Battle for Uttar Pradesh

Himanshu Shekhar

The road to rule the country from Delhi goes through Uttar Pradesh. It’s an old adage in Indian politics, but even today it has not lost its relevance. Every major or small political party is working hard to get electoral gains in the coming assembly elections of India’s most populous state. The stage is set for the most awaited political battle before the next general elections. According to senior political analysts, the UP election is going to have a major impact on national politics. It is believed that after UP elections major political shifts and alignments could be seen.

At least for United Progressive Alliance (UPA), UP is a test case and it is going to be a turning point for Congress scion Rahul Gandhi. If BJP gains in the coming assembly election of UP then its prospects of coming back to centre will be strengthened. If incumbent chief minister of UP Mayawati retains her power then she and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will emerge as a more powerful player in national politics too. The coming election of UP is a do or die situation for Samajwadi Party (SP). On the other hand small parties like Peace Party and Apna Dal are also in the fray and they are trying hard to make a mark in coming elections. A section of media is of the view that the state is moving towards a hung assembly. In that situation, these small groups of maverick leaders could play the important role of kingmaker.

The last assembly election of 2007 is remembered for the surprise victory of Mayawati. Her party secured 206 seats out of 402. On the other hand Mulayam Singh Yadav’s led SP only got 97 seats. BJP was on the third position with 51 seats and Congress won 22 seats. However, it’s early to predict anything about the final result of coming elections but we could discuss about the prospects of major players of state politics and how the result of the most populous and most politically vibrant state of the country is going to change the dynamics of national politics.

Each and every party is eyeing the Muslim votes in the coming assembly elections. It is pertinent to mention that the Muslim community constitutes 19 percent of the total electorate in Uttar Pradesh and plays a decisive role in more than 150 constituencies. In 23 districts of UP, the Muslim population is more than 5 lakh. This is what caused revival of plans by every party to garner the support of this politically sensitive community. Congress is likely to play the reservation card to regain the support of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. All major parties are likely to keep Muslim factor in mind in the distribution of tickets. In the last assembly elections of 2007, the BSP fielded 64 Muslim candidates and out of which 30 marked victory. Keeping in tune with BSP, the Congress also has given tickets to 26 Muslim candidates in the last assembly elections. However, India’s oldest political party contested only 213 seats out of 402. In the coming elections, the Congress party is likely to contest more seats after forging alliance with the Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lokdal.

In an unprecedented manner, the BJP, allegedly the most hated party by Muslims, is also on the way to woo Muslim voters. The party which is known for playing the politics of Ram and Mandir is going out of the way to attract the Muslim community. In an attempt to do that, the BJP organized an ‘Alpsankhyak Swabhiman Sammelan’ on October 3. This was attended by senior leaders of the party including the Muslim face of the BJP Shahnawaz Hussain and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. Speaking on the occasion, Hussain urged the Muslims to vote for the BJP. He said, “We got votes from the minorities in Bihar and Gujarat and if the pitiable condition of Muslims in UP is to be changed, you should openly support the BJP.” However, it’s early to predict whether the Muslims of India’s most populous state are going to cast their vote in favour of BJP or no.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)

Retaining power especially in Hindi speaking state was never easy for any political party. It seems that Mayawati is aware of the fact. She is trying hard to regain electoral victory by making populist announcement. She is attacking Congress and other political parties and working to keep her support base intact. By removing tainted ministers from her cabinet, she is also trying to project herself as a combater against corruption.

Mayawati knows very well that by regaining power in Uttar Pradesh in coming election, she could be one step closer to her great dream of becoming the prime minister of India one day. After 2007 electoral victory, she publicly expressed her desire of being prime minister. She has a strong feeling that in case of UPA and NDA disintegration, the possible third front could choose her as its prime ministerial candidate. But keeping the political happenings of last few years in mind, it seems unlikely.

