The next 12 months before the focus will totally shift towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid, are not going to be a wait-and-watch period but a season for intense inter-party as well as intra-party struggles in Uttar Pradesh politics which will help shape the outcome of 2019.
BJP: UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will be the most keenly-watched figure during the next one year. The hopes of his party’s continuing success and those of a revival in the Opposition’s fortunes rest on how his government and his party perform and are perceived.
Two months of the Adityanath government have not sent out any strong message on any of the issues which were part of the BJP’s campaign—an improved law-and-order situation and better administration headed that list of promises. The clash between Dalits and Kshatriyas in Saharanpur, several instances of vigilantism in the name of cow protection or moral policing and the run-ins of BJP leaders, including legislators, with police and administration officials have hindered the new government’s attempts to send out the right signals on “good governance”.
The government has not announced any major scheme or big-ticket infrastructure project other than the farm loan waiver. These are likely to be addressed when the government presents its maiden budget in the next few months. Adityanath has said that two months is a too short a period to showcase any achievements.
Law-and-order and governance, however, remain the primary challenges for Adityanath. It will be a herculean task to change the attitude of the bureaucracy down to the lowest levels and make the government machinery responsive to the needs of the public. Adityanath will need to begin the process of change and show tangible results, soon, in order to satisfy those who voted for the BJP, and to stave off anti-incumbency sentiment before the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for 2019.
As head of the Gorakhnath Peeth, Adityanath has often associated himself with Kshatriya symbols. He is surrounded by Kshatriyas mostly and he has supported Thakur leaders of other parties too — in 2013, he came out in support of Kunda MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya who was accused of conspiring to kill a deputy SP.
BSP chief Mayawati has alleged that Dalits, OBCs as well as forward caste Brahmins are facing “atrocities” in the state, an attempt to associate Adityanath and his government with Kshatriyas only. In UP, appointments in the state bureaucracy are often seen from the angle of caste representation. Any perception that a particular caste is becoming dominant will hurt the government which has come to power on the slogan of “getting rid of casteism”. The dominance of one or two castes or the neglect of any particular social group could make the BJP vulnerable in the coming elections.
Adityanath will have to present himself and his government as the representative of, if not all sections of the society, then at least all Hindus, blurring caste lines to hold together his party’s existing support base of disparate social backgrounds. The next test for the party will be the forthcoming urban local bodies’ elections which for the first time are likely to be contested by all mainstream parties on their official symbols.
BSP: On Tuesday, Mayawati went to Saharanpur to meet Dalit victims of the clash between Kshatriyas and Dalits. She had made a few similar trips after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections’ rout but then stopped. Left with only 19 MLAs who are not enough to help her to remain an MP or member of the state legislature, she needs to reinvent herself. The surprising support for the little-known youth leader Chandrashekhar of the Bhim Army from Jatavs in Saharanpur may work to the BSP’s immediate advantage but it also indicates that the core support base of the party is no longer satisfied with the way the BSP represents its interests.
This month, the BSP lost another long-time leader in Naseemuddin Siddiqui. Though, he is not a mass leader, his departure strengthens the feeling that that the BSP is in tatters. On one hand the party is facing a challenge to hold on to its 19 MLAs, on the other it is finding it increasingly difficult to reach out to non-Jatav castes.
SP: Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav has age on his side and total control of the party, which with 47 MLAs, is the principal opposition party in the state at the moment. However, he is still struggling with the continuing family feud that has turned his uncle Shivpal Yadav against him and made his father Mulayam Singh Yadav an unpredictable critic. Persistent opposition from Shivpal seems to indicate that he is unlikely to remain in the SP much longer, now that he has been sidelined. With Akhilesh in no mood to accommodate him, he could make his move before the 2019 election campaign begins.
Congress: Left with a mere seven MLAs, the only option before the Congress is to state rebuilding the party from scratch with radical changes, something the party appears unable to do at this time. That makes it rest its hopes on a likely alliance with the SP and a less likely grand alliance with the SP and BSP in 2019.
With the opposition parties fighting for survival, the BJP has the upper hand in UP. However, any missteps by its 312 MLAs and 71 MPs could spell trouble. Also, being in power at the Centre and in the state, will blunt the impact of its rhetoric against the Opposition.