Elections in India have always been a colourful affair – with banners, posters, campaigning, crowds, slogans and the politicians vying to outdo each other in their efforts to woo the masses. Elections are also a reality check for the political parties – incumbency factor, numbers game, perception battle are some of the hurdles that they have to cross.
The 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections offered all of the above and much more. In one of the most keenly contested and four-cornered fights in the history of the state, the outcome of the polls is anybody’s guess. The ruling Bhaujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party are the main players but the presence of smaller parties like the Peace Party, Apna Dal and the Quami Ekta Dal has added an interesting twist to the Assembly election saga. Then there is the Rashtriya Lok Dal in alliance with the Congress. Also in the fray are the Left, JD(U) and the Trinamool Congress. Interestingly, the JD (U), which is running a coalition government in Bihar with the BJP and the TMC, which is the Congress’ largest ally in the UPA are contesting on their own in the hotbed of UP politics.
Add to the above scenario the dons and criminals who are fighting the polls and yes the independents. Clearly the battle lines are drawn and the situation is complicated in the state of Uttar Pradesh where the last two decades has been dominated by Mulayam and Mayawati.
But in what augurs well for Indian democracy, the turnout in UP polls has been high. The first phase saw a turnout of 62 % voters, second phase 59 %, third phase 57 %, fourth phase 50.4 %, fifth phase 59 %, sixth phase 60 % and seventh phase 62 %. The first time voters are more than 14 million in the state. And 60 % of the voters are under the age of 40. Another interesting aspect has been the active participation of women in the electoral process. Some of these factors have left all the major stakeholders in UP’s power politics a little confused regarding the outcome of the polls.
Initial trends and reports suggest that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP will emerge as the single largest party with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party tipped to finish in the second spot. The third and the fourth position may be up for grabs for both the Congress and the BJP. Though the Congress and the BJP have reiterated time and again that they would prefer to sit in the Opposition rather than support either the BSP or the SP, conventional wisdom suggests that in the likely event of a hung Assembly, they may end up supporting the larger party.
There is a strong anti-incumbency wave against the BSP rule in UP especially on the issue of corruption. Issues like NHRM scam and the farmers’ agitation on land acquisition have only added to the BSP supremo’s woes. Not to forget the law and order problem and the spate of rapes and assault on women. But despite Rahul Gandhi’s pro-Dalit and anti-Maya onslaught, the BSP’s core vote bank may not erode to the extent that it may not be in the contention at all. BSP supremo Mayawati definitely seems be losing as far as her social engineering is concerned and the Muslims and Brahmins, who voted for her in 2007 might abandon her this time. But 21 % of the Dalit vote in the state is still a big trump card of the Dalit-ki-beti.
One thing that may favour Mayawati is her party’s strong grass-root presence and the strong organisational strength which is say, much better than the Congress. The BSP may not match up to its tally of 2007 of 206 but it will certainly not be wiped out. Political observers maintain that though Maya may not do well in Eastern and Central UP but she may still hold on to her vote share in Western UP where 134 seats are at stake.
What is interesting is that Mayawati was the last to hit the campaign trail in the state but still the crowds in her public addresses has been one of the largest. Will Mayawati and the voters surprise the poll pundits?
According to the latest ground reports, the Samajwadi party is widely being predicted to emerge as the single largest party in UP. But it may not reach the magical figure to form the government on its own and may end up with 160-180 seats as per intial predictions. That explains the feelers that the SP has been sending out to the Congress - which incidentally the Congress has rejected.
Nonetheless, the SP could spring up a surprise like the BSP in 2007 and come to power on its own. In the last elections though the BSP was expected to emerge as the single largest party, it was not predicted to get more than 200 seats and form government on its own.
After the first four phase of polling, the mood in the SP camp became optimistic. But the fifth phase in the so-called Yadav-belt will be the real test for the party. This phase in which districts like Firozabad, Etah, Mainpuri, Etawah, Kanpur City, Jahnsi and Hamirpur went to polls for 49 seats, has 15 % Yadav electorate.