The recent stunt of Mayawati to garner support in form of votes is to divide the state in four parts. The state assembly passed a controversial resolution on splitting the state into four parts by voice vote minutes after which the lower house was adjourned sine die. Mayawati, who had announced the proposal recently to split the state into Purvanchal, Paschim Pradesh, Bundelkhand and Awadh Pradesh, presented the resolution saying that it was being forwarded to the Center. BJP and Congress termed it as mere “election stunt” and said that Center should not accept the proposal. BJP even advocated of forming a state reorganization commission. On the other hand Congress objected to the manner in which this proposal was passed. SP was not clear initially but finally the party was also opposed to this proposal. It’s not clear whether Mayawati is going to earn few votes by this stunt or not, but this proposal will be certainly a major electoral issue in the Uttar Pradesh.

Congress and other opposition parties are making charges of corruption against Mayawati government. A couple of weeks ago, Jairam Ramesh, Union Rural Development Minister, wrote letters to Mayawati highlighting the irregularities in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in Uttar Pradesh. Ramesh demanded that Mayawati order a CBI probe to show her seriousness in taking action against corrupt officials. In his 14-page letter, union minister outlined irregularities in the NREGS in seven districts- Balrampur, Gonda, Mahoba, Kushinagar, Mirzapur, Sant Kabir Nagar and Sonbhadra. But he stopped short of accusing her of not taking any action against corrupt officials.

It was the second letter by Ramesh to Mayawati within a month on the issue. In retaliation, Mayawati wrote to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brushing aside his allegations and calling it politically motivated. But, NREGS is a political issue in the state. Rahul Gandhi, is raising the issue of corruption in implementation of NREGS in every rally he addresses. Even deputy chairman of the planning commission, was critical about the fate of scheme when he visited the state a couple of weeks ago. Congress is alleging that the state government is misusing the funds of the much hyped scheme. According to Congress, instead of benefitting the common people of the state, the fund of NREGS is going into accounts of corrupt politicians and officials. However, it’s difficult to say that whether these allegations are going to make a dent in BSP’s vote bank.

Despite all the allegations from the other political parties, Mayawati is looking firm on her vote bank. She still believes that her Dalit-Brahmin equation will work in her favour. Her confidant Satish Mishra and other Brahmin leaders of BSP are confident about getting support from this particular caste. Some senior leaders are saying that Brahmins are safest in the regime of Mayawati. They did not have same feeling during the reign of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government.

Those senior leaders who are familiar with the nuts and bolts of the Uttar Pradesh politics are not in the mood to give more importance to the two poll surveys, which is in favour of Mulayam Singh Yadav. They are of the view that the upper caste and especially Brahmins and Dalits will go with Mayawati to just stop Mulayam because the sense of insecurity persists in these communities. It’s needless to say that Mayawati is far ahead from other political leaders in playing the politics of caste. It is believed that the Jatavs and Chamars are the mainstay of the the BSP and they constitute well over half the 21 percent Dalit population in the State. They are likely to vote again in the favour of Mayawati. It’s a sign of relief for Mayawati. Whenever Mayawati gets an opportunity, she never forgets to reiterate the issues related to Dalit pride.

Samajwadi Party (SP)

Samajwadi Party, is the main opposition party in the state politics and its leaders would be in the mood of celebration after the result of two opinion polls. STAR News-Nielsen survey, conducted in 202 constituencies of the state in November, said that the SP would emerge as the single largest party ahead of the BSP, followed by the Congress and the BJP. According to survey, BSP is going to win 117 constituencies, a massive drop from its 2007 tally of 206. On the other hand SP is likely to win in 132 constituencies, a gain from its 2007 tally of 97. The survey predicts that Congress may win in 68 constituencies, a huge gain from the 22 it won in 2007. BJP is likely to finish with a tally of 65 seats.

