Punjab and Goa were never going to matter much. In Punjab, the BJP is a junior partner in the incumbent coalition. The heat is on the Akali Dal and the AAP is the new kid on the block. The test here is for the Congress. If it can win an outright majority, it will be the first break the Congress has had practically since 2014, if not 2009. It will be an achievement for Captain Amarinder Singh, though the credit will be given to Rahul Gandhi. But it is likely that no party may get an absolute majority in Punjab with the AAP playing a spoiler. Then the blame would be put on the Captain. Like the Pope, the Gandhi family is infallible.
But these are sideshows. The real game has always been Uttar Pradesh. Except briefly during Morarji Desai’s term and then the UDF/LDF days, the Prime Minister was from UP. Manmohan Singh broke that rule by giving Assam the pride of place. Now we are back to normal with the MP from Varanasi. The BJP has to emerge as the largest single if not the majority party in UP come March 11. UP, like Bihar, is a backward casteist pit where jaatis proliferate. The vote banks are many and the winning strategy of a party has to accommodate this backwardness.
Few people realised in 2014 that sitting alone in Ahmedabad, Narendra Modi had figured out that playing the Hindu/Hindutva card, temple or no, will not gain the BJP a majority. He fashioned an inclusive approach which went after the lower jaatis and Dalits while taking the upper-caste Hindu vote for granted. His detractors were still dwelling on secularism and the certainty that the Muslim vote will not go to Modi. Even the BJP leadership had not seen what he was doing.
Modi mopped up the OBC vote by playing on his caste identity. He went aggressively for the Dalit vote and has not relented one bit in the two-and-a-half years he has been in power. He cannot hope to win the Muslim vote yet, but he has kept the more troublesome elements in his party and in the Parivar at large from doing too much damage. Stray incidents such as the vigilante attacks for eating beef or cattle transporting have been contained. The beef issue has been downgraded; the temple awaits judicial resolution. The wilder partners such as the VHP have been sidelined.
It is this sabka saath promise which is at stake in UP. In Bihar, the BJP did have the single highest vote share but the RJD/JDU coalition (with the Congress bringing up the rear) got more seats. This time around the yuvaraj coalition of Akhilesh and Rahul will try to repeat Bihar. But it is built on a fallacy.
The SP can have the Muslim votes without the Congress. The Brahmin vote is being wooed by the BSP as well as the BJP and the Congress is a distant third in this game, having been largely an absent party in UP. If anything, by granting the Congress as many as 105 seats, Akhikesh has lessened his chances of coming to power. It will be Mayawati who will hold the final cards as the potential coalition partner for the BJP. Fun begins on March 11. Can the old BJP/ BSP partnership be revived?