Triangular contest awaits UP

2017 polls: Though BSP and BJP made initial gains, SP-Cong alliance is slowly making inroads

Triangular contest awaits UP
With the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) joining hands, the electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh is all set to witness a triangular contest between the SP-Congress alliance, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The 2017 elections will decide the political future of the SP and of its new supremo Akhilesh Yadav who will be leading the party campaign in the absence of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Stakes are also high for Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi as the polls could decide if he is as a potential challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Billed as the semi-final before the big battle in 2019, the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are also crucial for Modi as a win in India’s biggest state, that sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, will further consolidate his position within the saffron party.

For BSP supremo Mayawati, who is nurturing dreams of returning to power after tasting a humiliating defeat in the 2012 Assembly polls, the 2017  elections will decide if she continues to wield influence over the Dalits. “We may witness multi-cornered contests in a few seats, especially where smaller outfits like the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) are also powerful”, says Dinesh Kumar, a former faculty at Lucknow University.

Political analysts say the elections are “very crucial” for Akhilesh. Media analyst Mudit Mathur says, “Last time he (Akhilesh) had strong leaders like Mulayam and Shivpal, who spearheaded the SP campaign...They are kept out this time...Mulayam may join the campaign but unwillingly...Shivpal is missing from the scene completely”. The family feud may not have impacted Akhilesh within the party but it may have some impact on the SP supporters, especially those loyal to Mulayam and Shivpal.

“A loss will spell doom for Akhilesh politically...The SP may disintegrate or his detractors within the family may return and capture the party”, another political analyst told DH. Some analysts feel that Akhilesh was not certain about his success following the family feud, and Mulayam’s absence may have forced him to embrace the Congress, which had been reduced to a fringe player in the state. Many others, however, say that Akhilesh, by breaking free of Mulayam and Shivpal, has been able to rid his party of the “goonda” tag and emerged as a leader who has a vision for development of the state.

On Rahul, a senior state Congress leader says, “He has a lot at stake...a good performance will put him firmly in the saddle and hasten his anointment as the Congress president”.

A lot, however, would depend on how the Muslims, who play a crucial role in deciding the outcome in around 125 seats, vote in the polls. “A large chunk of Muslim votes is expected to go for the Congress-SP alliance”, says Lucknow-based media analyst Masood Ahmed. Another political observer, however, said that the Muslims could also support the BSP if the candidate is stronger.

The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), which has decided to contest around 100 seats mainly in the Muslim-dominated constituencies, could queer the pitch for the SP-Congress alliance and the BSP, the main claimants to the Muslim votes. MIM president Asaduddin Owaisi has been touring the constituencies where Muslims are in sizeable numbers.

For the BJP, the polls would be a pointer to the things to come in 2019. “While a win will put the party firmly on road to fight the bigger battle ahead, a loss will seriously undermine Modi’s authority and raise question marks on his policies”, remarked Masood. Analysts as well as leaders of political parties say demonetisation will be an issue in the polls, especially in the rural areas, where cash crunch still continues. The Congress, SP and the BSP have been raking up the cash ban issue in their election rallies.

BJP worried

The BJP leaders, apparently worried over its impact on the elections, had asked the central leadership of the party to take urgent steps to increase the supply of new currency into the banking system in the state. The state unit leaders had also apprised party president Amit Shah of their apprehensions. “Cash ban has affected the marginal farmers and daily wagers...The prices of vegetables crashed causing huge losses to the farmers”, said analyst B G Verma, a resident of Shahjahanpur district.

The saffron party leaders, who were upbeat after Modi banned Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes and claimed that demonetisation and the surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) would help them in the Assembly polls, appear to be uncertain, if not dejected, as they head to the polls.

The party has been banking heavily on the support of the non-Yadav OBC voters to realise its dreams of capturing power in the state. The party has fielded a large number of candidates from these castes. The entry of a number of senior OBC leaders, including Swami Prasad Maurya, from other political outfits, mainly the BSP, has only strengthened its support base among these castes.

The saffron party has also stitched alliances with caste-based smaller outfits like the Suheldev Bharat Samaj Party and the Apna Dal to garner support from the OBC communities. The BJP has also fielded some of the accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots case, triggering apprehensions that there may be attempts to polarise voters in western Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP had gained tremendously in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls owing to the polarisation of Hindu votes in its favour. But the widespread disenchantment over selection of nominees does not augur well for the saffron party. While it remains to be seen who emerges on top, it seems like Uttar Pradesh is headed for a bitter and fierce electoral battle in the seven-phase polls.
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