UP Assembly Polls 2017: The Chess Game has begun

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Panchayat Power HRD Minister Smriti Irani at a Rashtriya Panchayati Raj Day event
Panchayat Power HRD Minister Smriti Irani at a Rashtriya Panchayati Raj Day event

Did you know there is a Rashtriya Panchayati Raj Day? It might not be as well known as Mother’s Day or World Yoga Day but it has recently become a byword in villages of Uttar Pradesh. That’s because on the occasion of Panchayati Raj Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi injected new life into his high profile campaign Gram Uday Se Bharat Uday Abhiyan, (Village Rising to India Rising).

UP sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha and 31 MPs to the Rajya Sabha, making it politically important through sheer strength of numbers. In the 2014 general election, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates won their seats, a big reason for the NDA coming to power at the Centre. In the last Assembly poll held in 2012, however, regional forces asserted themselves. The battle was fought between the incumbent Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), which won 80 and 224 seats respectively. The BJP won only 47.

No wonder, a year before Assembly elections are due in the state, the last week of April saw the BJP organising village meetings, popularly known as chaupals, across Uttar Pradesh to spread the message of Prime Minister’s live telecast Mann Ki Baat, in which he speaks to the grassroots level. More than a dozen central Cabinet ministers fanned across the state and simultaneously attended planned gatherings in various prominent places to spread the message given by Modi through live telecasts. They were entrusted with the job of reaching rural folks and highlighting achievements of the Modi government, beside overseeing poll preparations for the coming elections.

The roll call was as follows:

♦ BJP president Amit Shah, Loni Block in Ghaziabad
♦ Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Varanasi
♦ HRD Minister Smriti Irani, Amethi
♦ MSME Minister Kalraj Mishra, Deoria
♦ Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, Jhansi
♦ Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi, Pilibhit
♦ Minister of State for Human Resource Development Ram Shankar Katheria, Agra
♦ Minister of State for Agriculture Sanjiv Balyan, Mathura
♦ Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha, Ghazipur
♦ Textile Minister Santosh Gangwar, Bareilly
♦ Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (retd) VK Singh, Ghaziabad
♦ Minister of State for Food Processing Sadhvi Niranjna Jyoti, Bahraich

That’s how serious the party is about developing a rural connect. BJP has a strong base in urban areas but at village level, it is lagging behind SP and BSP, which have a sizeable presence on the back of caste chemistry. The BJP says its strategy is to campaign on developmental issues at the lowest level.

Vigorously chasing the Hindutva agenda in the state for a long time, the saffron party could not gain power on its chosen planks, including Ram Temple issue, Love Jihad, Ghar Wapsi (Return Home), Cow Slaughter, Beef Eating, Nationalism and Vande Mataram, Lately, their leadership felt that such politics will not fetch the desired dividends in the caste-ridden politics of the state.

Now the BJP has drastically changed its strategy. Public awareness has forced it to join the race on development issues. At the same time, the social engineering ploy is on to give an upper hand to OBC leaders in the party by sidelining the Brahmin leadership for a while.

Leaving aside its core agenda driven by RSS ideology, newly nominated state party chief Keshav Prasad Mourya chanted the development mantra in his first media briefing. Mourya has been close associate of the late leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Ashok Singhal and comes from the most backward classes under OBC. He, interestingly, represents Phulpur constituency in the Lok Sabha, the constituency once held by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a proponent of secular values and leftist ideology.

Caste and communal combinations used to be determining factors to win the polls in a passionately charged atmosphere leading to polarisation of votes on a large scale. But now people are fed up with such dispensations and well-versed in the acrimonious political game to usurp power just to befool them. They know that such practices are not beneficial for society. In the end, as in the beginning, there is only one aspiration of the people — development with good governance.

Uttar Pradesh has seen two successive governments of BSP and SP, on whom the people bestowed an overwhelming majority. They were given ample opportunities to perform and show results on the development count, to no avail. It will now be interesting to watch whether it makes a hat-trick or lead for a fractured mandate and revive an era of coalition politics once again.(not clear. Who is making a hat-trick?)

The shift of votes is inevitable in view of mounting disillusionment visible among the masses due to politics of opportunism. This phenomenon is forcing them to adopt a rebellious attitude against those who have entered into unprincipled tactical alliances by compromising ideology. It did work in attracting minorities to achieve power with a thumping majority.

There is no word from Congress Party and Bharatiya Janata Party as to who will be their chief ministerial candidate, confusing the electorate about their inner leadership conflicts. Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, meanwhile, has reinforced confidence in his son Akhilesh Yadav to be its chief ministerial candidate. There is no conflict in Bahujan Samaj Party over its chief ministerial candidate as Mayawati is unquestionable leader of the party if it comes to power.