May 16, 2014

UTTAR PRADESH & LOK SABHA 2014


THE BATTLE OF BATTLES


Now we come to the big daddy of all - the state of Uttar Pradesh. Having encompassed the entire country, we can now spend some time analyzing the most populous state of the country. Actually, only five countries in the entire world including India have more people than UP. With 80 parliamentary seats up for grabs, the way to Delhi truly passes via Lucknow. In the past though, we have seen that none of the four major parties here have been able to win a decisive victory as far as the last three Lok Sabha elections are concerned. However, in the last two state elections, the mandate has been clear; while Maya crossed the 200 mark in 2007, Akhilesh did even better two years ago (Link). Now the question is whether any of the four main contenders can do the same in the 2014. After that stunning victory, the SP is confident of a good showing. The Congress and the RLD are hopeful of doing what they did in the last General Elections. Mayawati is keen on a comeback whereas the BJP is hopeful that the Modi wave will help them boost their figures.

ISSUES

(1) Development: While it is India's largest state, UP has lagged behind others like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu in terms of industrial development. In spite of having extensive natural resources at its disposal, fertile soil and abundant water, majority of people continue to remain poor. One of the biggest reasons for this is has been that the local politics has been dominated by factors like caste and religion. However, this time the BJP's PM nominee Narendra Modi has focused his election agenda on the plank of development. Of course this doesn't mean that there has been no caste or communal polarization by the saffron camp. However, the ground reality remains that the people here are keen to usher in development and enjoy fruits of it.

(2) Performance of the Akhilesh Yadav: It has been a little over two years since the young Akhilesh was placed at the helm of affairs in Lucknow. At 39 years old, he was one of the youngest CMs of the country and a lot was expected from him. Probably, the General Elections are the best time to see if the SP leader has been able to win the hearts of the people or not. While his regime has been true to some of its electoral promises made during the campaign, the fact remains that the law and order situation in the state has deteriorated, like in earlier Samajwadi regimes. The failure to prevent the Muzaffarnagar riots and the suspension of upright officer Durga Shakti Nagpal have been blots on the young leader's career so far.

(3) Caste Equations: As mentioned earlier, the caste equations have traditionally dominated the politics in this state since independence. The BSP supremo Mayawati whose famed 'Social Engineering' saw her sweeping the 2007 polls has gone back to the drawing board, hopeful that selection of candidates based on their caste would help her stage a grand come back. Besides, the Dalit votes, she is trying to woo the Brahmins who played a key in her victory seven years ago. The SP is dependent on the support of the Yadavs. The BJP, known as a party of the Upper Castes has roped in the Kurmi outfit - the Apna Dal in its fold.

(4) Communal Polarization: Apart from caste politics, another matter of concern in the big state is communal polarization. This certainly works here as seen during the early nineties when the BJP swept the state, riding on the sentiments following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The candidature of Narendra Modi has made 'Secularism' a major talking point across the nation, more so in UP which accounts for nearly half of the country's total Muslim population. Moreover, after the Muzaffarnagar riots (Link) in Western UP, communal flares are running high. Amit Shah, whose role in the alleged fake encounters in Gujarat has come under the scanner has been made the head of the BJP's campaign in UP. His visit to the Ram Janmabhoomi and his call to avenge the Muzaffarnagar riots are clearly an attempt to help it win votes on religious lines. SP Muslim face Azam Khan went a step further, claiming that it were 'Muslim' soldiers in the Indian army that won the Kargil war and later even refused to apologize. Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari to help consolidate minority votes. Even Mayawati has given many seats to Muslims.

CONTENDERS

(1) Samajwadi Party (SP): There were a lot of expectations as young Akhilesh Yadav was made the CM of UP after he led the party to a handsome victory in the state assembly polls. Two years down the line though, nothing seems to have changed. While his performance has been much better than that of the preceding Mayawati regime, the young Turk's inability to protect the Muslims during the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 has led to bad press. With his son in Lucknow, daddy Mulayum Singh Yadav is eyeing a bigger role for himself in national politics, having been a founder member of the Third Front (Link). If he does manage to win over 25 seats, he could be the Federal coalition's PM choice. Apart from highlighting their regime's 'development' work, the SP is also hoping to benefit from communal polarization, especially in the aftermath of the riots and the candidature of Narendra Modi. In fact, senior leader and outfit's Muslim face Azam Khan had been banned by the EC from campaigning for flaring up religious sentiments. Also, in a bid to stem the Modi wave, Mulayum has also decided to contest from Azamgarh, besides his traditional seat of Mainpuri. Other candidates include the CM's wife Dimple Yadav (Kannauj) and party supremo's nephews - Akshay Yadav (Firozabad) and Dharmendra Yadav (Badaun).

