Ruminations: Small steps towards power

The new twist has been that BSP could be recovering lost ground

Every drop counts. That is turning out to be the message from the Uttar Pradesh elections. In short, the sweep that one witnessed in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, driving on the charisma of one person, is missing in this assembly election. Which is what makes it confusing to someone looking in from the outside as well to parties in the contest.
It has been a topsy-turvy contest. Three months of so ago, it was the Samajwadi Party (SP) with its back to the wall, fighting anti-incumbency. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was on the ascendant, ready to reap the anti-incumbency. And then, there was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Then, the infighting in the SP, and Akhilesh Yadav’s emergence as the supreme force in the party, appeared to put a sting in the SP’s tail.
The new twist in the situation has been because of the BJP and local feedback that the BSP could be recovering lost ground. It has once again triggered talk of a hung assembly, something that the BJP has, officially, been at pains to dismiss. One view is that the BSP will do well in all seats which have weak Congress candidates. Besides, it is possible that Muslims might back the party, in tandem with the Jatavs, who are solidly behind Mayawati. The BSP leader is strong in Bundelkhand – she had demanded a Rs 80,000 crore package for the development of the region when she was chief minister, and this has contributed to her popularity there – and even though the region contributes 19 assembly seats, the numbers will be important in a close fight, which the UP election is turning out to be.
The important thing is who is wooing whom, which makes the poll battle interesting and unpredictable. Priyanka Vadra began campaigning for the party in the Gandhi pocket borough of Rae Bareli along with her brother Rahul Gandhi. SP and the Congress, otherwise alliance partners in the Uttar Pradesh elections, have a so-called friendly fight in this constituency.

However, it is not merely about this constituency. The entry of Priyanka as a star campaigner for her party has always provided hopes of a turnaround in Congress fortunes, and there will be no better time than this to make that happen with her party struggling to stay in the race in the politically most important state in the country. Party sources, however, believe the final footprint of the Priyanka campaign trail will stretch beyond the family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli, and in a sense herald her entry, even in a low-key manner, into politics. The Congress party believes that in a tight situation she can swing votes in the party’s favour.
The most enigmatic of these is the Jat vote, over which the BJP and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) have claimed a hold. First, the BJP. True, in 2014, the Jats backed the party. But since then along came other issues – demonetisation, non payment of dues to the sugarcane farmers, not even loan waivers. The issue of Jat reservation and the handling of the Jat agitation in Haryana have been troublesome subjects. There is angst in the community. The BJP perhaps thinks that by giving tickets to 15 Jat candidates, it might have assuaged the feeling of hurt among Jats.
Even if it has, it might not be enough in the fight for 73 seats in western Uttar Pradesh that went to the polls in the first phase. The RLD, which had faced a rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, appears to be getting some electoral traction in what is its own political backyard. Both Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary, have harked back on the legacy of the late Charan Singh, former prime minister and Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
On to Sunday’s polling in the third phase of Uttar Pradesh polls which covers the Awadh region. This has been a stronghold for SP. In the 2012 elections, when the party came to power on the back of a spirited campaign, it was this region that helped to propel them to power with 224 seats. The Awadh area, which comprises SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav’s strongholds of Etawah, Auraiyya, Kannauj and Farrukhabad – besides Lucknow and Rae Bareli – comprises 69 assembly seats. In 2012, SP won 55 of these. There is only the matter that Mulayam, who actively campaigned in 2012 and is the strongman in the region, has been pretty much relegated to the background, even as son Akhilesh has taken over as party president. One other small factor that might assume importance in a tight situation, has been the BJP’s fallback option. It has given seats to over 120 MBCs.
Meanwhile, there is a possible of new alignments once the election results are announced. The prospect that RLD might support the SP and Congress is not outside the pale of possibility, despite Akhilesh Yadav’s reservations about joining forces with Ajit Singh. There is one other variable – should there be a hung assembly, with the BSP getting a high number of seats but not enough to form the government, will the BJP support it and get a the foot in the door, if only for the purpose of keeping out the SP-Congress combine and taking one more step, in its opinion, to effect a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’? Politics, as one knows, is the art of the possible.