February 02, 2012

THE STATES THAT MATTER - PART II



BATTLEGROUND UP - Part A

In Indian politics, they say that ‘The road to Delhi goes via Lucknow’. With a population of about 20 crore and an assembly comprising of a staggering 406 seats, it is no doubt that the impact of the political drama played out in the state of Uttar Pradesh, are felt at the Centre. A large number of our national leaders hail from here and the issues that affect the people in the heart of the ‘Hindi heartland’ regularly find resonance in the national Parliament.

Apart from being the cradle of Indian civilization since time immemorial, the state has produced as many as eight Prime Ministers since independence and is also the home to India’s premiere political family – The Nehru-Gandhi family. It was the demolition of the Babri Masjid in the holy town of Ayodhya by Kar-sevaks in 1994 that catapulted the BJP to power, first in UP and then at the Centre. The 80 MPs that represent the state in the Lok Sabha play a crucial role in the permutations and combinations that take place in the process to form and retain Union governments or to stack in the numbers to pass contentious bills. After all, it was the support of the 23 Samajwadi Party MPS that saved the UPA government after the Communist pulled out their support to the Congress-led government citing differences over the nuclear deal. And as the state goes to polls early this year, it is but natural that the assembly polls will be fiercely contested and can make or break the careers of many a political heavyweights.
UP CM and BSP Chief Mayawati (Courtesty: Article)
The incumbent Chief Minister and the BSP supremo, Mayawati will be looking to recreate the magic that brought her to power in the 2007 assembly polls with a clear majority. Her unique experiment of fielding a combination of Dalit and Brahmin candidates, a brain-child of her confidant S C Mishra, dubbed as ‘Social Engineering’, won her the upper caste votes while BSP’s traditional lower caste support base continued to remain loyal to her. Though she has managed to complete her full term and improve the law and order situation in the state, several cases of corruption against her and her ministers, have continued to haunt her government from time to time. The forcible acquisition of land from farmers in Bhatta-Parsaul village in Muzzafarabad district and the agitation that followed, including the death of 4 people in the subsequent police crackdown on the farmer protests, caught nation-wide attention with opposition parties, including the Congress, BJP etc aiming to derive political mileage out of the situation. And of course, the construction of several parks across the state with statues of her, Dr Ambedkar, her mentor Kanshi Ram and her party symbol, the Elephant out of public exchequer has been regularly criticized with her political rival, Mulayam Singh threatening to pull them down if elected to power.

In the 2009 general elections, the ‘Dalit ki beti’ who is today, India’s richest CM, reiterated her desire to become the first Dalit Prime Minister of the country. Although she won 6.7% of the total votes casted and the BSP emerged as the third largest party in terms of vote share, she managed to win a paltry 21 seats, two less than the SP and one less the Congress in UP. While her dream to become the PM was dashed, Maya tried to replicate her 2007 strategy in several other states but with little or no success.

Aiming to retain power for a second consecutive term, Behenji has tried to improve her public image by sacking several ‘corrupt’ ministers from her party including her former close aide, Babu Singh Kushwaha and Avdesh Verma and has denied tickets to many of her ‘non-performing’ MLAs. Instead of talking about her achievements as the state’s CM, which in fact, were few and far in between, Maya’s election campaign is expected to be largely based on the shortcomings of her political opponents and thus projecting herself  as the only viable alternative in the four sided contest. Besides, she has raised the issue of bifurcation of UP into four smaller states, thereby putting other political parties into a tight spot and cut them to size while consolidating her position. Although opinion polls predict a hung assembly, a victory in the upcoming polls will further give wings to her national aspirations and make her a top contender for the leadership of the Third Front in the 2014 general elections, provided its constituents remain loyal to the cause of forming a non-Congress, non-BJP government at the Centre.
SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav (Courtesy: Samajwadi Party)
 At 72, Mulayam Singh Yadav will enter the fray to seek a fourth term as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Training his guns at the incumbent CM on the issue of widespread corruption in the Mayawati government, the Samajwadi Party which has christened its poll campaign as ‘Ummed ki cycle’, promising to ‘undo all damage’ caused by the BSP government  in the last five years. The cycle rallies organized across the state have attracted sizable crowds but it remains to be seen whether it translates into votes or not. Amar Singh’s exit has added more credibility to the party whereas the re-entry of his rival and the party’s Muslim face, Azam Khan after being expelled for six years in 2009 for anti-party activities, has boosted the morale of party workers. Realizing that corruption is a major political issue, all thanks to the Anna Hazare movement, the SP has slammed its doors on several ministers who were dropped from the Maya cabinet as they were accused of corruption. However, the lawlessness during his previous tenures and several impending corruption cases against him and his family members are questions that have been regularly raised by Mulayam’s detractors and political opponents.