(2) Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP): For two long years, Behenji has virtually lost her political dominance in the big state to her bete noire - the SP. After that drubbing she got in 2012, the former UP CM is hopeful that the next Lok Sabha would see her making a grand comeback. However, the BSP's campaign has been rather lackluster. It has not been able to project itself as a strong contender here. Even the talks of alliance with the Congress, something that was doing the rounds for some time failed as Mayawati realized from her past experiences that her allies' votes do not go to her outfit. At the same time we need to keep in mind that she just cannot be written off. The Dalit leader may well spring a surprise like she has done in the past. As usual, she has relied on the caste equations to win seats. Her party's candidates include a mix of mix of SCs, STs, Muslims, Thakurs and Brahmins. Prominent amongst these are Akbar Hussain (Rampur), Shah Alam (Azamgarh), Qadir Rana (Muzaffarnagar), Mukul Upadhyaya (Ghaziabad), Satish Awana (Noida), Seema Upadhyaya (Fatehpur Sikri), and Narayan Singh (Agra).

(3) United Progressive Alliance: In 2009, the Congress performed out of its skin to win over 20 seats. This time, though it has the RLD with it, crossing even the 10 mark is going to be extremely difficult. Even former CM and veteran Congress leader Jagdambika Pal has crossed over to the BJP. The INC found itself in the centre of a controversy as its candidate Imran Masood in a video film threatened to cut Modi into pieces. He was later sent to judicial custody in what turned out to be an embarrassment for the party. As brother Rahul faced stiff competition from Smriti Irani and Kumar Vishwas, sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra came to the rescue, campaigning in the pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli. Her war of words with Narendra Modi - the 'Neech Rajneeti' comment and with her cousin Varun provided fodder to the media. The party's nominees include the president Sonia Gandhi (Rae Bareli), her son and vice president Rahul Gandhi (Amethi), former state party president Rita Bahuguna (Lucknow), film stars Raj Babbar (Ghaziabad) and Nagma (Meerut), cricketer Mohammad Kaif (Phoolpur) and ministers - Sri Prakash Jaiswal (Kanpur) and Salman Khurshid (Farrukhabad).

The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) is fighting the polls in alliance with the Congress. However, the situation for Ajit Singh led party is precarious. The Muzaffarnagar riots have led to a split between the two traditional voters in western UP - the Jats and the Muslims. It is believed that while the former are gravitating towards the BJP, the former may vote for the BSP. The Union government's decision to grant reservation for the Jats may help retain the farmer votes. Also, the party welcomed former SP leader Amar Singh (Link) some time back. Its key candidates include chief Ajit Singh (Baghpat), his son Jayant Chaudhary (Mathura), Amar Singh (Fatehpur Sikri) and his aide Jaya Prada (Rampur).

(4) National Democratic Alliance: For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Mission 272+ to succeed, it has to win a significant number of parliamentary seats in UP. The saffron camp has come up with a two fold strategy to do well in the state that propelled it on to the national stage. Firstly, the party is banking on Modi's development agenda to strike a chord with the electorate who seem to have been left out of the India growth story. Secondly, for the BJP which came into prominence banking on the Hindutva plank following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Muzaffarnagr riots seems to have given it just the kind of the opening that it was looking for. Narendra Modi's close aide Amit Shah was deputed to UP to strengthen the grass root organization and help the party increase its tally. In fact, Shah was gagged by the Election Commission for his revenge remark while campaigning in the communally sensitive Western UP. However, he was let off after he expressed regret for his remark. Another controversy that the party found itself in was the candidature of Modi from Varanasi, a seat represented by senior leader M M Joshi. Though the saffron leader was said to be keen to re-contest from there, he was 'forced' to move to Kanpur. The BJP's candidates include Narendra Modi (Varanasi), Murali Manohar Joshi (Kanpur), Rajnath Singh (Lucknow), Menaka Gandhi (Pilibhit), Varun Gandhi (Sultanpur) and General V K Singh (Ghaziabad).

The Kurmi outfit Apna Dal (AD) has entered into an electoral alliance with the BJP. Party leader Anupriya Patel, who is the daughter of the party founder late Dr. Sonelal Patel will contest from Mirzapur. Meanwhile, Harivansh Singh has been given the ticket from Pratapgarh. The coalition is expected to help the NDA get the support of the Patel community which is strong in some pockets.

(5) Aam Admi Party (AAP): Three of the top AAP leaders are contesting from the big state as the newly launched outfit is planning to make a sensational debut this General Elections. Chief Arvind Kejriwal who resigned as the Delhi CM has filed his nomination from Varanasi against Narendra Modi in what is expected to be the mother of all battles. The kind of support he is getting shows that the temple town along the Ganga is not going to be a cake walk for the Gujarat CM. Poet turned politician Kumar Vishwas has jumped into the fray against another big name - Rahul Gandhi from Amethi. Having come to his constituency nearly three months ago, he is keen to work upon the early bird advantage. Another AAP leader and former journalist Shazia Ilmi is contesting against former Army General V K Singh from Ghaziabad.

