With Amit Shah on one side and Madhusudan Mistry on the other,Uttar Pradesh is gearing up to be the battleground for the proxy Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi clash.
Both Shah and Mistry belong to Gujarat and the two are said to have the ears of Modi and Rahul,respectively. While Mistry,given the charge of Uttar Pradesh on Sunday,is yet to visit the state in his new capacity,Shah gave a glimpse of his plans in a recent three-day visit to Lucknow.
In meetings with party workers and leaders,Shah asked them to move out into the field,develop the organisation and popularise the development model of the Gujarat CM. He will be spending 20 days every month in UP,indicating the importance Modi attaches to this politically crucial state.
The task before Shah is tall. The last time the BJP did well in UP was in 1998 when it won 58 Lok Sabha seats here. That was the year Atal Behari Vajpayee first became the prime minister. Since then the party has been on a downhill slide,winning just 10 Lok Sabha seats out of 80 in UP in 2009.
BJP leaders attribute the decline to three factors: the Ram Mandir issue losing its shine; two,the rise of caste-based politics in the form of the Samajwadi Party and BSP; and differences among senior BJP leaders like between Vajpayee and the partys then Hindutva and OBC face Kalyan Singh. Shah has so far worked only in Gujarat,which has a bipolar polity,divided between the BJP and Congress. Can he counter the appeal of parties like the SP and BSP?
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Shah talked of capitalising on anti-incumbency against the governments at the Centre and state,spoke of appeasement of Muslims by the SP government,and re-emphasised Modis development agenda. One thing is clear party workers went home enthused after Shahs meetings,where he talked about making programmes by the party in UP more aggressive and effective. As the SP raised the Godhra riots to counter Shah,others saw a gainful polarisation of the Hindu vote. BJP leaders who had been complaining of being ignored also felt placated at the end of the visit. Shah called on senior leaders like Kalyan Singh,Kalraj Mishra and Vinay Katiyar after taking due appointment.
Lalmani is senior correspondent based in Lucknow