OTHERS COMPETE FOR SECOND PLACE

The BJP seems to be on course to wrest Uttar Pradesh from the Samajwadi Party. As the seven-phase poll ends next week, the scorched-earth campaigning by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has virtually taken the wind out of the sails of the freshly-assembled team of Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi. In recent days, even Mayawati has gathered some momentum, enough to give fright to the SP-Congress for second place in the UP lottery.

But the remarkable thing is the bounce-back by the BJP. When the polls were notified, thanks to the public spat, real or pretend, within the Yadav family, the UP Chief Minister was a favourite of the chattering classes. Large sections of the media, particularly the liberal English press, were sympathetic to the relatively young Yadav in his high-decibel fight with his father and uncle. Having won SP’s cycle, Akhilesh entered the poll on a high note. And once he undertook to shelter the crumbling Congress under his overblown umbrella, to many it seemed a winning combination.

Akhilesh, however, slipped up badly when he allocated over a hundred seats to the Congress. The Congress was desperate for survival, widely predicted to win but a maximum nine seats by one of the more hopeful surveys only a few days before the poll announcement. Akhilesh exposed his own vulnerability by yielding 103 seats to a party, which for all intents, had long ceased to be relevant in the largest state in the country. The anti-Akhilesh group in the SP was now determined to spoil things for its bête noire in these seats at least.

On the other hand, meticulous booth-level preparations by the BJP much ahead of the poll were beginning to make a difference. Given Amit Shah’s expertise at poll management, with every small detail addressed, and nothing left to chance, it was clear that the SP-Congress duo was losing steam. As the media-driven SP-Congress campaign began to slack, reports of a groundswell building up in favour of the saffron party gained ground. Now, sections of the same media, including those who have made a career pushing anti-BJP-ism, reluctantly concede that the BJP is set to win a clear majority on 11 March when the votes are to be counted.

If that happens, the number one reason, without doubt, will be the dog-fight between SP and BSP for the sizeable Muslim vote. Muslims, nearly 20% of the electorate, are on the horns of a dilemma. Though their number one objective is to defeat the BJP, secularists have no tool which can pinpoint as to which candidate in a particular constituency is best placed to defeat the saffron party. The resulting confusion splits the Muslim vote in over a hundred seats where it is in a position to decide the winner and, thus, help BJP romp home victorious.

Given that the SP is the first choice of Muslims, given that Mayawati has fielded nearly one hundred Muslims, the position of the minority voters is indeed unenviable. By all accounts, this is bound to prove a major factor in the good showing by the saffron party. Interestingly, even the Hyderabad strongman, Asaduddin Owaisi, is doing nothing to consolidate the Muslim vote. His foray into UP in fact would further confuse the Muslim voter.

While all three major claimants for the UP throne have paid minute attention to caste and community at the constituency level, it is the BJP which seems to be succeeding in putting together a rainbow coalition of all major castes excluding the core groups supporting Mayawati and Akhilesh. It will be hard for the saffron party to attract support from Jatavs, Mayawati’s caste brothers; just as Yadavs will not desert the SP. Amit Shah has tried to win over all other castes, including, notably, substantial sections of the non-Jatav Dalits. And like it or not, in UP caste is the single most important factor in a “normal” election like this one—the 2014 Lok Sabha election was not normal thanks to Modi’s magical appeal transcending barriers of caste and community.

In an election largely devoid of issues and/or ideologies, the national stature of the Prime Minister, and his continuing hold on the popular mind, is pitted against the sectional appeals of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. It is not hard to choose the winner when it becomes a contest of personalities. Modi may not have, as yet, ushered acchhe din, but ordinary people do not doubt his sincerity, his integrity and commitment to take the country forward. And that is what matters, especially when you see paupers like Mayawati and the larger Yadav dynasty turning billionaires in double-quick time upon joining politics.

Meanwhile, a BJP win in UP will make the polity more, and not less, confrontational. The motley Opposition, instead of feeling chastened, would become more belligerent, ganging up further to challenge Modi at every step. There will be a virtual reprise of the early 1970s, when an ascendant Indira Gandhi had obliged the Right and the Left to come together under a single banner only to oppose her. Post-UP win, it will be Modi versus all. However, always a dogged fighter, Modi will only get further pugnacious to extinguish the unholy challenge. Unfortunately, the resulting fall-out in more bitterness and acrimony will not be good for the polity.

CROREPATIS GALORE IN MAYA’S BSP

It might sound strange that Mayawati’s Dalit-centric party has more millionaire-candidates than even the supposedly upper-caste Bania-Brahmin-dominated BJP. But, then, when it comes to crorepati candidates, or even candidates with criminal backgrounds, the BSP competes on more than equal terms with the Congress, BJP and the SP. In short, the electoral process has broken down the traditional barriers of caste and community to usher in a sort of a level playing field, as it were, with each party privileging winnability above all else while distributing tickets.

VICTIM OF TELECOM WARFARE

The abrupt removal of Telecom Secretary J.S. Deepak on the night of Wednesday, 1 March, has created quite a buzz in bureaucratic circles. Some believe, the removal is a fall-out of the on-going war in the telecom sector, with a relatively new player causing a real fright to the old and established operators. The undisputed leader in mobile telephony doubtless is no pushover. Though a firm Congress supporter, he has cultivated people in the BJP as well. He is confident of repulsing the challenge from the new entrant regardless of the latter’s far deeper pockets. With their bottom-line under pressure thanks to an aggressive marketing by the new player with all its freebies and various promotional add-ons, Deepak overplayed his hand.

His written plaint to the Telecom Regulatory Authority virtually made a case against the latest entrant, arguing that its activities hurt the public revenue and in the long run could well hurt even consumers’ interests. This proved the proverbial last straw, virtually sealing Deepak’s fate as Telecom Secretary. Why did he open himself to charges that he is taking sides?

 

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