Uttar Pradesh is heading for a tight finish

Uttar Pradesh is heading for a tight finish

With the BJP, the ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance), comprising Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) as well as the Congress focussing more on getting the caste equations right, Uttar Pradesh, where 80 Lok Sabha seats are up for grabs, appears to be heading for a tight finish.

The comparatively low polling percentage in the first phase of polling for eight LS seats in the ‘Jat-Muslim’ dominated western UP was also indicative of a close contest, political experts here feel.

In the run up to the polls, many experts were of the opinion that Congress would not be a big factor in the polls, but with the passage of time and after the entry of party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the grand old party seems to be making the contest triangular on most of the seats in the state.

The BJP, which had swept the state in the 2014 LS polls, winning 73 seats along with its ally Apna Dal (AD), is finding the going tough this time before the electorally mighty (at least on paper) grand alliance and a resurgent Congress.

The saffron party, apparently feeling the pressure, not only formed more alliances, besides with AD, with caste-based outfits, but also dropped at least two dozen sitting MPs and fielded new faces to beat anti-incumbency. The BJP, which had maintained that it would not have alliances in UP other than with the AD, stitched up an alliance with the Nishad Party, an outfit that represents the fishermen and boatmen community, and was likely to offer it two Lok Sabha seats to contest.

The Nishad Party had allied with the Samajwadi Party (SP) last year and its nominee Praveen Nishad, who had contested on the SP symbol, had defeated BJP in the bypoll in Gorakhpur, the home town of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

The BJP has agreed to give two seats to the Nishad Party in exchange for its support for the saffron party in Gorakhpur and adjoining areas. The Nishad community is in sizable numbers in Gorakhpur and around a dozen other Lok Sabha constituencies.

The BJP is also grappling with large-scale dissension within the organisation, with some of its sitting MPs threatening to revolt and others joining rival camps.

At least two sitting MPs who were denied tickets have threatened to revolt. Sitting MP from Banda Bhairon Prasad Mishra, who had staged a dharna before the BJP office in Delhi after being denied the ticket, said publicly that the BJP is an ‘’anti-Brahmin’’ party and that it was set to lose Banda seat.

Even Adityanath was not reportedly happy with the candidate selection this time. According to sources, the chief minister was upset with the renomination of Devender Singh Bhole from Bulandshahr LS seat. Former UP chief minister and Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh, who was in the eye of a storm following his pro-BJP remarks while holding a constitutional office, was also upset following denial of tickets to his loyalists.

That the BJP is jittery is also reflected in its all-out attempt to polarise the elections, especially in the Muslim belt in the western and central region of the state. Almost every saffron party leader, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Adityanath, raked up the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots in their speeches in the ‘Jat-Muslim’ constituencies in the region.

Adityanath, in particular, repeatedly referred to the riots and accused the SP and the RLD of “ditching” the majority community, when they “faced attacks” from a particular community.

Adityanath also put to use BSP supremo Mayawati’s appeal to the Muslims to ensure that their votes were not divided, and sought to consolidate the BJP’s majority community votes. “The grand alliance only wants votes of the Muslims....we want the votes of the rest,” he said at election meetings. Adityanath also triggered a controversy with his ‘Ali vs Bajrang Bali’ remark.

A wiser opposition, however, has not fallen into the BJP trap so far. They have been able to prevent polarisation along communal lines.

Some Muslim leaders are also talking about renovating the famous Hindu temples. Firebrand SP Muslim leader Azam Khan even coined a new term ‘Bajrang Ali’ to stress the need for Hindu-Muslim unity.

Political analysts here also feel that there is a tacit understanding between the Congress and the SP-BSP-RLD alliance in the state. Though Congress has declared that it will contest all the seats, barring a few, which it would leave for the grand alliance and its own alliance partners, its selection of candidates in the polls does make one believe that there are grounds for such speculation.

On many LS seats, where the Congress is not in a position to give fight, the grand old party has fielded candidates with the sole purpose of damaging the BJP’s prospects. In the first phase of polling, on at least four seats, Congress candidates were expected to eat into the votes of the BJP nominees, thereby benefitting the alliance indirectly.

If the Congress nominees in Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar and Kairana managed to make a dent in the BJP vote bank, the saffron party might be in trouble.   “It certainly appears that Congress does not want to hit the alliance....it is trying to hurt the BJP and is only focussing on the seats where it has a chance,’’ says Guruvachan Singh Azad, a Meerut-based scribe.

Similarly, in the central region also, where Muslims are in sizeable numbers, the Congress has fielded non-Muslim candidates with the primary objective to avoiding a split in the Muslim votes and to dent the BJP votes, instead.

‘’We are fighting a tough electoral battle,’’ admitted a senior BJP leader here.