they made and that it was now time to honour these.

This campaign sprang to my mind over the last few days — because of what happened in Lakhimpur Kheri. Politicians often find opportunities in tragedies but forget about them when their purpose is fulfilled. But, does any party or person benefit from this sort of tragedy?

Let us look at the Congress. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was the first major Opposition leader to set off for the site on hearing the news. She was stopped en route by the police at Sitapur and detained at a UP Provincial Armed (PAC) guesthouse. From there, a video of her sweeping her room went viral. How on earth did this broom reach her high-security room? The PAC has trained staff to maintain the premises. So, why did Priyanka Gandhi feel the need to sweep her room?

Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party (SP), had alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was deliberately highlighting this to divide the Opposition. He had also tried to travel to Lakhimpur Kheri, but the state police did not allow him to leave his home.

On an earlier occasion, Priyanka Gandhi was stopped at the Noida border while trying to go to Hathras. In the ensuing kerfuffle, a photo of her holding one end of uniformed policeman’s cane went viral. Congress functionaries said that she did this to save a worker from being beaten up. Her supporters seem to think that such visits and images will bring back the Congress’s lost support base.

Her latest detention on October 3 is being compared by the faithful to her grandmother, Indira Gandhi’s Belchi visit to meet victims of atrocities on Dalits. But, is this really a Belchi moment for Priyanka?

Let us compare the Congress of 1977 and the one we see today. Much water has flowed down the Ganga and the situation has changed completely. Though the Congress was not in power in 1977, its support base was intact. Indira Gandhi was fighting an army of elders who seemed oblivious to their differences with each other. Morarji Desai had become prime minister (PM), but he was the leader of a messy coalition. All the parties in it had different ideologies and interests. Indira Gandhi took advantage of this. She fuelled the ambitions of Choudhary Charan Singh and let him become PM. But very soon, she pulled the rug out from under his feet.

Today, Priyanka and her brother Rahul Gandhi are taking on a party that has a hugely popular leader like Narendra Modi. The BJP is now the largest political organisation in the world while the Congress’s support base has been steadily shrinking since 1989. Belchi provided a powerful leader of a strong party a chance to return to power. If what happened in Hathras and Lakhimpur Kheri provides the Congress even one-tenth of that advantage, it can be considered a big deal.

In 1977, there was also no SP or Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Both have a strong social base which explains their success in wooing various voter groups. The Congress has no such base in UP. Priyanka Gandhi may have been able to build up a base had she stayed in UP for five years instead of in Delhi. This is why the BJP calls her a “political tourist”. Well-wishers of the Congress believe that if she had camped at Swaraj Bhawan in Prayagraj (Allahabad), perhaps the situation would have been different. But with an election so close, it is difficult to create a political wave as she is trying to do in UP.

Akhilesh Yadav started the Vijay Yatra within 10 days of what happened in Lakhimpur Kheri. He will try to boost the morale of his workers by going from city to city over the next few months. He will also try to woo back the voters who rejected his party in the last elections. Discussions of a political alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal led by Jayant Chaudhary are on in full swing. If Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Chaudhary join up in western UP, they can give the BJP a run for its money. But, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi and the BSP’s Mayawati could work against this potential alliance.

On the other side, we have Yogi Adityanath with the image of being a staunch nationalist committed to upholding law and order. In such a scenario, which way will this upcoming battle go? To come to any sort of answer, we have to wait till all the pieces have fallen into place on the political chessboard.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

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Monday, December 06, 2021