Ritesh K Srivastava
With the Congress’ prince Rahul Gandhi blowing the poll bugle from Allahabad, the countdown for Assembly Elections in Uttar Pradesh - seen as the biggest political test before 2014 General Elections - has begun. With all parties jumping in the electoral fray, the fight for seizing control of the country’s most populous and politically crucial state will get harsher and harsher in the days to come.
Not much has changed since last Assembly Polls in 2007, which saw Bahujan Samaj Party led by Mayawati throwing the Samajwadi Party government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav out of power. Since political equations are largely unchanged, the Assembly Polls will be a four-cornered contest, coupled with the predictions of a fractured mandate. If it happens, it will see political parties forging post-poll alliance to form government.
Despite the anti-incumbency factor, graft allegations and deteriorating law and order situation, Mayawati’s party is in a strong position, with its traditional Dalit vote bank remaining intact. Clearly, the ruling BSP and its arch-rival Samajwadi Party (SP) will be the main players in these elections.
The BJP and Congress will lock horns with each other to secure the third place, since the winner would automatically find itself in a kingmaker’s role if no one manages to win a clear majority. However, despite the odds, Mayawati’s BSP could still emerge as the single largest party.
In this four-cornered contest, smaller parties like Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, having a strong presence in western UP, and the Peace Party led by Dr Mohammed Ayub, which represents Muslims in poverty-ridden eastern UP, could still change the political landscape despite their limited scope. With the active support of Muslims, the Peace Party could spoil the game for all major players even if it does not succeed in wresting a large number of Muslim-dominated seats.
In 2007, Mayawati’s party benefited from the anti-incumbency sentiment rising against chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, triggered by his inability to improve the law and order situation. Making the situation worse, Mulayam committed, which is in his own words, the biggest political blunder of his career by joining hands with former BJP chief minister and Hindu hardliner Kalyan Singh before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
His assumptions that SP will benefit from Kalyan’s influence among the Lodhis proved wrong and damaged his party’s image especially, among Muslims. This time, however, it’s the BSP’s turn to face the heat for failing to live up to people’s expectations and not fulfilling the promises it made before wrenching power from the SP. If political pundits are to be believed, notching up 150 seats in 403-seat Assembly will be a tough job for Mayawati.
The ‘anti-incumbency’ is not the only factor which worries Mayawati since her party enjoys an ultra-loyal vote base and largely remains immune to major swings. BSP’s fast eroding support in the upper caste Brahmins is something which will hamper its poll prospects. Brahmins’ support in 2007 elections played a vital role in BSP’s landslide victory against the SP. However, the party has utterly failed to win the trust of the upper caste Brahmins in the recent years. BSP’s Brahmin face and kingmaker Satish Chandra Mishra has clearly failed to establish himself as a reliable leader of the community and instead faces allegations of misusing his power to promote his family members.
Several top ministers in the BSP government have been accused of rapes and murders, which has further dented Mayawati’s image as a tough leader who deals with crime with an iron fist. Moreover, Mayawati’s plan to divide UP into four smaller states is also likely to face stiff resistance from the opposition parties, which dismissed the move as a ploy for political gain. However despite resistance, the BSP chief has managed to get the UP division bill passed with a voice vote in the State Assembly.
The 2012 Assembly Elections will be an acid test for the Samajwadi Party, which aims to overthrow the Mayawati government on grounds that the BSP rule has pushed the state into absolute anarchy where criminals are wielding power.
Mulayam Singh, who is relying more on his son Akhilesh, is trying hard to secure confidence of his Yadav community. His government crumbled last time since it lost some two dozen seats in the Yadav dominated regions in central UP. Mulayam government’s failure to create more jobs for Yadavs annoyed them and they chose not to vote. Mulayam also faced criticism for his blatant patronage of criminals and corruption. In order to re-claim the lost ground among the Muslims, the SP chief has indicated making Azam Khan –the man responsible for the ouster of Amar Singh from the party- the chief minister if his party secures a majority on its own.
In a bid to reach out to people, Akhilesh has been travelling across the state to build a consensus against Mayawati’s alleged misrule and spending taxpayers’ money. The Samajwadi Party is questioning the usefulness of statues, monuments and mansions being constructed by Mayawati.
With Rahul Gandhi taking the centre-stage in Congress` battle to reinvigorate itself in Uttar Pradesh, there is optimism that party’s 22-year long political wilderness will finally end. With Congress’ ‘Utho, Jago, Badlo’ slogan, Rahul has struck an emotional chord with all sections of the society, especially the youth, who look up to him as a leader who will bring a paradigm shift in governance. Although, Congress has denied joining hands with any major party like the SP or BSP, chances of forging post-poll tie-ups with smaller parties can’t be ruled out totally.
Congress top leaders have been brainstorming with state party workers about the strategy to be adopted for the Assembly Elections. The party is leaving no stones unturned in its bid to revive itself in the home state of the Gandhi-Nehru family. Stakes are high for the Congress in UP as it had faced humiliation in Bihar Assembly polls last year despite Rahul Gandhi’s excessive campaigning.
The confrontation between the Congress and BSP is set to intensify in coming days as the Congress has also announced plans to take the battle to the home turf of Chief Minister Mayawati. Congress plans to use its rallies and Jan Sampark Yatras to attack Mayawati on the issue of corruption and highlight `atrocities against even Dalits` in a state ruled by a Dalit Chief Minister. Meanwhile, Congress also faces threats from Team Anna, which has already caused big damage to the party during Hisar by-polls.
BJP, which ruled UP a decade back, is still getting its act together and rejuvenating its base ahead of polls. Knowing the dissensions within the rank and file, the party high command has divided the responsibilities between former chief minister Rajnath Singh and party veteran Kalraj Mishra, who has been a minister in successive BJP regimes but never won an election. However, both are not seen as mass leaders capable of bringing voters to the polling booth in large numbers. In this context, fire-brand leader Uma Bharti’s return to the party is also likely to strengthen its poll campaign considering her mass appeal and excellent oratory skills.
The state is gearing up to see high-voltage political drama, intense campaigning and series of moves and countermoves to secure maximum political gains in the days to come. Quite predictably, the party or alliance, which manages to get maximum seats during the elections, will be invited to form the government, so the role of allies would be vital. If neither the BSP nor SP gets a majority then the political landscape of the state will be different. However, with few months still remaining, all stake holders would try drop political bombs that will eventually affect the outcome of 2012 elections.