Having won only 28 seats in the 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress has managed a good deal crossing the three figure mark by ensuring 105 seats for its nominees in the most populous and crucial state of the country.
The ruling Samajwadi party headed by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav will contest the remaining 298 seats in the 403-member Vidhan Sabha. With Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on a 3,500 Km ‘Kisan yatra’ in UP, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra played a vital role in hammering out the seat adjustment with the Samajwadi party. Congress president Sonia Gandhi also reached out to Akhilesh Singh ensuring her party got the best possible deal in the prevailing circumstances. This is the first time that the SP and Congress are having a truck. Priyanka’s role in working out the arrangement has been vital. She is expected to confine her campaigning to her mother’s constituency of Rae Bareli and brother Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi.
The Congress is contesting all the ten assembly segments in these two constituencies. The bitter struggle in the first political family of UP, Samajwadi party patriarch and the wrestler-turned-politician Mulayam Singh Yadav has lost the battle for the ‘cycle ‘ symbol. His marginalisation is all too apparent. The autonomous Election Commission of India granting the ‘Cycle’ symbol to youthful chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s faction of the SP has been a severe blow to Mulayam Singh or Netaji as he is widely known. The ECI’s decision was on account of the large majority of legislators and party loyalists vociferously endorsing Akhilesh Yadav’s leadership had won the day.
The mantle of leadership in the SP founded by Netaji 25 years back passed on to Akhilesh Yadav on January second. This facilitated the smooth installation of the chief minister as the national President of the regional party. Since then he has gone from strength to strength. Things have since moved fast in forming a la 2015 Bihar style “”mahagatbandhan”” for keeping the Lotus party at bay in UP. The JD (U) and RJD are extending support. This has the portends of resurrecting the Congress to some extent which has been in political wilderness in the state for the last 27 years. It managed only 28 seats in the 2012 assembly elections.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh appears to have gone off the radar of both the SP and the Congress. The SP made it clear it is not interested in a tie up with Ajit Singh’s RLD. The Congress has also not evinced interest.
The importance of Western UP cannot be undermined as it accounts for 67 seats in the state assembly. It is the bastion of the Jats. Significantly no less than 26 Muslim candidates won from Western UP in 2012. Simultaneously, Akhilesh Yadav does not want to alienate the dwindling Mulayam Singh loyalists. Worried by the SP-Congress truck, the BJP is once again indulging in its familiar game of communal polarisation.
In a three cornered contest the BJP might well be pushed to the wall with the minority Muslim vote ranged against it. It is in this context that the Lotus party is seeking to project itself as a saviour of the other backward classes in a desperate bid to regain power in UP after 14 years.
Notwithstanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diktat of steering clear of giving tickets to the relatives of party leaders, the party has just done that. The saffron brigade appears to have alienated its supporters of small traders as well as the Brahmins. In the general elections in 2014 the BJP secured a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha for the first time since it was formed in 1980.
It won a staggering 71 seats in the Lok Sabha out of the 80 from UP finishing with a tally of 73 as its allies in the NDA baggeg two. It is unlikely that the BJP will be able to replicate that humongous performance in the ensuing February-March elections.
The BJP’s first list of candidates there is not a single Muslim candidate and is banking on communal polarisation in riot affected western UP. Tickets have been distributed to leaders involved in communal incidents including sitting MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, both of whom are accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The wife of the BJP/RSS leader accused in last September’s Bijnor incident has also been fielded. This has sent a wrong signal to the minorities all over the country. The BJP has resorted to playing the communal card amid reports of the Jat community being disillusioned with it.
With reservation for Jats in a limbo, they might desert the BJP this time and consolidate their votes along with the minority community in favour of the SP-Congress alliance. The outcome in UP will set the stage for the saffron brigade in the general elections two years later in 2019.
As the main campaigner for the BJP, PM Modi’s sudden decision of demonetisation created problems galore because of poor planning coupled with the Centre’s failure to anticipate the problems which got compounded with the RBI issuing new directives on a daily basis for nearly a month. The Lotus party is handicapped as it has not announced a chief ministerial face in the critical cow belt. One of their pledges is building a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya.
The Modi government urgently needs to increase its strength in the Rajya Sabha where it is handicapped being in a minority. This has compelled the BJP led NDA at the centre to resort to Ordinances which has been decried by constitutional experts.Important legislation pertaining to economic reforms has invariably hit a wall and fallen by the wayside in the Rajya Sabha. With BJP strategists focussing on non-Yadav OBCs, the party is wooing the most backward castes which can alienate the Brahmins as they don’t vote in sync with the OBCs.
On the other hand the Samajwadi party government has not crowned itself with glory during its rule in Lucknow over the last five years. There were too many centres of authority. Despite that Akhilesh Yadav has focussed on development which is critical for UP and appears to have caught the imagination of the youth. In all this Mayawati of the BSP who fancied her chances of becoming the chief minister for a record fifth time in UP appears to have lost the plot because of the SP-Congress alliance. Her gambit of splitting the 20 per cent Muslim votes in the state might not fructify.
Akhilesh Yadav’s test lies in leading the party to victory because of the BJP’s negative campaign against him. That is not his only challenge in the seven-phase assembly elections in UP but overcoming the the problems arising once the dust at the hustings settles down.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)”