By Sumit Jain:
Popularly known as the mini-Lok Sabha of India, UP will go for elections next year. A state which sends 80 MPs (in the lower house of 543) and has over 15% of the population of the country is bound to have paramount importance. Arguably the results of it will set the tone for 2019 general elections.
For the average voter, there are largely four options available on the ballot. These are Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress. While SP is currently in power, BSP with Mayawati is likely to be the main challenger next year. BJP won 71/80 seats in the 2014 general elections so it is also very hopeful about these elections. Congress, however, hasn’t tasted power in the state since 1989. While all these parties have their pros and cons, I would like to shed some light on some key points.
SP, headed by Akhilesh Yadav, formed the government in 2012 with a promise of good governance. At the age of 38, Mr. Yadav was the youngest person to hold the office and brought some good proposals like distribution of laptops and cycles to a target crowd. But as it turned out, he was too young for the esteemed office. The party failed terribly to control the riots in Muzaffarnagar (in 2013) and completely lost touch with law and order overall. The recent incident in Mathura spoke volumes about the condition of the police in the state, let alone common people. On top of that, filling the state cabinet with Yadavs (Akhilesh Yadav, Shivpal Yadav, Balram Yadav) combined with the general perception that SP government appeases the ‘Yadav’ community is likely to not work in favour of the party.
BSP, which practically starts and ends at Mayawati, is known for its pro-Dalit image. While the party has to be commended for some terrific work it has done for the upliftment of Dalits (UP is a highly caste-divided community which considers Dalits as ‘untouchables’), its ever-increasing demand for reservations has stopped making sense. An Indian guy working in a multi-national firm is most likely not to apply for a government job just because he hates reservations. For two candidates who come from almost the same community background with the same pool of resources, there cannot be a more illogical demand than reservation based on caste. The (in)famous call of Mayawati for reservations in the private sector might not go well with the ‘general’ category people which can lead to her failure at the ballot.
The party in power at the Centre (BJP) which likes to roll the China way (riding on economy figures and thrashing everything from student protests to secularism which comes in between), has been split apart by now. Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP enjoyed an overwhelming mandate from the people in 2014 and was expected to deliver corruption-free governance. While it also has to be lauded for the connect it has established with the people (mainly through social media), the party’s worst area of performance (safeguarding secularism), has been openly revealed. BJP tried its best to communalise the environment during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots with Sangeet Som (MLA from BJP) playing a dubious role. The recent ‘migration’ issue in Kairana raised by its MP Hukum Singh, and the elevation of Anupriya Patel (infamous for her anti-Muslim tweet which might generate a negative perception even though it may have been from a fake handle) as cabinet minister as elections are approaching might be perceived as further attempts by the party to ride on the anti-Muslim sentiment. If UP has to remain a peaceful society (in the communal context) with inclusive growth for its people, BJP needs to be shown the door, or, at least, that’s what many of the voters must be thinking.
Finally, comes the Grand Old Party of India. Known for its pro-poor schemes, Congress has been out of power for almost three decades in the state. Its humiliating defeat in 2014 and subsequent losses in state assembly elections worsened the situation. ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ and corruption were something every Indian was able to relate to. But on the other hand, there are reasons why UP might just give the Congress more seats, if not a mandate to rule. It is the only party (from the options available) which has an empowered youth wing (Indian Youth Congress) with a big leader like Rahul Gandhi at its helm. Besides, its pro-poor policies like MNREGA and support for minimum support price in many places in India might make it attractive to the poor voter.
Taunted as one of the most undeveloped states, UP needs development for its poor as well as youth desperately. If Congress’ leaders were a part of the 2G and Coal scams, they have already been punished. A new UP Congress team, headed by actor-turned-politician Raj Babbar with the time-tested Ghulam Nabi Azad posted as incharge, seems rejuvenated to take on its rivals. The recent welcome given by the party workers to Sheila Dikshit and Raj Babbar is a strong testament to this. The wisdom of governance and the experience in politics it has, many would argue, are still unmatched. A ‘Congress-Yukt Bharat’ might not seem like a bad idea to the voter in UP this time.
Featured image credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images.