Simply Put: The story in Uttar Pradesh

A month before voting begins, UP is in flux, the political picture is even more complex than what the state has a reputation for.

Written by Sheela Bhatt | Updated: January 12, 2017 10:29 am
uttar pradesh elections, up polls, up elections, narendra modi, BJP, up politics, akhilesh yadav, mulayam singh yadav, yadav politics, yadav family politics, mayawati, BSP, rahul gandhi, samajwadi party, BJP BSP, indian express explained, up elections updates, india news Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have invested enormously in the Assembly elections that begin on February 11. Source: Praveen Khanna/File photo

The first phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election is now exactly a month away. It’ll be the most significant election since Narendra Modi’s sweep to power in 2014 — and one that could serve as an indication of how strong the Prime Minister might be as he makes his 2019 bid. It will also be the election that could see one among Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and BSP president Mayawati being either propelled into a higher political orbit or entering a phase of eclipse, even if temporary. And it will be the election that could either redeem Rahul Gandhi or deliver the final, damning verdict on his political effectiveness.

But the BJP has neither a chief ministerial face nor a list of candidates yet, the Samajwadi Party continues to go through bewildering convulsions that has split the cadre and produced two parallel lists of nominees, and both the Congress and BSP have been hamstrung by defections of major leaders.

Uttar Pradesh is in flux, and the political picture is even more complex than what it has a reputation for producing.

What is the BJP leadership thinking?

Modi and party president Amit Shah had expected the fight to boil down to BJP vs SP, but the acrimony within the state’s ruling party has thrown up the prospect of a BJP-BSP showdown. The BJP continues to bask in the glory of its 71 Lok Sabha seats — which translate into 337 Assembly seats. The BJP finds itself with perhaps 20 options in each of the 403 constituencies, a position it has never been in before the start of a campaign. Swami Prasad Maurya, once a pillar of the BSP and its leader in the Assembly, is now in the BJP. So is Dalbir Singh, who was the leader in the House for Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. Six MLAs of the Congress, 3 of the SP, and 13 of the BSP are now in the BJP. The Congress was humiliated by its former state president Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who joined the BJP in October 2016.

uttar pradesh elections, up polls, up elections, narendra modi, BJP, up politics, akhilesh yadav, mulayam singh yadav, yadav politics, yadav family politics, mayawati, BSP, rahul gandhi, samajwadi party, BJP BSP, indian express explained, up elections updates, india news Prime Minister Narendra Modi with MoS Manoj Sinha and UP BJP President Keshav Prasad Maurya waves at the party’s Parivarta Rally in Gazipur. (Source: PTI Photo)

The BJP’s caste strategy for 2017 does not differ significantly from 2014, other than factoring in the effects of the divisions in the SP. It is targeting non-Yadav OBCs, non-Jatav Dalits (the Jatavs are believed to be firmly behind the BSP), and Brahmins, Banias and Rajputs. Six major OBC communities who live along rivers — such as Kewats and Nishads — are likely to get their due this time.

Based on its socio-political and socio-economic assessments, the party has reached six major conclusions.

One, that the common man of UP, “the cleverest of all Indian voters”, believes “intensely” that the move to scrap high-denomination notes would benefit him. “Modi ne jo kiya usme mera faayda hai” — this is the heart of the voter’s assessment of demonetisation, according to top BJP leaders. “The average voter is not angry with Modi. He makes a distinction between Modi’s intention and the problems of implementation,” one of these top leaders said.

Two, Modi and Shah are acutely aware that UP is the “epicentre of underdeveloped India, where more than 75% people earn less than Rs 5,000 per month”. The party leadership has spent the last two years studying UP farmers, farming patterns and agricultural policies, and will include that understanding in crafting strategy. Modi and Shah are investing extraordinary effort in the state and remain acutely aware that those who hated their victory in 2014 would try their best to defeat them in 2017. The UP CM’s seat is a huge prize — he is, after the PM, the CEO of the largest chunk of India’s population, controls the most projects and government funding.

Three, the BJP is hoping Muslims would remain divided, since they trust Mulayam Singh Yadav more than Mayawati. Leaders of the community would ensure that SP is not decimated and “it’s a respectable defeat, if at all”, believes the BJP. And a split Muslim vote would mean Mayawati won’t get enough to overtake the BJP.

Bahujan Samaj Party Supremo Mayawati going back after addressed a press conference at her official residence in Lucknow on Tuesday. Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav. 27.12.2016. A split Muslim vote would mean Mayawati won’t get enough to overtake the BJP. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastav)

Four, the BJP is convinced that the infighting in the SP is not to grab power in the elections, but to seize control of the party — for now and after the election. The unseating of the ageing Mulayam as party president by Akhilesh was his “historic blunder”, the BJP believes — a “gustaakhi” the voter would never “tolerate”. While the BJP is watching out for Akhilesh’s possible alliance with other parties, including the Congress, it believes, for now, that its machinery would be more than a match for Akhilesh’s, minus his legendary father. In the pipeline is a vicious political attack on Akhilesh over his alleged hypocrisy in denouncing criminals and musclemen while accepting the support of similar people to remain in power and to kick out his father.