Another opinion poll conducted by India Today-ORG shows that 31 percent of respondents favoured Mulayam as the ‘best chief minister’ as compared to 29 percent who favour Mayawati. On the other hand BJP’s Rajnath Singh is the third favourite with 19 percent, while Congress scion Rahul Gandhi is on the fourth rank with only 15 percent. According to the survey, the BSP’s 2007 vote share of 30.4 per cent, which translated into 206 seats in the 402 member assembly giving Mayawati a clear majority, is likely to shrink to 25 per cent. However, the vote share of Mulayam Singh’s SP could remain almost unchanged at 25 percent but it is likely to get more seats than BSP. The survey predicts a hung assembly after the end of polling.

It seems that SP is riding on the wave of these two opinion polls. Despite the liking of 31 percent respondents of India Today poll as the chief minister of state, Mulayam Singh is willing to pass the baton of state politics to his son Akhilesh Yadav. However, Akhilesh denied about his candidature and said that Mulayam is the CM candidate of his party. The young state president of the SP said that he is not going to contest election from any constituency. A news report quoted him saying, “I will not be contesting election from any constituency. ‘Netaji’ Mulayam Singh Yadav is there, he will be the chief ministerial candidate.”

It means, SP is still relying on the image of Mulayam Singh as a leader of the Yadavas and Muslims. After the expulsion of its general secretary Amar Singh from the party, Azam Khan is back in its fold and he is virtually number three after Mulayam and Akhilesh in SP. Mulayam still believes that Azam Khan is the most respected leader of Muslims in UP and he will earn the vote of his community in favour of SP. The erstwhile chief minister of state Mulayam Singh also has same feeling about himself when it comes to getting the support of the Yadav community. But, what went against SP is Rashid Masood’s inclusion in the Congress. He was sidelined in SP after the return of Azam Khan. It is believed that in Saharanpur and its surrounding, Masood holds good command over the voters of around a dozen constituencies.

To compensate the loss after departure of Masood, SP is working hard at the village level. SP sources are saying that the party senior leadership directed its workers to work hard on the ground instead of making too much noise. Akhilesh’s cycle yatra is seen as a part of this exercise. This yatra is a crowd-puller and after getting very positive response from the people of state, Akhilesh announced to continue the yatra till the end of assembly elections.

Akhilesh has already covered 100 constituencies in his cycle yatra. He is attacking the Mayawati government on the issue of corruption, and is in no mood to spare Rahul Gandhi. He is critical about Rahul and the centre. This is the instruction of this young Samajawadi leader which is culminating in the form of SP workers holding protests and courting arrests almost every day over price rise, police atrocities and corruption.

His party is holding larger meetings in the district headquarters to encourage the participation of all party workers. The indications of the two initial opinion polls seems to be a reflection of the party’s renewed strategy to work at ground level instead of making media statements from the party headquarters at Lucknow.

Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)

Uttar Pradesh is the state which paved the way for the BJP to rule the country from Delhi. Ram Mandir Aandolan was the turning point for the party. BJP encashed this movement not only in Uttar Pradesh, but also played the card smartly in other states too. This resulted in electoral gain in most parts of the country. But, on the other hand it lost its ground in this very state after the fall of Kalyan Singh. He was removed by the then Central Government from the post of chief minister. After that BJP never came back to power in the state. The last election was the worst performance of the BJP as it only got 51 seats.

Now BJP is planning to touch the 100 seat mark. The party central leadership has assigned the tough task of reclaiming UP to its fire brand leader Uma Bharti. She was at the centre of Ram Mandir Aandolan. Inclusion of Uma Bharti in mission UP, clearly indicates about the party’s intention. BJP still believes that Ram Mandir could earn votes for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) backed party.

Initially, Uma Bharti was made a observer for UP assembly elections, but in a short span of time she acquired the centre stage in the party’s campaign. She is likely to contest assembly elections from Babina constituency of Bundelkhand, which is considered to be the stronghold of the erstwhile chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. If sources are to be believed, the party’s central leadership is also thinking of projecting Uma Bharti as the chief minister candidate in Uttar Pradesh. But, BJP’s national president said earlier that the election will be contested in the combined leadership of the state party leaders including Uma Bharti.

