UP Elections: Setting the tone, or too early to call 2019?

Next year in February-March, it will be a battle for every single vote in Uttar Pradesh. But the manner in which local and national media have started analysing each development of the state, it appears as if it were national polls and not assembly elections. Uttar Pradesh, being the largest state with the largest number of assembly seats, occupies central place in the federal structure of the country and therefore, the growing public interest towards on-going political activities in the state is not an unusual sight.

Read : UP Opinion Poll 2017

However, nobody would have imagined the kind of media attention the state has generated of late; so much so that on-going political campaigns in Punjab where assembly election is also due to be held next year, look insignificant. But the writing on the wall is clear: the forthcoming assembly polls in UP will be highly dramatic, noisy and also cantankerous. Though stakes are high for the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) government to repeat the magic of the 2012 assembly election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to ensure that ‘Modi magic’ has not waned. The party had bagged 71 out of the total 80 parliamentary seats in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

On the other hand, the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is raring to prove that it is a rather serious contender for the seat of power in Lucknow; while the Congress – a laggard which has not won any election in the state after its rout in 1989 – is making sincere efforts for its revival under a road map drawn by Prashant Kishor, an election strategist working with the Congress in the country’s most populous state.

Will Akhilesh shine again?

Smarting under family feud and clashes between supporters, Akhilesh Yadav, the incumbent Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has several challenges to overcome if he has to repeat the performance of last assembly election. Just before the launch of ‘Vikas Rath Yatra’ (involving a state-wide tour) in Lucknow on 3rd Novermber, supporters of Akhilesh and Shivpal Yadav, the Chief Minister’s uncle and the SP’s state unit president, group-clashed in a fiery encounter.

All this happened in the presence of the party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, indicating clearly that the former has failed to douse the fire that has engulfed his own family for the past several weeks. Post the situation, the main question in everyone’s mind is whether the SP will be able to give a united fight? Akhilesh Yadav, the 43-year-old son of Mulayam Singh Yadav, is unwilling to yield ground to his uncle Shivpal Yadav even though it is being reiterated by all leading lights of the party that uncle-nephew tussle for power in the state has been resolved to have a united fight for the victory.

In fact, signs of a continued fight within the Yadav clan could be seen easily in the ‘Vikas Rath Yatra,’ where a hi-tech Mercedes Benz bus turned into a chariot. While this vehicle carried posters of Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, the party’s state president Shivpal’s posters were missing. Political experts fear that Shivpal Yadav, who, despite objections from Akhilesh, helped merger of mafia-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari led Quami Ekta Dal (QED), can play a truant with the SP’s chances if the latter tries to push him against the wall. He is also said to have played an instrumental role in bringing Amar Singh back into the party.

If these are the odds before the junior Yadav, there is a higher possibility he may have to indulge in a tough battle with his uncle at the time of distribution of tickets. Shivpal, being the state party president, would like to field maximum number of his supporters in the election so that they could propose the former’s name as the leader of the party if it wins required seats to form a government. To stop this from happening, Akhilesh may want his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav to play a role of arbiter in the distribution of tickets. Whether this happens or not, Akhilesh Yadav will not have a cake walk in days to come, especially when he is facing an anti-incumbency factor on the one hand and poor law and order situation across the state on the other.

His four years’ rule has, so far proved beneficial for one particular caste – Yadav. Allegations have been leveled against his government for giving Yadav candidates a preference in the state government jobs. Though such allegations have been summarily rejected by the state government, the SP cannot put under carpet the fact that as much 25 members of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family are in politics: five Lok Sabha members, one Rajya Sabha member, one MLA, two MLCs and several others enjoying Panchayat level posts. This has become the butt of jokes among people and politicians alike. In that situation, whether Akhilesh will be able to recreate his 2012 magic is a big question.

Attempt to create Bihar-type ‘Mahagathbandhan’

To stop the BSP and BJP from becoming hurdles in the SP’s way to reshape the 2012 feat once again, the party’s patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav is trying to stitch political alliance with the Congress, Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal and others. Political watchers say that if such alliance fructifies, it would prove significant to some extent. Their stand is that unless the BSP becomes a part of the proposed ‘Mahagathbandhan’, it will be impossible to checkmate the BJP. To stop minority members’ votes from getting divided between the four parties, it would be politically effective if they come together to have a united fight against the BJP. But given the historical animosity between the SP and the BSP, it would be far-fetched to assume that the two major political parties of the state will come together.

The ‘Muslim factor’ in assembly election

Muslims form more than 18 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s total population. Since 1990, they supported the SP in the assembly election. But this time, they seem to be a worried lot. They look despondent as the SP for them has virtually turned into a faction-ridden party despite Mulayam Singh Yadav’s claim of having resolved the differences between Shivpal and Akhilesh. Muslims are looking towards the BSP as a force which can stop the BJP from romping home the 2017 assembly election.

Women and Dalit – key forces to turn the tables

As per the Election Commission, women constituted 45.27 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s total electorate in the 2014 election. So far, they have voted along the caste line instead of the gender line in the state. But this time around, whether they would follow their counterparts from Bihar who voted for Nitish Kumar-led government on the issue of good governance, still remains to be seen.

It is said that ‘triple-talaq’, or instant divorce, the hanging dagger for Muslim women, might be a game changer. The Muslim women may support those who take up the issue and force the society to ban it in the same way 22 countries of the world, including Bangladesh have rescinded it keeping in mind Muslim women’s interests. The important Dalit vote also will play a significant role in the 2017 assembly polls. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, non-Jatavs voted for the BJP, instead of going in bloc in support of Mayawati’s BSP.

As per 2011 Census, the Dalit community forms over 20 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s total population. Of them, Jatavs have a lion share, constituting 54.23 percent of the state’s total Dalit population. Non-Jatavs like Pasi, Dhobi, Kori, Balmiki and Khatik have held a grudge against Mayawati. They say that while the BSP supremo has cared for Jatavs, she has not shown the same interest in the welfare of non-Jatavs. Despite this, the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh will be nation’s most-watched affair next year as it will set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

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