Mahagatbandhan in UP may give headache to BJP
The tables have been turned on Samajwadi party patriarch with the wrestler-turned-politician Mulayam Singh Yadav losing the battle for the 'cycle ' symbol and slowly getting marginalised. The saving grace is that the Election Commission of India has not sealed the symbol which remains with the SP. The ECI's decision that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav faction rightly deserves the cycle election symbol on the strength of its large majority of legislators as well party loyalists vociferously endorsing the leadership of the youth icon in the country's most crucial state.
Efforts are on to put an end to the sordid family drama in the Yadav family. The indications are clear that the mantle of leadership in the dynastic SP has passed on to Akhilesh Yadav earlier this month. Since then he has gone from strength to strength.
At the same time Akhilesh has maintained his poise saying his respect for Netaji or his father will remain undiminished. What is of significance is that no time was wasted by the SP and Congress in announcing their intentions of stitching up a ""mahagatbandhan"" a la 2015 Bihar style to keep the Lotus party at bay in the country's most populous state.
This has the portends of resurrecting the Congress to some extent and giving a boost to the SP along with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, JD (U), RJD and other smaller regional groups in UP in its determined bid to defeat the communal forces.
Akhilesh has an upper hand at the negotiating table having secured the cycle symbol as well as controlling the Yadav-Muslim vote bank. From all accounts it appears that the chief minister does not want to alienate the dwindling Mulayam loyalists. The gambit is to undertake a delicate balancing act ensuring the renewal and strengthening of the SP.
In a three cornered contest the BJP might well be pushed to the wall with the Muslim minority vote going against them. Seeking to project itself as the saviour of the other backward classes, the Lotus party is desperate to regain power in UP after nearly 15 years. The lotus party seems to have alienated its supporters of small traders as well as the Brahmins. Three years back 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 managed a staggering 71 seats in the Lok Sabha out of the 80 from UP finishing with a tally of 73 along with its allies in the NDA. It is unlikely that the BJP will be able to replicate that humongous performance in the ensuing elections to the 403-member state assembly.
Judging by the BJP's first list of candidates it is once again banking on communal polarisation in riot affected western UP. Tickets have been issued 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. The saffron brigade has again resorted to playing the communal card amid reports that the dominant Jat community is disillusioned with it. With reservation for Jats in a limbo, they might desert the BJP this time and consolidate the minority votes in favour of the SP-Congress-RLD alliance.
The outcome in UP will set the stage for the saffron brigade in the general elections two years later in 2019. The surgical strikes on terrorist camps across the LOC in Pakistan in October last year and the big ticket demonetisation undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently are the two main planks of the BJP's campaign strategy in UP.
As the main campaigner for his party, the eighth November demonetisation by Modi created problems galore because of poor planning coupled with the centre's failure to anticipate the problems that arose which got compounded in the wake of the RBI issuing new directives on a daily basis for nearly a month. The Lotus party is also handicapped as it has not got a chief ministerial face in the critical Cow belt.The Modi government desperately 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 come up against a wall and fallen by the wayside in the House of Elders. The politically conscious electorate in UP is acutely aware of the complexities of the caste and class combination.Having burnt their fingers in Bihar, BJP strategists have tried a new social engineering aimed at turning the Lotus party into a non-Yadav OBC party to woo the most backward castes. This is bound to 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 the run up to the assembly electons in UP, Akhilesh Yadav announced nearly one thousand projects and schemes. He managed to lay the foundation stone or inaugurate a large number of them before the model code of conduct kicked in.
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 with the Congress-SP alliance being worked out. Her gambit of splitting the 20 per cent Muslim votes in the state might not fructify. This assumes importance as the minority community wants to vote decisively in favour of a party so that the BJP does not come to power in Lucknow. It is widely believed she will finish in the third spot after the SP-Congress combine emerging at the top followed by the BJP in second place.
Akhilesh Yadav's test lies in leading the party with Mulayam Singh hopefully stepping back gracefully. His challenge is not just leading the SP in the ensuing seven-phase assembly elections in UP but overcoming the problems arising once the dust at the hustings settles down.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)"