UP Assembly polls 2017: Stakes are high for BJP and PM Modi

By Manisha Singh | Last Updated: Feb 02, 2017, 19:12 PM IST

There are other states and then there is Uttar Pradesh – the most coveted of all trophies as far as elections go. No wonder then that all major contenders in the fray - the BJP, Samajwadi Party-Congress combine and the BSP are leaving no stones unturned for the all-important elections. While the BSP is looking to come back to power after five years, the BJP is desperate to put up a good show and rule the state after 14 years. The party must also be wanting to prove that winning 73 (71 BJP plus 2 with ally Apna Dal) Lok Sabha seats in 2014 Lok Sabha polls was no fluke.

Before the 'family drama' of the Samajwadi Party played out in full public glare, some of the opinion polls did say that the BJP had an advantage as far as UP was concerned. It was also said that the demonetisation move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the surgical strikes against Pakistan had given the saffron party an edge. But much water has flown under the bridge since then.

The so-called 'split' in the SP seems to have given a makeover to Akhilesh Yadav with his supporters hailing him as pro-poor, pro-development and politician with a clean image. On the other hand, after the symbol 'cycle' was allotted to Akhilesh by the Election Commission, he tied up for a pre-poll alliance with the Congress (which has been out of power in UP since 27 years) and that seems to have changed the equation in UP.

Even though Akhilesh is facing anti-incumbency, along with the Congress if one were to go by 2012 Assembly poll results as a base, their vote share adds to 40% as against 15% of the BJP. (In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the saffron party had polled 42 % vote). To be noted is the fact that most surveys have rated Akhilesh as the most popular CM face in 2017. And those surveys which had given BJP an advantage in UP, now are saying that SP-Congress alliance is catching up.

Thus, for the BJP with each passing day things have only got tougher. It is now being said that the party may not ask PM Modi to campaign in UP like Bihar and put his image at stake just in case the results are not favourable. Not to forget that after the humiliating defeat in Bihar in 2015, it has become all the more imperative for the BJP to put up a good fight in UP if not win the state outright.

A win in UP will bolster the image of the saffron party – This will mean that PM Modi's personal popularity is intact and there is a backing for him, which will embolden the Centre to carry out reforms in the remaining years of the NDA rule. It will also help the party build momentum for Modi-led BJP's return to power in 2019 General Elections.

So in order to woo the voters, in its manifesto, the BJP has promised sops for students, women and farmers including waiver of farm loans and providing 24x7 electricity besides making efforts to get Ram temple built in Ayodhya within the law. But will the 'Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra' (Pledge for People's Welfare) cut ice with the people is anyone's guess.

Going into the elections, the party has been accusing the Akhilesh government of not doing anything for the development of the state and has been highlighting the deteriorating law and order situation which they say is at its nadir. It has also dubbed the SP-Congress tie up as a coming together of 'goondaism' and corruption and an alliance of opportunism.

Plus, the saffron party has been harping on the demonetisation drive as a fight against corruption and black money and projecting PM modi as a messiah of the poor who is fighting a battle on their behalf against the dishonest rich and drive home the fact that BJP is not only a party of Brahmins and Baniyas. (However, the Opposition are saying that thousands of labourers, artisans and weavers have lost their jobs in cities like Agra, Varanasi, Kanpur, Moradabad, Allahabad and Aligarh due tothe note ban. They are also saying that in rural areas farmers have found it tough to buy fertilizers and pesticides.)

Add to these, a host of populist measures, such as the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana for free LPG cylinders, Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana or Jan Dhan bank accounts that the party is reminding voters of. If the BJP has to win UP then apart from its traditional upper caste voters, it has to woo the non-Yadav-OBCs like Kurmi and Maurya communities. The party had come to power in the Hindi heartland for the first time under OBC leader Kalyan Singh and so the BJP would be hoping to get them back into the fold. (As per a survey 61% of upper caste and 53% of OBCs minus Yadavs are said to be BJP's votebank, with the party having negligible support amongst Yadav's, SC/STs and Muslims as per a survey. To win, a party needs at least 30% of the total votes of the state.)

However, there are many stumbling blocks to the pole position. Like Bihar, the party has not announced a CM face to take on Akhilesh and Mayawati and is hoping that PM Modi's personal charisma will pull them over the finishing line. Infighting amongst state leaders is said to be one of the reasons for not naming a CM candidate. Then, induction of outsiders and giving tickets to them and ignoring its own cadres has not gone down well with a certain section of the party. For example, in UP, in the first list of 149 candidates, 25 were given to those who have recently joined the party.

Further, reports have suggested that many senior BJP leaders are upset over being ignored by the party leadership. Moreover, Sultanpur MP Varun Gandhi is finding himself isolated with his name not even figuring in the list of star campaigners for the state. Efforts by him to project himself as the CM face could be one of the reason.

Reports have also said that five-term Lok Sabha MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, too feels sidelined and has not been included in the state's election committee, while newcomers like Rita Bahuguna Joshi (from Congress), Brajesh Pathak (from BSP) and Avinash Trivedi (from BSP). Trivedi was given ticket from Bakshi Ka Talaab (a Yadav-dominated seat) over party heavyweights Shivdarshan Yadav, Ram Saran Yadav, Ram Niwas Yadav and Pradeep Yadav. Moreover, it is also being said that one of the reasons for giving tickets to outsiders has been largely because the BJP felt it did not have "winning candidates" for as many as 150 of the 403 seats in the Assembly.

There are many such examples. More than two dozen sitting legislators and 100 prominent faces from other parties have crossed over to the BJP fold in recent times. Also, state BJP president Keshav Prasad Maurya has been facing the heat for the "faulty" ticket distribution. There have been protests in many places like Lucknow, Varanasi, Allahabad and Kanpur where ticket distribution, as per party workers, has been "mortgaged to baahris (outsiders)".

Needless to say, the UP Assembly elections are going to be one of the toughest that the BJP has fought under PM Modi. Come March 11, it would be clear as to 'UP ko yeh saath pasand hai' (SP-Congress' slogan for the state) or will the electorate return the BJP back to power (or vanvaas as they call it) after more than two decades.