Five, according to the BJP, the voter’s mantra, ultimately, will be “Modi ke saath rehna hai.” But unlike in Bihar, it would put local leaders too on hoardings along with Modi and Shah.

Six, in the BJP’s assessment, Mayawati is not in the same league as her legendary mentor Kanshi Ram who began a “vaicharik andolan” — and she will not be able to persuade Muslims to back her.

Just what is going on in the SP?

It is still not clear, even though the BJP thinks Akhilesh Yadav has lost the plot. A school of thought believes it’s all noora kushti — a mock fight — between father and son, but just weeks ahead of the elections, its outcome looks far from fixed. Amar Singh and Shivpal Yadav think power has made Akhilesh arrogant — enough to turn him against the father and the uncle who nurtured him from the time he was a child, as well as his father’s best friend. In 2012, Mulayam’s dream was to have the beta on the gaddi in Lucknow and himself on the seat of power in Delhi. Modi was a faraway challenge then.

uttar pradesh elections, up polls, up elections, narendra modi, BJP, up politics, akhilesh yadav, mulayam singh yadav, yadav politics, yadav family politics, mayawati, BSP, rahul gandhi, samajwadi party, BJP BSP, indian express explained, up elections updates, india news Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav addresses party workers at party office in Lucknow on Wednesday. Senior party leader Shivpal Singh Yadav is also seen. (Source: PTI Photo)

But in 2014, Modi handed SP a hammering on its own turf, and Mulayam began to doubt Akhilesh’s political capabilities. This was the time when other characters came to exploit the faultlines in the father-son relationship. However, if the two hug and make up even now, a healthy triangular fight could follow. If Muslims are convinced that Mulayam-Akhilesh are serious, they should have no reason to desert their party. But the ongoing tussle has already bruised the SP badly.

And where does Mayawati stand in all of this?

There is no doubt that there has been a spring in Behenji’s step over the last few weeks. Even the BJP does not deny that she remains the dark horse — and no politician underestimates the power of the silent, poor voter. Besides Dalits and minorities, anti-BJP, anti-Modi, anti-SP voters, as well as disgruntled elements from other parties, all can help Mayawati. There is no doubt that the BSP suffers from a lack of field workers, and there has been an erosion of its Dalit leadership.

But should the voters of UP decide that the “regional character” of the state’s politics must be retained, and that “the national hero” Modi be denied entry in the Ganga belt, Mayawati could be the beneficiary. On the other hand, a defeat for her could deal a fatal blow to the legacy of Kanshi Ram.

Okay, so what is the big picture then, as of today?

For the BJP, victory in Uttar Pradesh is essential to withstand the turbulence and economic slowdown triggered by demonetisation. The party will be experimenting with Modi’s new pro-poor brand image which, in case of victory, will likely be retained for long. For non-BJP parties, especially the Congress, it’ll be do or die. They would like to ensure, in whatever way possible, that UP doesn’t go saffron — which will create a hopelessly uneven BJP-versus-the-rest field in 2019. This election may not be decided on a negative vote, such as the 2012 anti-incumbency that helped the SP defeat Mayawati — the voter may be weighing who to vote in, rather than whether to vote the SP out. Their choice will be influenced by caste, as well as the charisma of Modi.

The BJP’s biggest weakness is that despite the many options apparently available to it, it does not have enough “suitable, resourceful and winning candidates” for all 403 seats. The SP and BSP, on the other hand, have a long list of experienced candidates who have fought many elections. Also, Shah’s confidence notwithstanding, many party leaders, both in UP and at the Centre, are fearful of the adverse impact of the unfolding economic slowdown. They think it is the X-factor of this election.

