The emerging election mosaic in Uttar Pradesh - Hindustan Times
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The emerging election mosaic in Uttar Pradesh

Apr 17, 2024 10:10 PM IST

The full electoral picture in UP, of course, is still to emerge. But the pointers to the future are very much there.

The big picture of Polls 2024 is emerging gradually from a collage of different miniatures. The same is true of the electoral scene in Uttar Pradesh (UP) as well. The picture in the state remains clear in some parts, and hazy in others. Let’s try and see if we can decipher what lies ahead in UP, which elects 80 members to the Lok Sabha.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav during Congress’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Agra. (Sourced) PREMIUM
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav during Congress’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Agra. (Sourced)

First, the upcoming parliamentary election is going to be a bipolar contest in most of the seats in the state, and triangular in some. Wherever it is bipolar, it will be a face-off between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress’s INDIA bloc. It will be triangular where the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is alone or in a direct or indirect alliance with small parties such as the Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), Mahan Dal, All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) presents a third front.

Second, the BJP is deploying all its political capital such as the popularity of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, Hindutva mobilisation, the network of government scheme beneficiaries (labharthi varg), the governance delivery of the Yogi Adityanath government in the state, micro-social engineering, Ayodhya temple consecration, and the party’s unrivalled booth management. Thus, it has already taken the lead in attracting large sections of the state’s people. On the other hand, the INDIA bloc has become limited to being an alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress — the BSP, at the very outset, had rejected membership of the bloc, and parties such as the Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), Azad Samaj Party, and Janwadi Party deserted the SP.

The SP has failed to diversify its social base: It lost many of its allies, which were caste-based parties with local or regional presence. The SP could have achieved two things by continuing its alliance with them. First, this would have helped it project a large, rainbow alliance of various caste electorates, with obvious consequences for its eventual voting share in the state. Second, this would have helped the party break a commonly held stereotype about it — that it is a party dominated by a single caste, and therefore, bound to prioritise that caste’s interests. Correcting its image and diversifying its social base has indeed been the key challenge for SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. Its major ally, the Congress, is not in a position to attract an impressive number of voters towards the INDIA bloc in the state.

The BSP, or any third block, could lead to a fragmentation of the anti-BJP votes. It is also true that the BSP may create hurdles for the smooth movement of the Dalit voters in the state towards the BJP. The BSP’s strategy for the 2024 elections is two-pronged. First, it is looking to create an electoral nucleus of Dalits and Muslims. And second, it is looking to attract votes from Other Backward Classes and upper castes by giving tickets to leaders from these groups. To forge a Dalit-Muslim electoral base, the BSP has named prominent Muslim faces such as Munquad Ali, Shamsuddin Rayeen, and Jafar Malik among its star campaigners. Except for Satish Chandra Mishra, who is a Brahmin, most of its campaigners are from the Jatav, Jat, and Bania castes. It has also projected leaders from the Pal community and other Most Backward Classes (MBC). Thus, the BSP has launched another attempt at micro-social engineering.

There are three reasons why the BSP could spoil the INDIA bloc’s chances. First, in some of the seats, its candidates are from the same or similar social groups as those being fielded by the INDIA bloc. Second, the BSP hasn’t fielded mere “vote katwa” candidates (those who are unlikely to get enough votes to win but can pull votes from a serious contender), but influential ones in a number of seats. Third, while the INDIA bloc, given its pichre, Dalit aur alpsankhyak (PDA) election pitch, views the backward classes, Dalits and minorities as its possible vote bank, the BSP is emerging as a strong contender for mobilising their votes.

In UP, while the BJP started working on its booth management long ago, the Opposition parties have mounted such efforts only recently. The BJP narrative is already set on the ground, centred on a Hindutva, development, anti-corruption, and anti-dynasty pitch. In contrast, the INDIA bloc has not yet framed its narrative. While the BJP’s narrative and the public images of Modi and Adityanath seem to be without any inherent contradictions, the INDIA bloc has much to do to match or surpass the BJP.

Western UP matters a lot in any electoral planning for the state. Modi started his UP campaign from Meerut. Two days later, Amit Shah addressed a rally in Muzaffarnagar. In western UP, the BJP is following its earlier strategy of creating a broader rainbow alliance of various Hindu castes and communities. The emphasis is on consolidating the party’s support base among the non-Jat, non-Jatav communities such as Saini, Gurjar, Kashyap, Thakur, Brahmin and Vaishya, and add to this Jat support, which has been strengthened by the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) joining the NDA. In Bundelkhand and eastern UP, the BJP is trying to get support from all Hindu castes. One can easily make out from the tone and tenor of the party’s ongoing campaign that there is a concerted attempt to woo the Yadavs and the Jatavs, the core voters of the SP and the BSP, respectively.

The full electoral picture in UP, of course, is still to emerge. But the pointers to the future are very much there.

Badri Narayan is professor, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. The views expressed are personal

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