Prelude to 2014: 2012 U.P. Assembly Polls
In all probability, low levels of polling and multiple contenders may result in a hung assembly and emergence of Congress as a potential kingmaker in eventual formation of state government. The stage is all set for a decisive electoral round on the plains of mighty Ganges and bread basket of the country that may set the course for Congress in 2014 federal elections and test waters for Gandhi who could be a likely prime ministerial contender, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.
(Above): (From left): Rahul Gandhi, Rajnath Singh, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh. (Top): The Indian Parliament in New Delhi.
While the rest of the country is grappling with an anti-corruption Bill in the making, Election Commission of India has announced state assembly polls in the most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, February 4-28, 2012, and four more states: Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa, around the same time.
About 111,900,000 electors, going by draft publication, will cast their votes at 128,112 polling stations, manned by paramilitary battalions, in the Northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The state has over 403 constituencies (85 reserved for Scheduled Castes) encompassing 80 Lok Sabha constituencies (largest share of Lok Sabha seats) and is ruled by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati, also known as ‘Behen Maya.’
The cow-belt state that has thrown up maximum number of national leaders and is touted as a high-stake state is expected to witness a tough fight between incumbent BSP, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Rajnath Singh and Congress led by General Secretary, Rahul Gandhi apart from other local players.
Much before the Election Commission announcement, the poll fever reached high decibels and battle lines started getting drawn between various political dispensations.
While the Congress seeks a sizeable stake in state’s political framework, SP wishes to consolidate its support base along with feeding off the anti-incumbency feeling with the ruling party.
(Above): A map of Uttar Pradesh.
BSP Faces Anti-Incumbency
Undeterred by an early poll-schedule, Mayawati is busy gearing herself for the challenge by employing her tried and tested social-engineering to maintain her ‘dalit’ (lower social castes) vote bank and by intending to divide negative votes.
The anti-incumbency mood flows from allegations of corruption and other criminal charges that 40 percent of her cabinet faces, murder of doctors overseeing National Rural Health mission, and channeling of state funds for erection of symbols of pride of downtrodden (parks, monuments and statues) rather than promoting development.
Aware of the ‘Rahul-force’ sharpening its claws to fight the BSP might, ‘Behen Maya’ is focused on highlighting every weak point in every issue (Food Security Bill, FDI in Retail, Lokpal Bill) spearheaded by the Yuvraaj (crown prince, Rahul).
To counter the Congress attack not only has she sought to clean her image by removing 9 ministers and suspending a dozen legislators but gone all out to blame Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at Center for non-cooperation.
Just a month ago, her attempt to break the state into four units and thereby divert attention from burning issues was all for naught.
In view of these facts, assumptions of BSP dwindling from the 2007 position may be a huge possibility.
Congress To Emerge As Kingmaker
In a state of prolonged political wilderness for about 22 years, the Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi is desperate to revive party’s fortunes by promising a complete change and development.
It is not a coincidence that pro-poor and pro-Muslim sops were announced by the Center just as elections were expected.
These measures include Rs.31.24 billion worth of irrigation projects (Sarayu Nahar Pariyojana and Sharda Sahayak capacity restoration), two huge financial packages worth Rs.60 billion for weavers (largely Muslims) and minority quotas in central government jobs, educational institutions and Lokpal Bill.
Congress missives against Mayawati may be development centric but the former also understands that sectarian politics is paramount in the state that is riddled with fragmented politics and multiple contenders.
To that effect it has cleverly tried to make inroads into traditional Muslim-Yadav vote bank of SP via a Muslim-appeasement politics.
It is important to note that Muslims constitute 18 percent of state electorate.
Yet there could be a catch as appeasement ploy could be either not enough or provoke other groups to clamor for similar reservations or benefits.
At the national level, Congress certainly stands discredited due to its inability to control inflation and price rise, but in U.P. the masses are equally fatigued by the corrupt Maya-government and memories of a lawless SP–rule are still fresh.
This may possibly tilt political scales in Congress’ favor.
Besides, dynastic connections and ‘lineage’ have always yielded electoral dividends and Rahul enjoys this political edge over rivals.
His forthright speeches, prospect of a new leadership and the leverage that he would bring have instilled a sense of hope amongst U.P. population.
However, analysts feel that regaining ground in a state that was once a Congress heartland could be catalyzed by utilizing the emotional appeal of Rahul’s sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (she had successfully canvassed for mother Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareilly and Rahul) for that electoral swing.
In what is considered as a game changer in U.P., Congress has firmed up its alliance with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), as constituent of UPA in Center and an ally in U.P.
Ajit’s 45 seats (as expected), primarily in ‘Jat’ (sub-caste) dominated sugarcane belt of western U.P., would provide Congress with more power at Center and State.
BJP May Slip
The BJP led by ex-Chief Minister Rajnath Singh seems more to be in a state of quandary.
Sources lament a lack of cohesion among party ranks as reflected in marked absence of Pilibhit Member of Parliament, Varun Gandhi, from BJP’s political canvassing in U.P.
Instead a non-state, fire-brand, Hindutva Uma Bharti has been roped in for campaigning and what impact it shall have remains unclear.
While Rajnath may win some clout for his work among rural pockets, the party is still associated with upper classes such as Tyagis, Thakurs, Vaishyas, Brahmins, and OBCs like Gujjars and Jats.
In fact 2012 could turn out to be one last attempt for L.K. Advani to either consolidate his position as national BJP leader in 2014 elections or go down in history as a wannabe to the Prime Minister’s post.
Survival Question For SP
Questions of political relevance and survival have persuaded SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav to field his son Akhilesh Yadav thus providing a combination of experience and new leadership to voters.
Observers say, this party that had emerged second in 2007 polls, may gain from BSP’s bad governance but with a reduced share of voters.
In all probability, low levels of polling and multiple contenders may result in a hung assembly and emergence of Congress as a potential kingmaker in eventual formation of state government.
As Rahul confidently said in recent times, “We have to contest the election with full force. I am sure that without our support none of the political parties will be able to form a government in the state … and if they do, the government will not be able to last more than two years.”
Though detractors feel that Gandhi is an unknown entity who needs to act on new ideas and deliver on enormous expectations to clean, correct, reform and accelerate systems, his very newness on offer may turn out to be a boon for this 5th generation Nehru-Gandhi scion.
Hence, the stage is all set for a decisive electoral round on the plains of mighty Ganges and bread basket of the country that may set the course for Congress in 2014 federal elections and test waters for Gandhi who could be a likely prime ministerial contender.