sheela.bhatt@expressindia.com

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  1. A
    Ash
    Jan 28, 2017 at 6:26 pm
    Typical BJP arrogance.No proof provided that Modi's credibility still intact.lt;br/gt;Don't know why they attempt to sway opinion here.After all we are not s nor blind to the state of the economy.lt;br/gt;Promised transparency:instead still trying to figure out how much money has come back,how and who and when was this ban proposed Everything shrouded in secrecy.lt;br/gt;For Governance,the govt thinks it's more important to control what we can eat rather than focus on education or health.lt;br/gt;Perhaps it's best they stay away from education.There will be less damage.
    Reply
    1. A
      Ag
      Jan 12, 2017 at 9:57 am
      prime minister busy in embly election no other thing to do reach utter pradesh once again to give RS 15 lakh to poor people.
      Reply
      1. R
        Rajat
        Jan 12, 2017 at 11:32 am
        But people are nonetheless scared of musli people.
        Reply
        1. R
          Rajat
          Jan 12, 2017 at 11:31 am
          Haha. एक और .
          Reply
          1. S
            Shensha
            Jan 13, 2017 at 5:38 am
            Bjp is old wine in new bottle modi is gud in amarketing with ambanis adanis biyanis and all rigjt wong orgsmisationd cadre going after minorities it is trying to lt;br/gt;to polorise hindutva voters
            Reply
            1. T
              Tinku
              Jan 12, 2017 at 1:58 am
              BJP ki chamcha.
              Reply
              1. U
                Up k
                Jan 12, 2017 at 7:54 am
                Obc are given more seats than muslims by bsp and upper casts are given 116 seats my mayawati !
                Reply
                1. B
                  bishad
                  Jan 12, 2017 at 9:04 pm
                  "Mitron" is going to loose for sure.
                  Reply
                  1. V
                    Venkatraman Shenoy
                    Jan 12, 2017 at 6:00 am
                    The article hides more than it reveals, which is that the BJP is gaining in the social, economic and political spheres in UP. Dalit votes are no more enblock, SP is hopelessly divided and lost. BSP by giving maximum seats to Muslims, has only made the voters' concerns more acute and looking at WB, nobody wants a Muslim ascendancy and consequent social and religious tension all over again. The sum total is that the bJP may rom home with around 260-280 seats.
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      Anon
                      Jan 12, 2017 at 11:23 am
                      Demonitization is evillt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Fighting curroption is copy righted to AAP, anyone else who does it or even attempts it will face the twitter wrath of Kejriwal. We will bring democracy to India, one tweet and one complaint at a time.
                      Reply
                      1. M
                        Mahender Goriganti
                        Jan 12, 2017 at 5:23 pm
                        Did anybody notice how the armchair political pundit avoided to analyze how the Muslim block vote will but suggested that Muslims should vote SP because of Mullah-Y-am.
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                        1. M
                          Mahender Goriganti
                          Jan 12, 2017 at 5:18 pm
                          It is funny !! after all this armchair pundit analysis and theories has thrown in es that "unfolding economic slowdown". Where is the slow down?? what does all the GDP, growth economy etc means to an average person in UP??
                          Reply
                          1. H
                            Hari
                            Jan 13, 2017 at 12:03 pm
                            Why are people voting for corrupt and incapable leaders who earned enormous wealth as revealed by medias ? Why is Central govt not arresting those leaders and seizing all their ets? Why govt is not promulgating stringent anti-corruption law for the min. 15 years sentence and seizure of all ets rather than taking flop step like DEMONETIZATION? The regional parties are corrupt and non-performing which are run by an individual for self-enrichment and dynasty politics like Congress. These parties are coming to power due to illiterate and irresponsible voters who are not aware of performance of these regional and smaller parties which have flourished due to corrupt practices and failure of national party especially Congress which promoted mive corruption since independence. BJP also failed to provide honest and efficient governance wherever its govt was formed in past for shorter period. In view of above facts, the people must stop voting to Congress, regional and smaller parties owned by individual for dynasty politics. BJP must serve people with clean, efficient and good governance especially in BJP ruled states. BJP has the chance to win future elections. The public cannot believe false promises of BJP leaders who are deceiving people after winning elections as happened in JHARKHAND AND LOK SABHA ELECTION WHEN CORRUPT GOVT IS FORMED UNDER INCAPABLE REGHUBAR DAS AND CORRUPTION IS MAIN AGENDA OF STATE GOVT WHICH cost BJP DEARLY IN BIHAR.
                            Reply
                            1. M
                              Mohammed Yunus
                              Jan 12, 2017 at 1:07 pm
                              But BSP does not stand any closer chance near Akhilesh.
                              Reply
                              1. M
                                Mohammed Yunus
                                Jan 12, 2017 at 1:06 pm
                                But Khayawati seems to be out of the game even if she gets some Muslim votes
                                Reply
                                1. M
                                  Mohammed Yunus
                                  Jan 12, 2017 at 1:07 pm
                                  But politicians know how to make best use of all.
                                  Reply
                                  1. N
                                    Nayak
                                    Jan 13, 2017 at 4:33 am
                                    dream on
                                    Reply
                                    1. N
                                      Nayak
                                      Jan 12, 2017 at 1:28 pm
                                      Only people who have previously living on govt. schemes with no capacity to earn a livelihood are waiting for 15 lakhs.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;rest of india is just doing fine.
                                      Reply
                                      1. A
                                        aadmi
                                        Jan 12, 2017 at 3:28 am
                                        BJP corruption has culminated and demonetization has been proved biggest scam of independent India. Modi's credibility is lost. Poor are extremely angry at modi government. Media is acting like lap dog
                                        Reply
                                        1. R
                                          rajan
                                          Jan 13, 2017 at 12:04 am
                                          Don't hide your real Id, Mr. Fake.
                                          Reply
                                          1. R
                                            rajan luthra
                                            Jan 12, 2017 at 12:44 pm
                                            Communal canines are on the front in BJP campaign. It has nothing to show on the economic front. So, the same time worn strategy in UP elections. UP electorate like that of Bihar is wise enough to not fall into the trap of false promises and tall claims. Opposition should see light of the day if they want to thwart communal forces.
                                            Reply
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