Uttar Pradesh, or the heartland state in popular terminology, has always played a pivotal role in deciding the ruler of the nation. With a population surpassing 200 million as of the 2011 census, U.P. holds the key to unlocking the fabled gates of 7, Race Course Road with a whopping 80 Lok Sabha seats in its grasp. It also holds the distinction of giving the country the most Prime Ministers than any other state. So, the vitriolic and volatile political scenario of the state comes as no surprise. Lok Sabha Elections 2014 have proven to be no different with the reigning Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav locked in a fierce and ugly battle with his arch nemesis and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) head Mayawati Devi and Bhartiya Janta Party’s (BJP) blue eyed Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
The ever changing dynamics of Uttar Pradesh politics have presented a skewed scenario in the last two decades. On one side, there is Mayawati, who under the tutelage of Kanshi Ram, rose to prominence in the early 1990s and was the first Dalit female Chief Minister in India, she was hailed as a ‘Miracle of Democracy’ by the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narsimha Rao. Millions of Dalits and people belonging to the backward classes view her as their icon and fondly call her Behen-ji. In 2009 Lok Sabha Elections, the BSP garnered 20 seats along with the highest voter percentage (27.42%) in the state. Since then, however, BSP has been ousted from power at the state government level in 2012 and the party’s fortunes have appeared to suffer a downswing. At the other end of the spectrum lies Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party that currently holds the reins of Uttar Pradesh with his son Akhilesh Yadav as the Chief Minister. It’s often seen as a throwback to the Farooqh Abdullah-Omar Abdullah equation in Jammu and Kashmir. Samajwadi Party had briefly colluded with the BSP in the early nineties to oust the then BJP Government. Since then, it has been involved in a tug of war with its former ally BSP. SP is also a part of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre. Somewhere in the middle lies the BJP which has been weaving in and out of political alliances and power in UP. The BJP usually allied itself with the Mayawati led BSP but didn’t have a considerable foothold of its own in the state. But with a widely perceived ‘Modi Wave’ sweeping all across the nation, the situation would change drastically for the BJP in the UP if the media is to be believed.Â Or will it?
If one deals with the hard facts, this so called drastic change in BJP’s fortunes in UP will not quite happen in the way it is being projected even when slogans of ‘Abki Baar Modi Sarkar’ echo through the seats of Varanasi, where Narendra Modi is the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate. However, it poses a considerable threat to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP in eating up its votes in key constituencies.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is contesting from Azamgarh, a constituency adjoining the holy city Varanasi and this tussle has polarized the fight for the 20 odd constituencies in Eastern U.P. where Mayawati has strong footholds over seven constituencies. While the latter has continued holding her forte over the constituencies where dalits make up the major population, the former’s vote bank comprising of the upper caste hindus and muslims hangs in balance; especially when Amit Shah has worked tirelessly over the last 9 odd months in spearheading BJP’s campaign across UP. The consolidation of the upper caste Brahmins, Baniya and Rajputs who make up the complex caste mathematics in the state in their preference for the BJP also pose problems. Add to that Mayawati’s unwavering stand for the dalits, that garners more support from the lower caste hindus and eats up into the SP’s vote bank. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Abu Azmi have not made things any easier for themselves with irresponsible, rash and insensitive statements about rape and rape victims. From this perspective, it may seem that SP will lose a lot of its ground and it will be difficult for it to recover from this combined onslaught.
However, as fate may have it, there are always certain forces in play that change situations and polarize them in a different direction altogether. In this case, a particular force which might change the ballgame would be the BSP’s attempts to woo the higher caste hindu votes in its favour so as to gain a clear majority.
Mayawati has a reputation for playing hardball, whether it be sacking of 18000 police officers appointed in the earlier SP government on charges of jobs against bribes or being adamant about spending thousands of crores of the exchequers money in building huge parks for beautifying Lucknow. With the dalit vote firmly in her hands, she has tried to retain the upper caste votes by fielding Brahmin candidates in places like Ambedkarnagar for the sole reason of fighting the Modi upsurge. This is not good news for the BJP and Modi as this would go on and divide votes in the constituencies where upper caste votes have always been decisive for victory.
The ‘Muslim Vote’ is as significant as ever in these elections. Herein lies the strength of the Samajwadi Party, which has emerged as a clear favorite among the muslims except in key BSP strongholds. The Muzzafarnagar riots might have dented SP’s muslim vote share, but such is their distrust for Modi and the BJP that they would chose the SP or even the BSP over BJP anyday. A testament to this fact is Faizabad where there is a clear Yadav-Muslim divide, where almost all muslim votes are expected to go in SP’s favour and the rest of the Yadav votes being split up among the BJP, BSP, SP and the Congress.
If this picture is to be believed, then indeed the media hype created around Modi and the BJP taking over U.P. by storm is exactly what it is – A hype. A popular perception created by the sheer number of people thronging at his rallies in Varanasi. However, the media seems to have overlooked the intricate caste and communal politics that are forever at play in the rural areas of the state and the fact that a single constituency does not determine the vote of the entire state.
Uttar Pradesh has recorded a 55.56% polling percentage in the recently concluded fifth phase of polling. The day of reckoning is a week away and it remains to be seen who will emerge victorious in the most communally convoluted political state in the country- The Elephant, The Bicycle or The Lotus.