History has a habit of repeating itself — more so, in Uttar Pradesh. After months of chest-beating over development issues, Uttar Pradesh has finally flopped back to caste and religion.
The seven-phase elections have begun and nothing much seems to have changed except new social equations and new political permutations have emerged.
The newest experiment in these elections is the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance that was forged by the Congress with an eye on the 2019 general elections and by the SP, ostensibly to repair the damage caused by the six-month long family war that was fought in the public domain. The alliance has given the much-needed boost to a dying Congress in the state and an element of confidence to a beleaguered SP. Both parties have realised that they need each other to survive beyond the Assembly elections since Akhilesh will have to move on without Mulayam and Rahul without Sonia Gandhi.
The Congress-SP alliance is gradually consolidating minority votes in its favour — a development that has started making the BSP nervous.
“With Congress on its side, Muslims will now trust the Akhilesh-led SP. Muslims had implicit faith in Mulayam Singh, but were wary of Akhilesh because of his passive role during the Muzaffarnagar riots,” said Maulana Abdul Qadir of Saharanpur.
The BSP, which had hoped to get Muslim votes in western UP and start off on a firm footing, is apparently unnerved at the response that the alliance is getting. In any case, it would be tough for the BSP to enlist the support of Jatavs as well as Muslims since the two groups have been at war since the Muzaffarnagar riots and are unlikely to vote together.
The BSP is also being targeted by all political parties and in the absence of a second rung Dalit leadership in the party, Mayawati is apparently finding it difficult to handle the onslaught.
The BJP, to begin with, is not as comfortably placed as it was a month ago. Ticket distribution has led to widespread revolt in the ranks and the party is facing a number of rebel candidates. With over 100 outsiders having been given tickets, the party cadres have retreated into their homes and party candidates are finding it difficult to get workers for the polls.
The party has also wrongly assessed the impact of demonetisation at the ground level. Unlike what its leaders would like to believe, demonetisation remains a major issue in the rural areas and with SP, BSP and Congress using it as a weapon to strike at the BJP, the issue could damage the party in the polls.
Adding to its troubles is the fact that Jats, who form 17% of the population in western UP, are strongly opposing the BJP over the reservation issue. The statement on reservation by RSS functionaries is also being exploited to the hilt by BSP president Mayawati to “expose” the “anti-Dalit mentality” of the BJP.
The surprise package of these polls, however, could be the Rashtriya Lok Dal that has picked up rebel candidates, mainly from the Samajwadi Party, and fielded them on its symbol. Many of these rebels are influential in their respective constituencies and could make it to the victory stand. Besides, with Jats on its side, the party could prove to be the proverbial dark horse in these elections.