Uttar Pradesh (UP) braces for a triangular assembly election
Dr Satish Misra
India’s biggest state, known to impact decisively course of the national politics, is bracing for a close triangular electoral contest next month when voting begins for the first phase on February 11 and ending on March 8 with counting taking place on March 11.
While it was almost certain that the battle for the UP crown will be bipolar between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), but sudden and dramatic turn of events have added another potential player who can upset the outcome of the elections.
Possibly there were very few till last week who were convinced that incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav will return to power winning the assembly electoral battle against formidable opponents like the BJP and the BSP.
But now after the Election Commission recognising him to be head of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and granting his organisation the party symbol it seems that Akhilesh- led alliance with the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) is high in the reckoning of the electorate. Family feud over who inherits SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav’s legacy being settled in favour of the UP Chief Minister, Akhilesh has emerged as one of the main contenders for return to power beating the anti-incumbency factor.
With the announcement of the assembly election schedule for five states on January 4, decks were cleared for a tough, bitter and one of the most keenly contested electoral battles.With the ruling BJP entering into the ring with massive resources and the ruling SP in the midst of a family feud over who controls the party, BSP supremo Mayawati was enjoying the lead that she had got in terms of caste combination as well as announcement of tickets to majority of her party candidates.
Demonetisation and surgical strike against Pakistan on September 29 last year are going to be a major issue in the elections across all the five states but it will be one of the top determining factors in the biggest state of UP. Other issues and themes are going to be development, law and order and caste dominance.
The election is going to be three cornered among the BJP, BSP and the SP-led alliance. Though the BJP big bosses would have loved and liked that Mulayam Singh Yadav-led faction of the SP was also in the fray but that didn’t happen. A four- cornered contest would have given the BJP a definite advantage.
In UP, a victory or defeat will decisively impact the future course of the BJP as the verdict will not only be a referendum on the Modi government but will also decide the outcome of the next presidential election in July-August this year.
UP is very important for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi because if it is not able to at least emerge as a single largest party then the saffron party’s rollback would have begun. Modi, a winning mascot, would have become a phenomenon of the past bringing the internal fault lines into open. Opposition to Modi and party president Amit Shah would begin to grow making governance for the Prime Minister all the more difficult and there would be serious doubts if the BJP would return to power after 2019 general elections.
The BJP had won 47 seats in 2012 assembly elections and had 71 seats in the 2014 general elections when Modi had emerged the main vote catcher and the main icon of the saffron brigade.
Already, Modi has addressed seven rallies in UP in last six months and is going to address another seven in next 10 days. The BJP has undertaken parivartan yatras across the state. The BJP has done its caste homework well and is heavily depending upon non-Yadav OBC castes to catapult it to power in UP. It is not going to leave any stone unturned and will try every trick up its sleeves to at least emerge as the single largest party but prospects at the moment are not very bright.
The BJP has yet another handicap as it has not given a chief ministerial candidate and Modi is the only USP of the party. The Prime Minister is expected to address at least a dozen more rallies.
The electoral alliance between the Congress, RLD and Akhilesh faction is going to be a formidable combination reducing the winning prospects of former state Chief Minister and BSP supremo which till recently was giving a tough competition to both the SP and the BJP. The BSP was tipped to emerge as the single largest party.
Mayawati had done her electoral homework well and has fielded candidates according to caste combination. She gave 97 seats to Muslims. She was hoping that Muslim electorate would make the BSP their choice in their determination to defeat the BJP but in the changed scenario she may not have the desired electoral results because Akhilesh with the Congress is not only enjoying support among youth cutting across caste lines but Muslim voters are going to back him convinced that this alliance alone can put the BJP away from power in the state.
Akhilesh is enjoying an advantage of a positive image as even his worst critics are being heard saying that the Chief Minister has performed well by undertaking infrastructure projects and could have done much better if his father and uncles would not have interfered in his administration.
As the campaign picks up in next few days and joint rallies and public meetings of Akhilesh, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on the one hand and Dimple Yadav and Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra are held, the contest is likely to become bipolar between the SP-led alliance and the BJP with the BSP out of the popular reckoning again.
Scenario may change if the Chief Minister says something odd or to the popular distaste but Akhilesh- led alliance has a definite edge over rivals at the time of writing this piece.
(Author is a Senior Fellow at New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, country’s leading think tank)