Uttar Pradesh assembly elections: the story so far…

Uttar Pradesh is the biggest state in India in terms of population where a whopping 404 assembly seats are up for grabs when it goes for polls next year. The stakes are high, some are fighting to strengthen their position, some aim for greater national relevance, and some hope for survival.

Primarily, there are four key players – BJP, SP, BSP and Congress – and everyone is getting into election mode.

A lot has been happening of late, and those who are not news junkies would have found it cumbersome to keep track. So this article is a summary of what has happened so far in build up to the assembly elections:

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Bhartiya Janta Party:

First the BJP. Its alliance won a record 73 seats out of 80 in the state during the Lok Sabha elections, and to maintain that lead is a herculean task. For the party, the challenge can be called similar to what it faced in Bihar assembly elections, where it failed to maintain the lead it had witnessed during the general elections.

In absence of a declared Chief Ministerial candidate yet, PM Modi remains the star campaigner. He chose to attend Ramlila event on Dusshera in the state and earlier this week he addressed a rally where he talked about issues like development and triple talaq.

Party has not yet raked up Ram Temple at Ayodhya issue openly and is sticking to its stand that courts should decide it, but issues like construction of a Ram Museum have been in news.

The state unit of BJP has been able to attract rival leaders of other parties in its fold. Swami Prasad Maurya of the BSP and Rita Bahuguna Joshi of the Congress are notable names, and analysts believe that their admission into BJP was a signal that the party was looking to make inroads into the dalit support base of BSP and the Brahmin voters of Congress, with the party being reasonably confident of getting non-Yadav OBC votes.

However, the issue of CM candidate remains elusive – something many analysts believed had hurt the party in Bihar. There are reports of factionalism too with many leaders trying to prop themselves up as the candidate. Varun Gandhi too was reported to be in this race, but the recent controversy surrounding his alleged blackmail has hurt his chances.

Indian National Congress:

Coming to the Congress, the party is hoping that some Mahagathbandhan like Bihar may happen where it can ride the bandwagon and declare victory over BJP, especially over Narendra Modi.

There have been conflicting reports of Prashant Kishor actively leading the elections strategy. Apparently he had proposed that the party reached out to Brahmins – once their traditional vote bank, and which is why Sheila Dixit was projected as the Chief Ministerial candidate – but later he reportedly got upset that his strategies are not being implemented by the party.

Rahul Gandhi is leading the campaign and it’s the farmers, not Brahmins, who currently appear to be the group that the party is reaching out to. There have been Kisan Yatras and Khat Sabhas, which have made news with farmers fighting for khats (wooden cots).

Apart from the farmers, Congress is wooing OBCs too as it promised within a quota for the Most Backward Castes within the OBC.

The party appears to have put confidence in Rahul and his leadership, claiming that there was some conspiracy by the Modi government to keep him away from campaigning.

In a latest development, Priyanka Vadra attended a poll strategy session of the party, which has sparked hopes in a section of a workers and media that the party could pull off a good performance.

Bahujan Samaj Party:

BSP, led by Mayawati, is aiming to retain its Dalit support base and add Muslims to it. The party had first made a huge issue of a BJP leader using abusive terms for Mayawati. BJP had to expel the leader, but the BSP ended up with self goal as their workers used equally abusive terms for the BJP leader’s wife and daughter. As a result, the BSP lost the moral high ground and any associated political advantage.

Now the party’s focus appears to be reaching out to Muslims and trying for the often talked about Dalit-Muslim vote bank. Be it by reciting quranic verses in rallies or conducting rallies targeted solely at Muslims, BSP is not keeping it subtle – which is a hallmark of Mayawati.

In a way, BSP is replacing its earlier strategy of Dalit-Brahmin combine with Dalit-Muslim combine. Then, a Brahmin face Satish Chandra Mishra was projected as second in command after Mayawati, now it is the Muslim face Naseemuddin Siddiqui.

The party has opposed Modi’s comment on triple talaq and is hoping that Muslims, who are supposed to vote for SP, will now support BSP. And after the bitter family feud in SP – which we will talk about later in this article – it is speculated that the Muslims might actually tilt in BSP’s favor.

Although the party had failed to win even a single seat in the state during the general elections, it will surely register an impact in the coming assembly elections.

Samajwadi Party:

Finally the SP, which has been making most of the news lately. The thing going on in the party is like quantum mechanics – many have heard about it but no one understands it. It’s almost a desi Game Of Thrones going on, though thankfully sans the violence.

Apparently all is not well between father (Mulayam Singh Yadav) and son (Akhilesh Yadav) with the family divided into two camps. As we write this article, neither truce nor further escalation has happened in this family feud.

It all started with Akhilesh removing Chief secretary Deepak Singhal who was considered closed to Shivpal Yadav, and then sacking Shivpal and three more from the state cabinet. Mulayam then countered it with removing Akhilesh and making Shivpal party’s state chief. All this was followed by a day full of drama which is well described here.

Amar Singh is being blamed by many in media and by people like Azam Khan as the outsider who broke the family unity, while there are theories of it being a result of Mulayam’s second wife plotting against Akhilesh to procure a better position for her son.

There is also another conspiracy theory that this entire family feud could be stage managed to play good cop-bad cop strategy where Akhilesh comes out as the good guy who is willing to take on even his father. This can’t be ruled out as many journalists started praising Akhilesh Yadav on his stand on “corruption” even though the entire fight was about control of the party.

Whatever be the real reason, truth is that Uttar Pradesh is now in full election mode and the coming days will see more and more political drama with more twists and turns. Stay tuned.

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