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Uttar Pradesh gears up for elections
Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow | March 15, 2007 16:27 IST
The poll show has begun in India's most populous state where 11.5 crore voters will elect 403 members to Uttar Pradesh's 15th Assembly during a seven-phased poll spread over April and May.
Of the four key players who will ultimately determine the political destiny of the state, only the Bahujan Samaj Party has actually launched its campaign under the leadership of its supreme Mayawati.
The remaining ones -- ruling Samajwadi Party, Bhartiya Janata Party and Congress -- appear to be lagging behind.
Unlike BSP, which has not only declared its entire list of nominees but also made it clear it will go it alone, others have neither been able to finalise their respective lists nor have they, so far, taken a decision on their alliance partners.
However, as the situation prevails today, even SP may have to contest alone.
On the other hand, the BJP could make a strategic alliance with Apna Dal, a purely local outfit confined to a small corner of Eastern UP, around Allahabad and Pratapgarh.
Besides the over-riding factors of caste and religion, certain regional considerations would also come into play in areas like Western UP, where Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal commands a good following.
No sooner had RLD deserted Mulayam barely two months ago, after sharing the fruit of power for three and a half years, it was amply clear that he would join hands with the Congress.
And having failed to rise to the occasion to take on political rivals on its own in the sprawling state, Congress has in any case, been desperate to striking alliances.
Besides RLD, another outfit marked on the Congress list of probable alliance partners was Jan Morcha, a brainchild of actor turned politician and SP rebel Raj Babbar, for whom the backing of former prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh had come as a shot in the arm.
V P Singh, who was primarly responsible for exposing the Bofors scam that led to the fall of Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government at the center, will be seen campaigning for the prospective new Congress ally.
Interestingly, even as each of the key political players is busy claiming to provide a 'terror-free, crime-free, corruption-free and development-oriented governance' to the state, none are in any position to substantiate their claims.
On the contrary, what seemed visible at the outset was that none of the parties had really been able to rise above the considerations of caste and religion.
Be it selection of candidates or calculation of votes, caste or religion remained the key yardstick. Of course the only other criterion that most parties secretly weigh have been the money power and muscle-power that a candidate wields.
What about the extensive academic exercise carried out by Rahul Gandhi, who has been busy drawing out a panel of probable Congress nominees on his laptop?
If Congress insiders are to be believed, even his mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi was finding it difficult to okay Rahul's list as the young MP from Amethi has not cared to take those 'vital' practical considerations into account.
The BSP's decision to give away 35 percent of its tickets to upper castes has seriously upset the SP and BJP applecart.
"After all, when a dalit party can give the lion's share of tickets to the upper castes, then how can we ignore them," quipped a senior BJP leader on the condition of anonymity.
The first two days of nominations may not have witnessed much activity except for a few stray independents venturing out to make their entry into the poll fray. However the preceding months have seen a long prelude to the real poll show .
The SP and BSP, in particular, have been engaged in a race for holding caste-based rallies.
If BSP national general secretary Satish Mista was busy organising Brahmin sammellans across the length and breadth of the state, SP got down to getting different castes under its banner.
And what followed were a series of rallies of different castes - Thakur-Brahmin, Kurmis, Vaishyas and, to top it all, a backward castes meet, too.
Of late Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav has been desperate to ensure that he does not lose his grip over the state's 17 percent Muslim vote.
A series of measures were announced over the past four months to woo Muslims, who seemed to be drifting away from the man who had once earned the sobriquet of 'Maulana Mulayam'.
Sadly UP's backwardness, poor industrialisation, slow and sloppy economic growth, illiteracy or the terribly lacking healthcare system does not seem to be on the agenda of any of the political parties.
The state's backwardness could be gauged from a few basic facts � 70 percent of UP's mothers deliver their offspring in their own dilapidated and dingy homes; 72 out of every 1000 newborns die almost instantaneously and 35 percent of its whopping 18 crore population goes to bed without two square meals a day.
"Well, it is not merely the political parties; even common people are to blame," observes analyst Dr Govind Pant. "After all, whenever a well-meaning person has entered an electoral fray seeking popular support on sheer merit, he even lost his deposit."
According to him, "Broadly, the poll scene has not changed at least over the past two decades; rather it has worsened in terms of play of factors like caste, creed or religion; only the political players keep changing."