This February and March, 14 crore voters of India’s most populous state are all set to elect the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It is believed that the road to Delhi’s throne passes through Uttar Pradesh. After all, it was Uttar Pradesh which made Narendra Modi invincible with 73 seats in the general elections of 2014.
Many things are at stake for various political leaders in these elections. The ongoing tussle within the Yadav family and the Indian National Congress (INC)-Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance has further made the dangal of elections interesting. What remains to be seen is which party claims the throne, since UP occupies a central stage in national politics. A victory for BJP would further make it more assertive in the centre and would give a big boost to Modi’s brawny image. For Mayawati, it is time for her to regain her significance in the state, especially since she was unable to open her account in the 2014 elections. These elections will be a litmus test for the SP scion Akhilesh Yadav, who has successfully projected himself as a leader capable of governing the state without party stalwart Mulayam Singh Yadav. For Rahul Gandhi, a loss in the elections can prove to be the last nail in the coffin after criticism by his political opponents and also from within his party, for continuous political debacles.
The BJP initially started this poll campaign on the development agenda but ultimately ended up talking about catchy and putrid issues such as that of Ram mandir (temple), Love Jihad, anti-Romeo squads, Kairana exodus, etc. The issue of triple talaq, which was raked up just some months ago before elections is seen as a polarising tactic by many. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be repeating the same mistakes it did in the Bihar elections, i.e, of not declaring the chief ministerial candidate. Perhaps, it is trying to avoid direct comparison with UP’s heavyweights such as Akhilesh and Mayawati, who are still popular. The biggest issues that can haunt BJP in these elections is the inability to woo Dalits and Jats, who largely voted for it in 2014 and of course, demonetisation.
Dalits have been traditionally a vote bank of Mayawati, but many of them chose BJP in the previous elections. Yet, incidents like the suicide of Rohith Vemula and the beatings of Dalits in Una district by Gau Rakshaks have drifted this community away from it. Jats also supported the BJP previously, thanks to the polarisation due to the Muzaffarnagar riots. The biggest loser due to this was the Rashtriya Lok Dal which survives due to the Jat vote bank. Yet, this time it seems really difficult for the party to re-establish the connect with the community, given the party’s inability to address the issue of quota demands for Jats.
No matter how strongly BJP denies it, but these elections will be seen as a referendum on Modi’s demonetisation move, which pulled back 86% of the circulating currency from the market. The worst sufferers of this move were small traders and farmers as the currency crisis hit them the most. A win in the state might give Modi an impetus to take even harsher decisions and to further enhance its tally in the Rajya Sabha, whereas losing here would make the party think about its strategy of not declaring a chief ministerial candidate.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo, Mayawati, is conspicuous by her absence. Some suggest that she is silently working with her cadres on the ground, while some suggest that the party has lost its sheen. Given that pre-poll surveys have always been underestimating Mayawati’s capabilities, she is in a position to pull off surprises in these elections. Mayawati won the 2007 elections by her social engineering of Sarvajan Hitay, Sarvajan Sukhay, i.e., by bringing together Dalits, most backward classes (MBCs) and upper castes. But this time, she is desperately trying to make a formidable Muslim-Dalit alliance which could pave the way for her to reach the magical figure of 202 seats.
If ground reports and trends are to be believed, Muslim voters have generally favour to vote for a party which is in its best position to defeat the BJP. So, it will be no surprise to see Muslims backing the SP-Congress alliance. Whatever may be the results, they will determine the BSP and Mayawati’s significance in the state as well as national politics.
After trailing for months before elections, SP has bounced back with a new vigour thanks to the political masterstroke of forming an alliance with the Congress, in hope of preventing the division of Muslim votes. Akhilesh Yadav has been able to get rid of the baggage of his performance he carried, by sidelining his father and his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav. He has very carefully crafted a narrative where he is being credited for whatever he has delivered, whereas whatever his government failed to deliver is laid at the door of his uncle and his father. Akhilesh may prove to be a magnetic force in wooing young voters. If changing trends are to be believed, the young voters are more likely to change their votes between elections very easily. This could be particularly useful for him, as the young voters, irrespective of their caste, might vote overwhelmingly in his favour.
As far as the Congress is concerned, it is a win-win situation for it right now, not only because it got to contest on more seats than expected, but if successful, it would give the party a momentum to bounce back in the 2019 elections. Congress has lately understood that it needs regional alliances more than ever before and is repeating its Bihar strategy of forming a mahagatbandhan. The SP-Congress alliance could be further projected as a formidable alternative against the BJP in the next general elections.
The results are going to have a huge impact on national politics and the future policies of the central power. We all now look forward to March 11, when the results would be declared.