Updated: January 11, 2022 4:08:38 pm
The upcoming polls in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s politically most-important state, will be the first Assembly elections for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) firebrand Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister. It is going to be crucial for Adityanath as well as his key rivals including Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati.
In the previous UP Assembly polls in 2017, when the Akhilesh-led SP was in power, the rival parties such as then main Opposition BSP had campaigned against the Akhilesh government over issues like law and order and corruption. The BJP had then focused on its “appeasement of Muslims” plank by raking up Muzaffarnagar riots and alleged exodus of Hindus from Kairana.
In the run-up to the February-March 2022 UP polls, the major contenders ranged against the BJP, including the principal Opposition SP, BSP and Congress have been seeking to target the Adityanath government over a variety of issues such as farmer propblems, law and order, price rise, and the BJP government’s alleged mishandling of the Covid pandemic, among others.
The BJP’s campaign plank is based on two major issues — the development works carried out by the Adityanath government and Hindutva.
The saffron party has been showcasing the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, which has already started, as its “major accomplishment”. At the same time, top BJP leaders, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, party national president J P Nadda and CM Adityanath, have been going after the SP and demanding its apology over police firing on karsevaks in Ayodhya in 1990 during the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government.
They have also been targeting SP president Akhilesh Yadav for his purported remark praising Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
In their recent rallies in different parts of UP, the leading BJP campaigners have stepped up their attempts to raise polarising issues. In his rallies, Shah has raked up the names of Muslim Opposition leaders, such as jailed SP leader Azam Khan, jailed BSP MLA Mukhtar Ansari, and Congress leaders, Imran Masood and Naseemuddin Siddiqui, to target their parties.
At a public meeting in Amethi, CM Adityanath said he does no have any hesitation in saying “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” (proudly say that I am a Hindu).
In a bid to make the elections bipolar between the BJP and the SP, the leaders of the ruling camp are targeting Akhilesh more than the BSP and the Congress leaders, calculating that if Muslim votes gravitate to the BSP, the latter, with their Dalit support base, might pose a bigger challenge to the saffron party.
Just a couple of days ahead of the Election Commission’s Saturday announcement of the Assembly poll schedule, the Adityanath government announced a reduction in power tariff for private tube wells both in rural and urban areas. The announcement came after the SP and the AAP promised free power for farmers and free electricity of 300 units per month for domestic users.
In view of the Opposition’s assault on the BJP over alleged Covid second wave bungling, the Adityanath government is also highlighting its moves to set up new medical colleges and AIIMS centres as well as expressways during its tenure, comparing it with the previous SP government’s alleged “lacklustre track record” on these counts.
Adityanath has emerged as the tallest BJP leader in UP and his government has been unleashing a publicity blitz over the last five years. He has toured every district and visited most of the Assembly segments in the state in five years. Over the past two months, he has focused on the seats where the BJP had lost in the 2017 polls. He has announced that he would contest the Assembly polls. The BJP had won 312 seats in the 2017 polls and has set a target to cross the 300 mark again in the 2022 polls in alliance with the Apna Dal (Soneylal) and Nishad Party.
SP chief Akhilesh is seeking a mandate by wooing non-Yadav OBCs by forging alliances with smaller parties such as the Mahan Dal, Janwadi Socialist Party and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), which was a BJP ally in 2017.
The SP has also tied up with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which could help the former in getting votes in the farming belt of Western UP. Over a dozen sitting MLAs from the BSP and the BJP besides several prominent OBC leaders from the BSP have joined the SP in recent months. The SP had won a comfortable majority in 2012 when it had contested alone. Its tally had however plunged to 47 in the 403-member UP Assembly in 2017 when it had forged an alliance with the Congress.
It is also going to be high-stakes elections for Mayawati. After losing two consecutive Assembly polls in 2012 and 2017, the BSP has now gone back to its strategy of “creating bhaichara (brotherhood) between Dalits and Brahmins”.
In 2007, when the BSP had won the majority and Mayawati had become the UP CM for the fourth time, the party had successfully implemented this “bhaichara” strategy.
Months before the 2022 polls, Mayawati deployed party national general secretary S C Misra to reach out to Brahmins and Dalits to recreate that social combination. She is also trying to extend the “bhaichara” of Dalits with Jats, Muslims and OBCs.
The BSP had won 206 seats in 2007, but had come down to 80 seats in 2012. The party could barely manage to win 19 seats in the 2017 polls.
The Congress continues to be in political wilderness in UP where it has remained out of power for over three decades. Led by AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the party is looking for its revival in the key state. The party, which does not have a core support base among any caste groups or communities, has sought to centre its campaign around women voters. No party has shown any interest in joining hands with the Congress, which had got just 7 seats in 2017 when it had allied with the SP. Unlike previous elections, former Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi is missing, at least so far, from the poll campaign in the state.
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