UP faces Epic Battle

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Azam Khan with Mulayam Singh & Akhilesh Yadav 2In the wake of the announcement of election to state assemblies in five states by the Election Commission, all political parties have started making preparations in right earnest.

Uttar Pradesh enjoys a unique place of importance in the Indian political firmament. Being the largest state, UP sends 403 members to the state assembly and one-fifth to the Lok Sabha. The upcoming election would not only decide as to which party will call the shots in the state, but will also be a forerunner to the 2019 parliamentary elections.

It could probably decide the ‘CM Se PM Tak’ (from CM to PM) route and have a major say in the presidential polls due in 2017. In the outgoing assembly, Samajwadi Party (SP) had 229 seats, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 80 seats, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 41seats, Congress 28 seats and others 23 seats. Perceptibly, the stakes of the contesting parties this time around are higher.

Samajwadi Party

Prior to the advent of factionalism within SP, its prospects of returning to power were bright and in its aftermath, the party got divided into two factions — one headed by SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav and the other by his son and outgoing Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. Undoubtedly, efforts are underway to patch up differences between the father-son duo and contest the forthcoming polls as a united face; nevertheless, chances seem dim.

Both factions have staked claim to the party’s ‘cycle’ symbol claiming they were the real Samajwadi Party; however, the Election Commission is reportedly studying the claims of both factions and will decide after taking a view based on precedents and set principles. Some experts have said that as an interim measure, the commission may freeze the ‘cycle’ symbol and ask the two factions to contest the assembly polls on new symbols.

Even as this story goes to press, Mulayam and and Akhilesh have led separate delegations to the EC to present their side of the power struggle and claim the symbol for their faction. The commission will take a final decision on January 13.

Akhilesh-faction enjoys prominence over the rival faction as he is able to relate to the youth. His schemes include distributing laptops and tablets, besides a promise of smart-phones if brought back to power goes down well the people, especially the youth. Akhilesh in general is also considered a far better politician in the province.

What could, however, work in favour of Akhilesh is his personal image, development of the state, including mega projects, fulfillment of manifesto promises, distribution of laptops and other sops and the promise of free smartphones. However, factors pertaining to law and order, communal riots, anti-incumbency, ongoing family feud and, probably, voters’ desire for change may go against his faction.
Some experts feel that Muslims are watching the power struggle in the SP. Though the SP remains their first choice, they have an option as well. An alliance between the SP and Congress can elicit large chunk of Muslim votes.

Bahujan Samaj Party

The BSP led by Mayawati was considered a strong claimant for the chief minister’s post till it was hit by an exodus of senior leaders from the party. The BSP is not new to splits and can still sail through provided Mayawati is able to convince Muslims that the exodus has not impacted her party’s health. Secondly, she is not the only claimant for anti-incumbency votes. The BJP is actively making inroads. Undoubtedly, a majority of Muslims feel Mulayam is better than Mayawati, but they fear a BSP victory can prompt its leader to shake hands with the BJP.

Many BSP sympathisers have one common complaint that its leaders seldom come back to their constituency. Muslims do realise that their vote-share splitting between the SP and BSP will help the BJP. And yet, the community’s electoral psychology doesn’t work the same way for assembly and general elections. Some experts opine that Mayawati’s vote-base of Dalits and allied segments is still intact. She is known for working silently with her cadres spread across the state.

One analyst opines that Mayawati still holds a chunk of her Dalit vote-base intact, though upper caste votes (which had shifted from the Congress to the BJP after the 1992 Ayodhya demolition) are partly in flux. Another expert says that the Congress has some latitude to play with in terms of alliances and if Congress goes with the SP, the UP political scene will change,especially in view of the fact that the Congress lost in 47 seats in the last election was with a margin of 5,000 votes. The Muslim vote will be crucial factor in deciding BSP’s fate.

BJP

BJP is ironically facing the challenge of being the party with no face. The problem has been compounded in recent weeks with polls showing Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav to be the most popular candidate for CM. The BJP plans to make anti-incumbency a big factor in the elections. It’s another matter the party is yet to highlight a big issue or put up a credible face. The party’s last big local face was Kalyan Singh. Today, the BJP is trying to utilise the OBC support base of Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal and also rebel BSP leader OP Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party in eastern UP.

BJP now finds itself in a spot of trouble because declaring a CM candidate at this stage would upset the carefully constructed social coalition of upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs. The party does not have a strong local face in the same league as the others.

The BJP appears to be hinging more on fragmentation of Muslim vote bank in as many compartments as possible. Demonetisation has left the BJP’s traditional vote-base, the Vaishya community, feel like they’ve been stabbed in the back. However, their trump card is PM Modi who remains a popular figure in the state.

The BJP’s latest gamble — demonetisation, seen by party as a national movement against corruption and black money — at the same time, has raised the hopes of the people of getting a share in the recovered black money. In case the BJP delivers on its promise of sharing black money with the masses, they will sweep the polls.

Congress Party

The Congress has been making desperate efforts to revive the party in the state it ruled for four decades. Since 1990 it has been living with a tag of an ‘also ran party’. It’s efforts to do a miracle, a la Bihar in UP, can only bear fruits by having an alliance with Akhilesh-led SP. Some efforts are on to forge an alliance between the Congress, SP, RLD, RJD and JD (U) that can reach the winning margin if not 300 seats as claimed by Akhilesh; nevertheless, in case of no alliance, the Congress will have to accept the smaller player’s role in the state. It will retain its fourth position till it finds a viable poll partner.

Prospects

Opinion polls have been divided on the outcome of UP assembly polls thus far. The opinion poll conducted by India Today-Axis between October and December last year gives the BJP a clear majority of 206-216 seats, for ruling SP 92-97 seats followed by the BSP with 79-85 seats and the Congress 5-9 seats. The ABP News-Lokniti-CSDS survey predicts 129-139 seats for the BJP, 141-15i seats for SP and 93-103 seats for the BSP followed by 13-19 seats for Congress. Experts lament at the role of electronic media, especially in terms of opinion polls, for these polls have failed to read the mind of the Indian electorate, first in Bihar and perhaps now in UP, which is Hindi heartland and cow-belt region where caste factor plays a crucial role.The BJP is seen as the best organised, with messages from top leaders being transmitted efficiently to the cadres, nonetheless, it has no CM face. SP is embroiled in a family feud. The Congress is better set this time, but is still unsure of itsalliance with the SP. So the prospects of a hung assembly in UP seem bright.

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