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UP will witness battle royal

UP will witness battle royal
Highlights

Rath Yatras have begun to roll in Uttar Pradesh for the crucial electoral battle next year. Wining it is important for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to...

Rath Yatras have begun to roll in Uttar Pradesh for the crucial electoral battle next year. Wining it is important for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to enable him to seek a second term in 2019 when Lok Sabha polls are due.

That the assembly polls may be advanced to February-March underscores the importance and urgency of the Yatras and all that goes with them.

It will be a battle royal. The Congress, widely perceived as the underdog with poor electoral prospects, launched the first Yatra. It announced its chief ministerial face in Sheila Dikshit.

As Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav embarked on his Yatra for the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced not one but four Yatras and 16 mini-Yatras, with none else but Modi as its mascot.


Some conclusions can be drawn at this stage by underlining the negatives. If it sets its house in order, the SP will not do as badly as most people perceive.

Conversely, Mayawati will not have a cakewalk as many people think against SP’s muscle power and BJP’s money power. But BJP will also not do as well as being predicted.

And Congress will not be wiped out if it follows its own Bihar track. Indeed, it cannot do any worse than its performance in 2014


The ‘rath,’ of course, a custom-made SUV complete with various paraphernalia and gadgets including security armour, captures popular imagination in tradition-bound UP where the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, although written millennia back, are read, recited and revered.

An election is a modern version of Pandavas and Kauravas preparing for Mahabharata and Ram returning to Ayodhya after winning the war in Lanka. The epics’ comparison with today’s people and places do not matter – their aura does, and matters.

This modern-day electoral battle has wider political ramifications, if not deeper meanings and age-old wisdom, that the epics have for our society

We already have episodes of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi attracting huge crowds during her Yatra, but falling sick halfway and hospitalised.

And we have pictures of Akhilesh, his family squabbles (‘yadavasthali’) spilling over to the public, finding his Rath bogged down within 500 meter of the start ( Mahabharata’s Abhimanyu performed much longer and better at Kurukshetra!). Modi has had one big rally and Mayawati has been criss-crossing UP for long.

The picture as the country’s most populous and politically crucial state gears up for the polls is hazy. Presently, Mayawati is leading the pack for several reasons.

But then she was leading even in the 2011 polls and lost, for many reasons. Her Bahujan Samaj Party scored a duck in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Yet she is widely perceived as being in a direct contest with the BJP.

Nobody can forecast how UP’s 140 million voters will perform next year. They comprise among others 21 per cent Dalits, 19.26 per cent Muslims, seven per cent Brahmins, 22 per cent other backward castes.

No party or alliance can claim support of the entire communities that have, over the years, learnt to vote tactically and have tended to tilt the balance one way or the other. Mayawati learnt this in 2011 when she surprisingly lost. The voter could spring similar surprises.

The SP frittered away its gains over the first three years, allowing the Muzaffarnagar carnage and numerous other incidents. Under its watch, UP has been high on crime and low on development.

Only now, some infrastructure like the Agra-Lucknow-Allahabad highway is coming up. Belatedly trying to bridge the wide gaps between poll promises and performance, Akhilesh has made development central to his campaign.

How it will match against the BJP’s Hindutva agenda and Mayawati’s caste line-up will be worth watching. Akhilesh is currently at the centre of a feud that is inevitable for a ruling party run by a single family.

Call him Ram, Abhimanyu or Arjun - whatever, his family feud attracts comparisons with the epics.

He has been battling uncle Shivpal and if reports are to be believed, his stepmother (Kaikeyi?) and siblings with supposed political ambitions.

There is a ‘Shakuni’ in Amar Singh to muddy the Samajwadi waters.

But Akhilesh also has a doting father in Mulayam Singh Yadav – call him Dasarath or Dhritarashtra. He scolds him before his ministers and party workers, demanding: “tumhari avakat kya hai?”

Mulayam appears even more wily than his epical peers. No great insight, psychological or political, is required to see that his fulminations and manipulations are aimed at securing power for his son.

Mulayam swings between acting even-handed in dealing with brother Shivpal and putting Akhilesh in his place, using his veto power. On a closer look, he wants to ensure that Shivpal does not rebel and behave like his cousin Ramgopal Yadav.

As of now, it is advantage Akhilesh, but he has to play his cards well. Being the Chief Minister he is impliedly in control of the government machinery.

It is also clear that he has somehow caught the imagination of the young, at least, among his party workers. That gives him an edge over the party veterans.

Surely, what political observers, SP insiders and others have perceived, Shivpal also has. Hence his continued slighting of Akhilesh even while mouthing words in his support.

But his is a losing battle. Over time, Mulayam may use his veto to help Akhilesh and sideline Shivpal. If Shivpal does not rebel before the polls, after the polls, he will be eclipsed anyway.

The ageing SP supremo may still be nursing prime ministerial ambitions for which he must consolidate power in UP. This may be his last chance. While boosting Akhilesh, he is trying to secure more options.

One of them is welcoming support to and from Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Rahul, it was said, had supported Akhilesh as the CM in 2011. It is payback time.

The Congress has signaled willingness to join an electoral arrangement with the SP, either bilaterally or as part of an alliance.

Mulayam has also revived links with the erstwhile Lohiaite colleagues. The talk of “Janata Parivar” coming together in time for the UP polls gathered momentum at the SP’s 25th anniversary celebrations.

Mulayam had spurned this during the Bihar polls last year, but now wants it. Helping him in the task is Bihar’s Lalu Prasad who also wants to broaden his base now that Nitish Kumar is secure in his position as Bihar chief minister.

Assuming it succeeds and a ‘mahagathbandhan’ is forged, then a broad phalanx against the Bharatiya Janata Party could take shape.

It is again advantage Akhilesh since Rahul and Lalu have reportedly conveyed to Mulayam that the unity move would be based on an electoral battle with Akhilesh in the lead.

It is not going to be easy, though, for anyone. The Congress has no choice but to either ride piggyback on SP or be part of the alliance.

Its Bihar experience at alliance was good, although the West Bengal one was not. In UP, this may mean dumping Sheila Dikshit and joining the ‘mahagathbandhan.”

On her part, Mayawati plans to go solo. She has said the proposed alliance would only divide the Dalit and the Muslim vote and end up helping the BJP. It is tempting to dismiss Mayawati’s pre-polls rhetoric.

But there is substance in her argument that a divided Muslim vote could polarise the voting on Hindu-Muslim line, as had happened in many UP pockets in the past elections.

Mayawati’s line of attack is that Mulayam has an understanding with the BJP to keep her out of power. Political quarters believe she is the perfect antidote to the Yadav clan that is unlikely to end its internal squabble.

Some conclusions can be drawn at this stage by underlining the negatives. If it sets its house in order, the SP will not do as badly as most people perceive.

Conversely, Mayawati will not have a cakewalk as many people think against SP’s muscle power and BJP’s money power, coming through Modi’s promises to make UP the “richest state.”

But BJP will also not do as well as being predicted. It cannot repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha performance of winning 71 of 80 seats at the assembly level – unless fresh sectarian violence erupts in the state.

And Congress will not be wiped out if it follows its own Bihar track. Indeed, it cannot do any worse than its performance in 2014.

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