Leading his party’s 'Kranti Rath Yatra', crown prince and Kannauj MP Akhilesh Yadav has travelled across the length and breadth of UP in a bid to convince people of vote for his party. Although the junior Yadav has denied reports that he is the SP’s Chief Ministerial candidate, a win in the polls will be a shot in the arms and will, for sure, firmly establish his stature as a mass leader. A victory for the Samajwadi Party will also bolster Mulayam’s standing on the political stage ahead of the next national elections. The post poll tie up with the Congress, like in the past, is likely in case of a hung assembly.
Congress leaders Digvijay Singh and Rahul Gandhi (Courtesy: Hindu) 
Excluding the Jagdambika Pal government that was termed ‘unconstitutional’ by the Supreme Court in 1998 after three days in office, the Congress has effectively remained out of power in Lucknow in last 22 years. The fortunes of the party have dwindled over the years and its support base has been largely reduced to areas like Rae Bareily and Amethi - the Nehru-Gandhi bastions.

However, the 2009 general elections saw a revival of the party as it won an amazing 22 seats to emerge as the second largest party in the terms of the total seats won in Uttar Pradesh. The party leaders gave the credit of this surprising success to Rahul Baba’s campaign and urged him to work towards strengthening the party’s state unit. Over the last few years, he has never missed any opportunity to hit out at the Mayawati government, accusing the 'Elephant' in Lucknow of eating up all the cenral funds allocated to the state by the UPA government. He along with the Congress general secretary and ‘drama-king’, Digvijay Singh led an agitation against the police atrocities in Bhatta-Parsaul. However, the so-called youth icon’s claims that 70 farmers had died in the police crackdown and several of their women were raped, could not be backed with any substantial evidence and like in the past, the senior party leaders had to step in to defend the Gandhi scion.

Though chances of Congress retuning to power, in spite of a pre poll alliance with Ajit Singh’s RLD, look bleak, the party will try to muster as many seats as possible and will for sure win more seats than in 2007, when it was reduced to just 22. A good performance by the Congress will be a major milestone in Rahul's journey towards the PM's chair whereas a poor show will give the opposition another reason to belittle the Congress's Yuvraj. A post poll tie up with the SP is a realistic possibility and will be a win-win situation for both the parties. While Mulayam will fulfill his political aspirations in UP, the entry of the SP into the UPA will boost its strength and reduce the Congress’s dependence on the mercurial TMC chief Mamata Bannerji. Also, the tie up will help the Congress-led government to push its own version of the Lokpal Bill on the upcoming Parliamentary session as it will have the necessary numbers in both the Houses and prevent further embarrassment from the Opposition and civil society members over the issue.
BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and L K Advani (Courtesy: India Today)
The BJP which grew out of UP to become the alternative to the Congress has seen the highs and the lows in the state in the last two decades. In its zenith, the saffron outfit ruled the state on its own under Kalyan Singh and tied up several times with BSP but this ‘marriage of political convenience’ has been short lived and has ended up in public fallout followed by mud-slinging from both sides. The BJP today has no prominent leader in the state who can mesmerize the crowds like former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee did during his political career. Murali Manohar Joshi, Lalji Tandon and Ranjnath Singh lack the charisma and support base to take on the likes of Mulayam and Mayawati. In the 2007 assembly polls, the BSP ate into the BJP’s traditional upper caste vote bank, thereby reducing it to just 50 odd seats. The alleged inflammatory speech by Varun Gandhi boomeranged on the party as the Muslim votes polarized in favor of the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and the party finished fourth in spite of an alliance with the Kurmi outfit, Apna Dal.

Hindutva leader Uma Bharati, who was re-inducted into the party after being dismissed for her on camera spat with Advani has been made in-charge of the UP poll campaign. The party’s image took a beating when it embraced former BSP leader, Kushwaha in spite of corruption charges against him. Though the party has tried some damage control by keeping the former state minister’s primary membership on hold for the time being, it has lost the moral high ground on the issue of corruption. As such the BJP’s tirade against Congress over the scams in the UPA regime and its failure to draft a ‘strong’ Lokpal Bill may find few, if not no takers. Also, Kushwaha’s entry has drawn criticism from all quarter, including the state unit, the Sangh Parivar and NDA allies. Like the Congress, the BJP too has no realistic chance of coming to power on its own in UP. Rather it will hope to retain its present number tally or at best, try to win around 80 to 100 seats and may end up aligning with the BSP.

While the largest state of the world’s largest democracy goes to polls, the Election Commission of India has an uphill task to ensure that the exercise is conducted in a free and fair manner and the code of conducted is adhered to by all candidates. Considering the sheer massiveness of the state and the hooliganism that has infested it in the past, the EC has decided to conduct the elections in seven phases starting from 8th February to 3rd March. Will Mayawati’s ‘Social Engineering’ work for the second time or will Mulayam ride his way to the legislative assembly on the SP’s cycle? Will Rahul Gandhi’s charisma translate into votes for the Congress or will the BJP retain lost ground in the state? These and all other questions will be answered on 6th March (The States That Matter - Part VII) as the votes are counted and the results are announced.

More on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2012



IMAGES

(1) UP CM and BSP Chief Mayawati (Courtesy: Article) (Link)
Source: Elephant Giving Nightmares to Rahul 

(2) Samajwadi Party leader Mulayum Singh Yadav (Courtesy: Samajwadi Party) (Link)
Source: Samajwadi Party

(3) Congress leaders Digvijay Singh and Rahul Gandhi (Courtesy: Hindu) (Link)
Source: The Hindu - UP polls: Congress for aggressive campaigning

(4) BJP leaders Arun Jaitely and L K Advani (Courtesy: India Today) (Link)
Source: India Today