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The state of the highest stakes

What each party in UP is counting on and hoping for in the upcoming election

Written by Sudha Pai |
January 3, 2012 3:26:54 am

Uttar Pradesh has always been the state where new ideas within our political system are tried and tested. The key issues and strategies in the electoral campaign for the UP assembly elections in February 2012 point to the winds of change that have swept the Hindi heartland. In the 1990s,the Ram Mandir movement,Mandal and Dalit assertion drove state politics. Since the early 2000s,the UP electorate,weary of identity politics,has been keen to catch up with states that have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by liberalisation. Consequently,concerns such as land acquisition,law and order,corruption,urbanisation and development have assumed centrestage; older issues such as reservation,minority and Dalit welfare remain important but the context in which they are being discussed has undergone much change.

Given the high stakes involved for state and national parties,certain distinct features mark the electoral campaign in UP. Beginning well over a year ago,it has been a highly strident campaign in which every political party has tried to discredit others,particularly the ruling BSP. Most important,contentious national-level issues are playing a crucial role,along with local problems. Given the prolonged Anna Hazare movement,and the fact that with 40 per cent of BSP ministers face Lokayukta charges,corruption and criminalisation of politics will figure prominently. A worried Mayawati,in an attempt to show a “clean” image,has sacked over 13 ministers and decided to change at least 70 BSP candidates with a criminal past. Opposition parties have pointed to the collapse of law and order during the BSP regime following the rape/murder of minor girls in many districts within a span of 10 days in late June 2011,and the deputy chief medical officer,himself accused of corruption and embezzlement,found dead within jail premises.

Development issues such as land acquisition,the division of UP and the advancement of backward regions has placed the BSP in direct confrontation with the Congress. Rahul Gandhi’s padayatra following agitations by farmers against land acquisition along the Yamuna Expressway may not help in obtaining their support,as the UPA,despite his promise,has failed to pass the land acquisition bill in Parliament. Mayawati on her part is trying to satisfy farmers by agreeing on many of their demands,particularly higher compensation — she raised it by 100 per cent recently in Patwari village. However,many court rulings have returned land to farmers and indicted her government for use of the “urgency” clause and diverting land from industry to private residential complexes. Given that the BSP had the highest number of seats in all the four regions of the state in the 2007 elections,by passing a resolution in the assembly to divide UP,Mayawati has created discomfiture for the Congress-led UPA that is facing demands in Telengana,Vidarbha and Gorkhaland,among others. On its part,the Congress has tried to portray the BSP as having failed to develop regions like Bundelkhand and Poorvanchal,despite considerable funds allotted by the Centre. The issue of reservations,particularly for Muslims,has also gained added political significance with the decline of the BJP and the rise of small parties,which has lent a new assertiveness to the community. Hoping to benefit from this change,Rahul Gandhi has promised backward Muslims a share in the 27 per cent reservations provided to OBCs. Mayawati,in turn has demanded reservation in government jobs and college posts for the upper caste poor,Muslims and Jats. She hopes to obtain the support of these three influential communities who,together with Dalits,could have a determining impact on the elections.

The BSP’s Sarvajan strategy has become a major target for opposition parties,particularly the SP,which hopes to replace it. Mayawati’s priorities during this term in office have been rural development,agriculture,infrastructure and social development,in contrast to her social justice agenda of the past. She has tried to balance the expectations of the upper castes and minorities while not neglecting her core constituency,the Dalits. Studies indicate that the BSP government has spent considerable amounts on health,education,social security for the welfare of the backward classes,minority issues,women and child development,urban development and particularly new housing schemes. Despite signs that Dalits are feeling marginalised and restive,Mayawati has not retreated from her agenda. Rather,attempts have been made to reassure Dalits through numerous welfare programmes and the building of statues and memorial parks. It remains to be seen if the BSP is able to carry its Sarvajan agenda based on social consensus and inclusive politics into a second term.

The UP elections will,as always,considerably impact the fortunes of parties at the state and the Central level. For both the national parties — the Congress and the BJP — improving on their earlier tallies is imperative for the national elections due in 2014. The Congress hopes to increase its seats by building on its 2009 success and thereby obtaining more seats in the Rajya Sabha elections due later in the year. This could help the UPA pass important legislations such as the Lokpal and land acquisition bills,stuck in the Upper House. In the event of a hung assembly — based on the calculation that the ruling BSP may not perform as well as in 2007 — the Congress hopes to support a SP-led coalition from outside; thereby gaining the support of the SP in Parliament. This could lessen the UPA’s dependence on the troublesome TMC,making the remainder of its term more comfortable. The future of a younger generation of leaders is also at stake in this election,primarily Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Singh Yadav. In sum,a highly competitive,no-holds barred election could be a harbinger of significant political change for the state and the nation.

The writer is professor at the Centre for Political Studies,and rector,at Jawaharlal Nehru University,New Delhi

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