In UP, it is Modi vs others

Political chess board of Uttar Pradesh has become complicated with Aam Admi Party (AAP) descending on the scene to compete with Congress, BJP, BSP and SP. Though educated and urban elites prophecy poor showing by AAP, the lower middle class and lowest castes remain unfazed.

AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal excels in symbolic politics; his decision to lodge FIRs against Union ministers Veerappa Moily and Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani seems to have sent favourable signals for AAP supporters in UP. 

Two things can be safely said. One, with Modi as prime-ministerial candidate, BJP is returning to UP after a gap of 15 years. Second, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP would decline notwithstanding his prime-ministerial ambition; the only issue is how low it would go in terms of seats and votes. But, between the two convictions lies wide undefined midfield where the Congress, BSP and AAP would fiercely compete with each other. 

The BJP is upbeat about its prospects in UP because (a) in a metanarrative of the UPA-NDA competitive bidding, the Congress-led UPA seems to have lost in public esteem owing to corruption, scams and price-rise; (b) Modi’s early arrival on the field and his attempt to convert the UPA-NDA battle into presidential contest between himself and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has brought a paradigm shift in electoral contestation in UP that has marginalised SP-BSP dominance on the one hand, and cornered his rival Rahul, on the other.

Also, Modi has not only released UP voters from ‘primordial captivity’ of caste but shown them to look-up to development and good governance through the prism of class, youth, gender and inclusion. And, all that is complemented by a carefully crafted campaign strategy of which the `tea politics’ is the latest. Modi has already covered some ground while rival teams are still in the dressing room.

But, when they arrive, Modi will have to play against them all. Though they would descend simultaneously with a common goal to defeat Modi, they may not have coordinated strategy to do that and may end up playing against each other. Modi would be pitted against three prime ministerial aspirants from UP - Rahul Gandhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.

But, there are indications that discarding domiciliary considerations, UP voters may prefer one from Gujarat. The Lokniti-CSDS survey conducted last month substantiates this view. It gave BJP 38 per cent votes in UP. On this vote share, Rajeev Karandikar, Director of Chennai Mathematical Institute, projected a maximum of 49 seats for BJP in the state.

Going back a little, BJP’s best performance was in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections when it got 36.5 per cent votes and 57/82 seats. Two factors could further brighten up BJP’s prospects: one, Lokniti’s projected vote share for BJP now is 1.5 percent higher than 1998; and, two, AAP’s arrival making elections pentangular,  would further fragment votes and lower Index of Opposition Unity (IOU). As Modi happens to be main rival of all parties claiming to be ‘secular’, lower IOU would surely benefit BJP.

The CSDS data also shows these parties at 17 per cent as half way down BJP mark. Modi leads in peoples’ choice as prime minister; he is three times more popular (35 per cent) than his nearest rival Rahul Gandhi. He is also popular among all social groups besides Muslims. Most importantly, BJP was not seen as responsible for Muzzaffarnagar riots, SP is blamed for riots.

However, Mayawati can upset all calculations. She might be targeting enough seats to maintain her clout with any coalition government post 2014 elections. But, her prime target is Mulayam; she wants to cut him to size not only to make him lightweight in national politics, but also to sweep next UP assembly elections in 2017.

Even in 2012, when dalits and most-backwards deserted her, BSP’s vote share remained almost intact (2009: 27.4, 2012: 25.9 per cent). In 2009 LS elections, BSP won 20 seats and was runners-up in 46/60 constituencies. This election, if Mayawati supports Congress by transferring dalit votes in return for Congress preventing division of Muslim votes in favour of BSP, then she would have created (a) tremendous problems for Modi, (b) strengthened her clout in UPA by helping Congress, and (c) probably improved her party’s performance over 2009. But, given her shrewdness, she might keep her options open even for NDA. 

While Congress chips might be down in the wake of the Telangana imbroglio, allies’ discomfiture (Sharad Pawar, Karunanidhi etc) and efforts to push-up Rahul Gandhi for the top job, its performance in 2009 winning 21 seats in UP has become a liability for party. How to come even close to that is a crucial question.

The only silver lining for Congress, besides Mayawati, are the Muslim votes. Post-Muzzaffarnagar, Muslims were unhappy with Congress because Jat leader Ajit Singh was in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet and Congress did not come to the rescue of the Muslims.

They had a mind to vote for BSP then. But as the Modi factor gathers momentum, there appears to be a silent polarisation of Muslims in favour of the Congress throughout UP so as to strengthen the `UPA vis-à-vis NDA’ in a bid to prevent Modi. 

But the most harried player appears to be UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, facing charges of anti-incumbency, ill-governance, Muslim discomfiture, rank desertions among OBCs in the wake of blatant ‘Yadavisation’ of bureaucracy and service delivery.

While the father is putting Akhilesh’s model of development ahead of Gujarat, the son knows that Gujarat might not just be far ahead and away but the man from Gujarat is ready to overtake UP.    

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