PAST PERFORMANCE

In 1996, it was the BJP which swept the state winning as many as 52 seats and the Samajwadis emerged as the second largest party in UP while the Congress and the BSP were reduced to single digits. Two years later, the saffronists ended up with 57 seats, the highest that any party has got in the big state over the last two decades. While the NDA came to power in 1999, its tally here was reduced by half. The SP came in at a close second and the BSP and the INC crossed into the two digit mark. Five years down the line, Mulayum's party reached its zenith, winning 35 seats. Even Maya bagged 19 seats while the BJP's numbers plummeted to just 10, one more than the INC. Finally in 2009, the SP slipped to 23 although it did end up as the largest party in the state. The big surprise was the Congress which bagged 21 seats, one more than the BSP. The BJP cut a sorry figure at 10.

Political Party20092004199919981996
Samajwadi Party (SP)2335262016
Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP)20191446
Congress21910-5
Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)532--
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)1010295752
Others14446

(1) There were 85 seats in the state of Uttar Pradesh before the creation of Uttarakhand in 2001.

MY PREDICTIONS

The Modi wave in Uttar Pradesh coupled by some smart decisions made on the ground by Amit Shah will help the BJP and its allies win close to 50 seats. The SP will be the runners up and may win up to 15 seats. The BSP will struggle to cross into two digits whereas the Congress-RLD combine will virtually be wiped out.

Political PartyExpected Seats
1NDA (BJP + AD)46-50
2Samajwadi Party (SP)12-16
3Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP)7-11
4UPA (Congress + RLD)3-7
5Others0-2

WATCH OUT

(1) A Modi wave in UP? With Amit Shah supervising the party campaign in Uttar Pradesh, many are expecting a Modi wave in UP. The state sends 80 MPs to the Lower House and a good showing here could propel the NDA close to the half way mark. The best showing that the saffronists had here was in 1998 when the BJP under Vajpayee won as many as 57 seats. There is no doubt that Modi's nomination from Varanasi was an effort to help the party's cause in the country's most populous state (Link). The question is whether the saffron camp can replicate that success, especially with the grass root organization being weakened and the star emergence of the two regional players - the SP and the BSP.

(2) Performance of the three regional players and their role in the Third Front: For the Third Front to have any chance whatsoever of coming to power, the regional parties have to do well. In fact with the SP and the BSP chiefs not seeing eye to eye, practically only one of the two i.e. the one which finishes with more seats could be a part of such a confederation. With the SP winning a massive electoral victory in 2012 state polls, Mulayum is expected to do well. The former UP CM like many other regional players is said to be nursing PM ambitions. Mayawati too is keen to make a comeback. After being demolished in 2012, the Dalit ki Beti is hopeful that a 20+ show could help her regain some lost pride. Another small regional player is the RLD. Having been a part of both the NDA and the UPA over the last five years, it would not take much for him to change loyalties and help either of the three major coalitions in case they fall short of numbers in the Parliament.

(3) Can the Congress do a miracle, yet again? In 2009, the Congress did a extremely well, winning as many as 21 seats in UP. Considering that the party's organization has completely eroded here in the past, the performance was incredible. As usual, many Congressmen gave the credit of that spectacular showing to Rahul Gandhi. Of course, that bubble bursted in the 2012 state assembly elections when in spite of heavy campaigning by Baba, the grand old party failed to even cross the 25 mark; in fact, their performance even in the family boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli was bad. Besides, many believed that Varun Gandhi's controversial statement in Pilibhit helped consolidation of the Muslim votes in favor of the INC. Now, in 2014 the Gandhi in the saffron camp has not made any such statement. So the question is whether the Congress can even come to close to that figure in got in the last Lok Sabha polls.

Other posts in this series:
(1) Karnataka & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(2) Rajasthan & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(3) Maharashtra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(4) Goa & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(5) Kerala & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(6) Assam & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(7) Tripura & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(8) Haryana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(9) Chhattisgarh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(10) Jammu Kashmir & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(11) Madhya Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(12) Telangana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(13) Bihar & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(14) Jharkhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Sikkim & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(16) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(17) Nagaland & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(18) Manipur & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(19) Meghalaya & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(20) Mizoram & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(21) Delhi & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(22) Gujarat & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(23) Himachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(24) Uttarakhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(25) Bengal & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(26) Odisha & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(27) Tamil Nadu & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(28) Andhra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(29) Punjab & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)