The Yadav population is thin in the areas where the sixth and the seventh phase of polling took place. Nonetheless, there is a heavy Muslim population to make up for it and reports have suggested that in a situation where the Muslim population knows that the Congress will in all likelihood not form the government, they might switch to the SP fold.
What might work in SP’s favour is the enthusiasm that Mulayam’s heir, Akhilesh Yadav has brought to the party’s workers. The young are said to be thronging to his rallies and he is showing an earnestness which is said to be coming across to the voters as genuine. The SP had gone down the 100 mark figure in the last Assembly elections, winning only 97 seats largely due to the law and order problem during Mulayam’s regime.
With more than twenty years out of power in the politically crucial state of UP, the Congress is desperate to make inroads and be back in the reckoning. The campaign has been led by the Congress scion Rahul Gandhi. With more than 200 rallies and road shows, this young general secretary of the Congress party has been relentlessly campaigning in UP. He has been aggressive and belligerent in his new avatar, sparing no one in his attacks, be it the BSP, SP or the BJP. The crowds are flocking to his rallies and the media has been following him in a flock but will this entire jamboree translate into votes? This is a litmus test for Rahul – either he will be hailed as a politician whose time has come or he will be dismissed as someone who has a famous surname but no mettle.
The Congress has also gone all out to entice the 18 % Muslim population in UP. From the announcement of 4.5 % reservation to the minorities from the existing 27 quota for the OBCs by the UPA government at the Centre just days before the model code of conduct came into play, to the Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid promising a 9 % reservation to the backward Muslims if the party is voted to power in UP, to Rahul Gandhi reiterating time and again that both the BSP and the SP have neglected and cheated the Muslims, the Congress is leaving no stones unturned.
The party is focusing on the reserved seats in the state too. Congress MP BL Punia is leading the charge there and has gone on record to say that the party would get at least 40 of the reserved seats.
The Congress is also very optimistic about its alliance with Ajit Singh’s RLD - if the Congress gets the votes of the Jats and the Muslims in Western UP, then its tally may as well reach more than double from last elections. In 2007 the Congress had bagged 22 seats. But if the BSP manages to hold on its seats in this area then the Congress-RLD combine may end up as biggest losers. And who knows the BJP too might clutch on to a major portion of its urban voters.
Nonetheless, in spite of the talk of traditional Congress voters having returned to the party’s fold, the party is considered weak as far as grass root politics and organisational structure is considered. Not to miss the absence of a big name in UP who can be portrayed as the CM candidate. Rita Bhauguna and Pramod Tiwari hardly fit the bill.
BJP once ruled Uttar Pradesh. But these elections are a different ballgame. BJP is considered to be weak in western UP. But it may do well in the in the Purvanchal areas and the Bundelkhand region. To spice things up we have the maverick and OBC Uma Bharti spearheading the campaign for the saffron party in UP. She does seem to have energized the cadre with her spontaneous style of oratory. There is Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh too leading the campaign for the party.
But one gamble that the BJP will be hoping to work in its favour is the Kushwaha Factor. When the saffron party inducted the NHRM scam-tainted and Mayawati discard Babu Singh Kushwaha in the party there was uproar from within the ranks apart from the Opposition attacking the BJP on taking the high-moral ground on corruption. The BJP was quick to announce that Kushwaha was not a member of the BJP. Nonetheless the big OBC leader with a sizeable backward vote-bank continued to campaign for the party. The saffron party is hoping to get some of the OBC votes in its kitty as a result.
Just like the Congress, the BJP has been besieged with infighting and poor selection of candidates. BJP’s star campaigner Narendra Modi has been absent from the campaign trail – BJP leaders say that he is busy with elections due in Gujarat later in the year. Others say that he is sulking at Nitin Gadkari’s move to make his bête noire Sanjay Joshi the UP in-charge. There is also a fear that a section of the urban voters might switch over to the Congress.
One thing is certain – whichever party wins the elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2012, the winner will be only one – our vibrant democracy.