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Gearing up for 2017 Uttar Pradesh polls

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter the announcement of poll dates in all the five states Election Commission of India (ECI) started preparing for the polls. However, for all other political parties and experts the battle field will be Uttar Pradesh. All have began basic exercises for the polls. Uttar Pradesh will vote in 7 phases, from February 11 to March 8 and Goa, Punjab on February 4, Uttarakhand on February 15 and Manipur in two phases on March 4, 8. The counting for all states will be held on March 11. In January 2016, the Election Commission began updating the electoral rolls in the state for the legislature elections that would be held for 403 seats in all assembly segments. Currently, the ruling Samajwadi Party has 229 seats in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly, while the opposition Bahujan Samaj Party has 79, Bharatiya Janata Party has 41, and Congress has 29 seats. Apart from 403 seats, one seat for an Anglo-Indian is reserved. 160 million voters will exercise their franchise across five states this year.

The Congress-PDF alliance was on shaky ground last year in Uttarakhand. After supporting the Congress during a crucial floor test, the PDF was eyeing a larger role in political matters. In the later part of the year, Congress-PDF ties again came under strain when Congress state chief Kishore Upadhyay demanded that PDF should make its stand on 2017 polls clear. Whatever is the scenario one can’t ignore the popularity of Harish Rawat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made lots of effort in influencing Uttarakhand voters, but still one need to wait and watch.

Uttar Pradesh is governed by the Samajwadi Party, whose founding family is tangled in a massive and high-volume battle for power. Samajwadi Party Chief Mulayam Singh wants to remain in control of the party with his close aide and younger brother Shivpal Yadav. They are involved in a tussle with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his mentor, Ram Gopal Yadav, who is Mulayam Singh Yadav’s cousin. The competing factions – Akhilesh Yadav’s is by far much larger – have indicated that in UP, the last time the SP got only 29 per cent and managed a majority on its own. In a three or four cornered contest, even small victory margins may lead to substantial majority and a party which can secure more than 25 per cent votes will have serious chances of winning and BJP got 43 per cent votes in UP in 2014 general elections.

BJP planned to woo people from all backgrounds, castes, and religions. District heads from backward sections were appointed to please the voters in majority. Shiv Pratap Shukla replaced Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi to woo forward sections and strike a balance between forward and backward votebanks. Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh’s massive rallies to address farmers and other sections, and Brahm Chetna Yatra to target Buddhists were flagged off despite of the obvious damage that would be wreaked, reconciliation is out-of-bounds. The Congress which looks depleted after a series of electoral losses could form an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav if he proceeds to form his own party.

A potential gainer – apart from the BJP, which has not governed Uttar Pradesh for 14 years – is Mayawati, the 60-year-old Dalit icon who has served four times as the state’s Chief Minister.  Muslims, who form 19 per cent of the state’s population, have traditionally remained loyal to the Samajwadi Party. However, she is now working to attract and win them over to her Bahujan Samaj Party.

Mayawati is calling on minority groups like the Dalits – 22% of the population – and Muslims to reject the BJP and its commitment to Hindu nationalism. Some lower caste voters deserted her BSP in 2014, allowing the BJP to win 71 out of 80 seats. Nevertheless, a series of attacks on Dalits this year including by self-styled Hindi cow vigilantes, has re-energised her.

PM Modi has been making constant trips to UP and his constituency Varanasi. In his rally, he gave substantial attention to the point that the state government is not letting central schemes reach the people and how centre has tried resolving the long pending woes of UP, e.g. getting the dues of sugarcane farmers released. As of now, the chances are good. UP has been giving decisive mandates in recent times.

So, overall the fight would be between BJP and BSP and it would be very close. If the recent surveys are to be believed, BSP has an edge. Also there would be no Bihar like grand alliance since Mayawati is clearly in control and doesn’t need any other party’s support. SP and Congress might stick together for survival but would be barely of any significance.

Nevertheless, one should not misjudge UP voters. They are actually smart when it comes to politics and making political choices. They voted for Mulayam in 2012 with a comfortable majority but in 2014, they gave 73 seats out of 80 to BJP in Lok Sabha to make Modi PM of our country. Uttar Pradesh was seen as the main factor in electing party after seeing its Prime Minister works. PM Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept Uttar Pradesh, in the 2014 general elections, handing him the biggest parliamentary majority in three decades. A repeat of that success would help the BJP wrest control of the Rajya Sabha, making it easier than it has been to pass key reforms.

In 1991, Congress was nothing when PV Narasimha Rao became prime minister. Atal Bihari Vajpayee ran a stable government from 1999 to 2004 when BJP was not there in UP. Since then, Mayawati and Mulayam ruled UP till today, without affecting who the PM is in Delhi. SP might not have done much for five years and BSP may not have anything to offer, still both have their strong existence in the state.

Interestingly, this time Mayawati is emerging as the main opponent to PM Modi in Uttar Pradesh. BJP chief Amit Shah has made more than 150 visits to the state in the last two years to expand the BJP’s appeal from its traditional base of prosperous and upper caste voters to less privileged voters. Anyway, these days illiterate has mind but literate have only mouth. Let’s see what will happen in UP.

 (Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on [email protected])

Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 14 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazine Beyond The News (international). She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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