Home / Opinion / Columns /  Poll alignments become clear in the battle for Uttar Pradesh

The electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh is now taking shape. After the alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, it has become clear that the SP, with at least five partners, will take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance in a direct contest. Will the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) gain or lose in this straight fight?

First, let’s talk about Akhilesh Yadav. Six months ago, if you had asked anyone in UP, the answer would have been that Yadav should fight at the grassroots. Was the former chief minister sitting idle? No, he had been meeting disgruntled National Democratic Alliance partners for months. Efforts were also made to keep the meetings private. He was waiting for the right time.

He had already made tie-ups with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, influential in eastern UP; Dr Sanjay Singh’s Janawadi Party (Socialist) and Mahan Dal, which has influence in western UP and Rohilkhand. He has also negotiated seats in Jatland of western UP with Jayant Chaudhary. Speculation is rife after Yadav’s meetings with Sanjay Singh of AAP, Raghuraj Pratap Singh of Jansatta Dal (Democratic) and Krishna Patel of Apna Dal (Kamerawadi). Will they join the alliance?

In 2017, Yadav was fighting to save his chair. Due to the discontent of his uncle Shivpal Yadav, the party seemed to be disintegrating. In such a difficult time, the SP-Congress alliance was formed. However, it proved to be counterproductive. The SP’s seats and vote share reduced from 224 and 29.13% in 2012 to 47 and 21.82% in 2017. The Congress’ tally fell from 28 to seven.

Yadav learned from those bitter experiences that party workers and voters don’t like tie-ups with national parties or the likes of the BSP that had opposed the SP in the past. That’s why this time he has made alliances with smaller or sub-regional parties. However, one cannot expect loyalty from such parties. Often, the bigger party has to sacrifice its seats. This experiment may prove to be suicidal if the SP doesn’t win a majority. This is what happened with the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar. The SP’s strategists are probably thinking that ‘We will cross that bridge when the time comes.’ But, will this be successful?

For an answer, one has to look at the BJP’s strategy. As expected, the BJP is betting entirely on the name of Narendra Modi and the work of Yogi Adityanath. This is why the PM has visited UP five times in the past two months. Many programmes are scheduled before the code of conduct comes into effect. For this, special attention has been given to regional interests, religion, development, women, Dalits, backward and forward classes, etc. The BJP has assigned region-wise responsibilities to three stalwarts—national president J.P. Nadda, home minister Amit Shah and defence minister Rajnath Singh. Besides, education minister Dharmendra Pradhan and former agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh have been touring UP extensively.

This is being done to establish direct communication with the party workers and to address their grievances. Ticket distribution can also be done according to zonal requirements. The BJP knows that no matter how much work the government has done, some anti-incumbency might have cropped up. The strategists also know that every other opposition party has only one bankable face. They want to counter that with an army of bigwigs.

For the first time in decades, Mayawati seems distant from the main electoral battle. The likes of Chandrashekhar Azad have started to erode the BSP’s traditional vote bank. In such a situation, will the BSP be able to attract Brahmin votes? Brahmins have traditionally been with the BJP or the Congress, and then Yadav is giving tickets to Brahmins in large numbers this time. Many consider the 2022 election as an existential one for the BJP or the SP, but in reality, the BSP is fighting for its very existence.

The same is the case with the Congress. Its vote bank has gone down. The workers are old. There is no leader at the regional level who has universal acceptability. Priyanka Gandhi is trying to impress the 5-6% floating voters, who have the potential to influence every election, with the slogan ‘Ladki hoon, lad Sakti hoon’. Her entire effort is to grab the BJP’s vote bank as much as possible. Priyanka knows that women and young voters are Modi’s biggest strength. She is betting on them by promising 40% tickets to women. It looks like she is fighting the battle of 2024 now.

Whether Priyanka succeeds or fails, the political importance of UP will remain the same. The election to be fought here in 2022 will prove to be the one to decide the future of the country.

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

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