A section of analysts is of the view that Uma Bharti factor is going to work in BJP’s favour because she is a strong answer to Mayawati. Both of these women leaders come from a backward caste. But what makes Uma Bharti different from Mayawati, it is her party’s traditional vote bank. Brahmin, Thakur and Vaishya are considered to be the traditional vote bank of the BJP and if Uma Bharti gets success in mobilizing lower castes then this right wing party could deliver a shocking result.

BJP has also assigned the strategic aspects of coming assembly elections to Sanjay Joshi. He has very good command over organization and workers at the grass root level. His inclusion in the party, despite the reluctance of Narendra Modi, one of the most powerful chief ministers of BJP, clearly indicates his importance in coming assembly elections. Sources close to the leadership of the party, confide that it is Sanjay Joshi who is deciding the name of candidates after analysing all the factors.

BJP is working hard to get on board all those who left the party and now representing other parties in the assembly. However, both initial opinion polls are not painting an encouraging picture for the BJP. According to the India Today survey, the vote share of party is going to increase marginally from 16.9 percent in 2007 to 18 percent. On the other hand, Star News survey says that BJP is likely to win 65 seats in the coming assembly elections. The party managed to win 51 seats in the last assembly elections.

Indian National Congress

The battle of UP has become a do or die case for the Congress Party. Rahul Gandhi is working on his Mission-2012 for the last three years. It’s a test case for Rahul Gandhi’s clout and wisdom. He did whatever he could to regain the lost glory of the oldest party of India in Uttar Pradesh. It’s worth mentioning that UP is Rahul Gandhi’s political karmabhoomi. He and his associates are aware of the fact that without winning Lucknow, it’s difficult for the Congress to rule Delhi on its own.

The agitation and the intent that Rahul has shown in western UP and particularly in Yamuna Expressway project affected areas, is bound to act as a huge boost to the morale of the grand old party in a state where it is desperately looking for a magical formula. Perhaps, Rahul and his party are encouraged by the support they are getting in the western region of Uttar Pradesh. That’s why Rahul is expanding his base and now trying to expand party’s influence in eastern part of the state.

Rahul seems aware of the fact that it’s not easy to gain the lost base of Congress in UP. That’s why his party forged an alliance with Ajeet Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. This Jat leader got a cabinet birth in the union government in exchange of making an alliance with the Congress for the next assembly elections. Ajeet Singh, has a mass support in the western part of the state and in these areas Congress cannot afford to go solo to run the show in its favour.

To strengthen its position further, Congress was forced to include Rashid Masood in its fold, who is a respected Muslim face in the state. Rahul, also visited Bundelkhand to revive the prospects of his party. Congress is expecting electoral gains in the region by highlighting the economic package announced by the union government. Howevr, BJP’s Bundelkhand card in the form of Uma Bharti could be a game-changer for the Congress in the region.

When it comes to poll surveys, the Congress is likely to improve its performance. India Today survey says that the party vote share will be up from 8.6 percent to 16 percent. According to the Star News survey, the Congress’ alliance with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal would result in the alliance winning in 85 constituencies.

Swingers

According to India Today survey, the vote share of others is likely to come down on 13 percent from 15 percent. In 2007, others secured 17 assembly seats. But, in coming election they appear to be getting more seats. Newly formed Peace Party is claiming to win more than 15 seats alone. This party is formed by Muslims because they feel cheated by the other parties. This party believes that the Muslim community is cheated by all major political parties and they could mobilize Muslim votes which may result in gaining 15 plus seats. On the other hand, one time Samajwadi Party number two Amar Singh, is aiming to register his presence in eastern Uttar Pradesh through his newly formed Lok Manch. However, his health and his alleged involvement in Cash-for-Vote-scam are not giving him enough time to consolidate his support base. Sone Lal Patel of Apna Dal, is also vying for a few seats to get importance in bargain game if the people of state give mandate for a hung assembly.

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