'Outside the core voter base of upper caste Hindus, there is a large section unhappy with the BJP.'
"The party knows they cannot win solely because of Yogi and that is why they are hiding Yogi behind Modi. Yogi's clout has diminished within the party and he is more of a liability than as asset," says Dr Prashant K Trivedi, associate professor at the Lucknow-based Giri Institute of Development Studies.
Dr Trivedi's research focuses on the political economy of land reforms, rural studies and issues relating to Dalits, Muslims and women in UP.
His forthcoming book Beyond the Religious Divide, Caste And Ubiquitous Backwardness will be released soon.
Speaking to Rediff.com's Archana Masih, Dr Trivedi discusses the electoral contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Samajwadi Party, why it would be rash to write off Mayawati and how Priyanka Gandhi is investing for the Congress party's future prospects.
Akhilesh Yadav is planning to contest the 2022 UP assembly election unlike 2012 and 2017. What do you think is the reason behind this decision? How has he run the Samajwadi Party's campaign in the run-up to the election?
From Mulayam Singh Yadav's time up till recently, the Samajwadi Party was seen as party of Yadavs.
In the past one-and-half years, Akhilesh has reversed that trend in a planned and systematic way.
He has inducted several non-Yadav OBCs and formed a rainbow coalition of OBC castes in the SP.
Akhilesh had blunted a major attack against his party by forming this rainbow coalition.
Secondly, the SP-BSP had an alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The BSP was a major beneficiary of that alliance and won 10 seats in Parliament compared to 0 seats in 2014.
However, the SP remained at 5 seats both in 2014 and 2019.
Mayawati broke the alliance subsequently, but Akhilesh refrained from criticising the BSP or saying anything against its leader.
This gesture enabled him to create some empathy for himself among the Dalits.
Thirdly, the BJP's direct fight with the SP has also helped the latter. The BJP might have hoped it would be easier to polarise the election on communal lines by targeting the SP.
I think this gives the SP some advantage because those who are disappointed with the BJP government will be drawn to the SP.
There is no confusion in the minds of the people because there is no other party in the fray that can take on the BJP besides the SP.
The movement of MLAs from other parties to the SP is also a reflection of this.
The fact that MLAs from the BJP have joined the SP does not mean that these candidates will be able to win seats for the SP. A similar trend was seen in Bengal when politicians left the TMC in droves to join the BJP, but the party lost.
There is a major difference between what happened in Bengal and the situation in UP. The movement of MLAs from the BJP to the SP is also indicative of the mood of the people and grassroot political activists.
The mood is changing and these leaders are responding to the shifting mood of the people.
At the moment, the ground is shifting in UP and there seems to be a shift away from the BJP to the SP.
What is the reason for this shift?
There is a section of people disappointed with the performance of the state government under Yogi Adityanath.
The performance of the Yogi Adityanath government has resulted in this shift from the BJP to the SP.
UP has never had remarkable law and order under any previous government, but the state has seen several heinous crimes, especially against women, Dalits and backward castes in the last five years.
Despite the supposed strict policing and chest thumping oratory, the state government has been a failure in keeping its citizens secure.
Dalits, OBCs and marginalised groups have a higher stake in the functioning of democracy -- and it is this section that sees this government as a threat to democracy.
The BJP itself is aware of this and knows that it will pay a price for this in these elections.
But the general view is that law and order has improved under Yogi compared to the previous government.
Instead of modernising the police force, bringing institutional reforms and giving the police force the freedom to work, this government wanted to create a spectacle about law and order.
Despite this, it did not create fear among criminals and there were grave incidences of crime like in Unnao, Sonbhadra where tribals were killed in broad daylight, in Lakhimpur Kheri where a minister's son is accused of running down protesting farmers.
Law and order is an everyday problem, it is not about spectacle or showmanship.
The upper caste nature of the administration under a Thakur CM has emboldened the upper castes, including criminals.
The ambience is such that outside the core voter base of upper caste Hindus, a large section of people are not happy with the performance of the BJP.
Has Mayawati and BSP thrown in the towel in this election?
It is too early to write off the Bahujan Samaj Party. The BSP has a dedicated voter base and won 19% of vote share in the last election. It will continue to hold its core voters, but may see a drop by 3%-4%.
The BSP is sidelined because there is a direct fight between the BJP and SP.
Priyanka Gandhi is making a pitch with her 'Ladki hoon lad sakti hoon' slogan aimed at women. What is your assessment of her campaign?
She is investing for the future. The Congress has been the most visible Opposition party in the state. The party has stood up and taken on the government on several issues.
Her effort to reach out to women voters might not get dividends in this election, but is an investment in the future. However, the Congress won't get significant seats.
Is religious polarisation going to become sharper and communal statements shriller?
The BJP is solely going to rely on communal polarisation in this election.
More than any other party, the BJP has a robust feedback mechanism and they know they cannot go back to the people based on their report card of the past five years.
That is why they will be relying more and more on communal polarisation and that is why they have made it a bi-polar contest with the SP.
The strategy is to target the SP on this issue and polarise the electorate.
Are Modi and Yogi fighting the UP election as a jodi?
The BJP has decided to contest the UP elections keeping Modi in the forefront.
The party knows they cannot win solely because of Yogi and that is why they are hiding Yogi behind Modi.
Yogi's clout has diminished within the party and he is more of a liability than as asset.
Modi also knows that if he does not win UP for the BJP, it will be difficult for him into 2024.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com