The seven-phase Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections is beginning on February 11 when 73 constituencies of 403 assembly will vote. The top three contenders for power in the state have ramped up their attack on their opponents and carved their different narratives out of their core issues. Here are the issues BJP, BSP and SP-Congress are focusing on:
The main problem for the BJP is that it is still in need of a CM face. It has already run the risk of alienating a large chunk of Dalit vote after RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya made anti-reservation remarks. Similar remarks had cost it dearly in Bihar. The BJP will take confidence from the fact that it won 34.3 million votes in the 2014 General Elections where it won 73 out of the 80 Lok Sabha constituency wiping out the BSP and reducing SP to irrelevance. The vote share was more than the SP and BSP combined when SP polled 18 million votes and BSP polled 15.9 million votes. Hence the party will gain some confidence. It is taking on the competition as the ‘saviour’ of Uttar Pradesh. Also, after looking at the party’s manifesto it seems that the party is strongly intent on polarising the Hindu vote as it bats for Hindu Right-appeasing poll promises. Here are BJP’s three main poll issues:
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1. Right wing appeasement: The construction of Ram Mandir comes up as a poll issue in BJP’s manifesto whenever UP goes to polls and this time is no different. Even though the matter is stuck in court, it doesn’t stop BJP from making use of it. Also, issues like Kairana ‘exodus’ and love jihad have resurfaced in public discussion. Thanks to leaders like Hukum Singh, Sangeet Som, Suresh Rana, Sanjiv Balyan, Yogi Adityanath and Ramchandra Katheria, BJP’s Hindu consolidation plan seems to be on track. Furthermore, the party seems to see Muzaffarnagar issue as overdone. The inclusion of Hindu exodus and Kairana in the party’s manifesto–Jan Sankalp Patra–shows it will not go after Muslim votes with much force.
2. Demonetisation and corruption: PM Modi’s demonetisation move was followed by multiple raids on hoarders of black cash. BSP was also caught in a bind as the government alleged that many of their offices may have stored illicitly aggregated money to be used in elections. Modi’s cleverly timed move of demonetisation a few months before the elections seems to have worked for him. In a matter of two months, the animosity directed towards the PM is seemingly dying out and now he is projecting himself as a revolutionary who changed the country’s economy and political funding by a single move.
3. ‘Achhe Din’: The promise of Achhe Din will see its litmus test in these elections. The core of this promise was job creation and farmer welfare. Financial security and housing for all were key elements. In his party manifesto, BJP has made ambitious promises to turn UP into a manufacturing hub focused on technology. Farmer welfare measures like loan waivers, subsidised and easily available fertilisers like urea and incentives in MGNREGA are issues he is banking on.
Former chief minister Mayawati is the dark horse and has been working under the radar all this while. She had the the advantage of time after announcing her party’s candidates over an year before the Opposition parties. Candidates have been on the ground, increasing voter contact and diligently and slowly building support for Mayawati to return to power. The three major poll issues of BSP:
1. Anti-reservation remarks by RSS and Brahminicalisation by BJP: Mayawati had meandered through several poll issues in the past few months. However, as the days inch closer, she has focused her attack on anti-reservation remarks by RSS members. As the BJP is a political offshoot of the RSS, any such remarks have a direct bearing on the party. After demonetisation, many of Mayawati’s supporters had praised PM Modi for his ‘bold decision’. The leader has made good use of the remarks to make sure BJP is not able to make inroads into her territory.
2. Muslim consolidation: Mayawati knows that it will be difficult for her to win the elections just on the guarantee of her Dalit and a fair chunk of Brahmin voters. She needs a large share of the Muslim voter. The fact that BSP has fielded 50 Muslim candidates in the first two phases of elections, shows the party is taking the vote bank seriously, particularly in western UP. She has tried to bank on the Muzaffarnagar riots and rehabilitation of affected persons issue. She had earlier advocated that voting for SP will not help Muslims as they won’t come to power and Congress was not strong to make any inroads. Her argument to Muslims to avoid splitting of votes between SP and Congress took a hit as SP and Congress formed an alliance. The fight for Muslim polarisation and consolidation is also hard and Mayawati is intent on winning this battle.
3. Law and order situation in UP: SP rule has always been identified with goons running loose and crimes being on the rise. Police are usually alleged to be indifferent to people and the general social environment remains hostile in most parts. BSP has taken that issue to the centrestage. Also with the recent incidents of beef ban and killings in places like Badaun, Mayawati has raised concerns of fear among Dalits and Muslims from Gau Rakshaks and Right-Wing Hindutva fanatics.
After taking the reins of the party, SP chief and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is carrying out concerted attacks on PM Modi. The main poll issues of SP:
1. Attack on demonetisation: SP has taken demonetisation as BJP’s kryptonite. It is the one issue with which it can confidently take on the BJP while attempting to regain its image of the prominent state party that it was. During demonetisation and cash crunch, farmers were one of the worst hit sections of society. Several thousands lost their crop to pennies as middlemen and wholesalers refused to pay fair price arguing shortage of cash. When people took tokens to withdraw limited money from banks–which ran out of money frequently–farmers were out of money, lost of options as planning for the next crop seemed a daunting task. SP has kept raising those memories among voters.
2. Muslim consolidation: In the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar communal riots, the Akhilesh government was severely criticised for its handling of the violence that claimed dozens of lives. Many believed the Muslims will desert the SP. But the party seems to have shift the focus from riots. Akhilesh cleverly forged an alliance with Congress which has historically practiced soft secularism and banked on Muslim vote in UP. The route the party has taken is politics of freebies and promise of safeguarding the public from ‘Hindu Right-Wing influence’.
3. Reinventing image and alliance with Congress: As much as poll issues are important, SP has been spending a significant share of its campaign time on promoting its alliance with Congress. Akhilesh and Rahul share the stage everywhere in election rallies and the idea is to show that both parties are growing stronger with each other and not the more realistic view of one piggybacking on the other for mutual benefit. The alliance was a major point of disagreement between Akhilesh and his father Mulayam Singh as both suffered a fallout. SP will try everything to prove the decision was right to gain credibility as a party that is not shooting in the dark.