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In Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is once again trying to win the hearts of Brahmins. It has decided to hold a series of Prabuddh Sammelan (conference of enlightened people) across the state. This campaign started from Ayodhya and will reach 72 districts through various pilgrimages. In 2006-07, the party had conducted a similar exercise. It resulted in a successful political chemistry that gave the BSP 206 seats and secured it a majority in the 2007 polls. Can that magic be repeated?

It is not the job of a journalist to predict any outcome, but it seems difficult, at least, in the current situation. However, there are no two opinions that Mayawati is a genius who gets up every time she shakes off the dust and does something that amazes her opponents. That is why the party’s vote share has increased across the country and it has emerged as the third-largest party after the BJP and the Congress. That is why the Akali Dal in Punjab is once again allied with the BSP to contest the Assembly election. Not only this, the BSP is known for forming unique political equations every time it contests an election. The BSP has been playing an important role in all the states of North India, directly or indirectly, but right now, we are talking about Uttar Pradesh.

In India’s largest state, the BSP and other parties have started to set their moves for the game. Akhilesh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party (SP) are one of the strongest contenders this time. For the past year, he has been trying to woo those caste-based parties that feel alienated from the BJP. Previous coalitions with the BSP and the Congress have taught him that any arrangement with the so-called national parties in Uttar Pradesh is not a bargain. He is making up his mind to go to the people with the issue of ‘development works’ that took place during his five years of rule.

SP strategists are confident that anti-incumbency against the state government will help them. Akhilesh’s supporters believe that he is now free from the baggage of the family that was saddled with him during the last regime and that ‘Bhaiya’ will go to the polls on the strength of his image. It will have a positive effect.

Party strategists also believe that apart from Yadav and Muslim votes, they will also get votes from other castes and communities. That is why the party has started exploring the possibilities of fielding candidates from extremely backward castes and Brahmins.

However, the agreement reached between AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi and former BSP leader Ram Achal Rajbhar has raised question marks regarding this electoral arithmetic. The question arises whether minorities will vote for the SP instead of the AIMIM on the lines of West Bengal. Not only this, Akhilesh is also expected to benefit from the farmers’ agitation of western Uttar Pradesh and the sympathy of Jats, but many obstacles lie ahead for him.

I’m not talking much about the Congress because it is still struggling to find its own ground in this battle.

Even though the SP won 759 seats in the last panchayat elections and almost equalled the BJP, which got 768 seats, such figures do not always reveal the whole picture. We must not forget that these elections took place during the second covid wave and the culmination of the peasant movement. There was a feeling of sadness and anger among the people. Despite this, the BJP couldn’t be fully dethroned.

Besides, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has his own ‘image’. Yogis are famous for being combative and hardworking. His attitude towards law and order is very strict and there are no allegations against him. During the past four-and-a-half years, he has proved to be a tough administrator and has no hesitation in rectifying his shortcomings immediately. It needs to be kept in mind that apart from Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys a bigger appeal in UP more than any other part of the country. Rajnath Singh, who has the No. 2 position in the Union Cabinet, is also a veteran leader from the state.

Apart from this, the saffron party has done tremendous social engineering. The process of mollifying those who were dissatisfied continues. Nishad Party and Anupriya Patel are examples of this. Take a look at the size and type of state cabinet, then the situation becomes clearer. Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya comes from a very backward community, and as state president of the party, he had played an important role in winning a majority for the BJP. The other deputy CM, Dinesh Sharma, is a Brahmin. Apart from this, Swami Prasad Maurya, Anil Rajbhar, Jaiprakash Nishad, Dara Singh Chouhan and Shriram Chouhan are known for their influence on the backward classes. Party president Swatantradeva Singh also comes from this category. No wonder then that the BJP, along with its allies, managed to capture 45% of the votes in the 2014, 2017 and 2019 elections.

It’s clear that the BJP is going to enter the battle with claims and promises of a clean government and social engineering, but this engineering alone is not a guarantee of a return to power because that is what its opponents are doing. In addition, a large section of party MPs, MLAs and other office-bearers avoided going to the people during both the waves of pandemics. If the trend of anti-incumbency strengthens in UP, this attitude will contribute more than the achievements of the government. Maybe, the BJP high command can deny tickets to many such leaders to retain its ground.

In such a situation, it is natural to fear that the parties may use tricks like those that were seen during the last West Bengal and Bihar elections. Those who are sensitive to a clean democracy, please be careful now.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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