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'Akhilesh has definitely challenged BJP supremacy'

By ASKARI ZAIDI
February 03, 2022 11:25 IST
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The poll results will depend much on whether the caste and community coalition worked out by Akhilesh can withstand the onslaught of the Hindutva forces who have increased their efforts to polarise the electorate on communal lines.
Askari Zaidi reports.

IMAGE: Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav campaigns for the coming assembly elections. Photograph: Kind courtesy Akhilesh Yadav/Twitter
 

Among the five states going to the polls this month and early next month, Uttar Pradesh is the most important and the most difficult to call.

It is important because whoever forms the government in UP will be in a position to win a substantial number of the state's 80 Lok Sabha seats in the 2024 parliamentary elections.

After the Congress went out of favour in 1989, the geographically and demographically diverse state has seen the Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) taking turns to govern the state.

Significantly, none of the parties has won two consecutive terms since 1989.

This fickle-mindedness of the electorate (some may call it maturity) is giving sleepless nights to the present incumbent BJP, and hopes to the SP, the main challenger, to regain power.

Thanks to the disarray in the Opposition ranks, the BJP looked invincible till over a year back.

Rising prices and diminishing jobs, mishandling of the COVID-19 situation in which thousands died, and the year-long farmers' agitation against the farm laws gave a handle to the Opposition to drum up public opinion against the Adityanath government in the state.

The farmers' agitation appears to have damaged the prospects of the BJP in more than one ways.

A substantial chunk of the state's population depends on agriculture for its sustenance.

The farm laws were perceived by farmers as a threat to their livelihood.

The government's inability to explain the benefits of the laws and mishandling of the agitation, particularly mowing down of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri by Union Minister Ajay Mishra Teni's son and supporters, appear to have turned the farming community against the BJP.

In the aftermath of the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, the BJP had pushed its Hindutva agenda to the fore, and had brought most of the Jats, non-Yadav Other Backward Castes (OBCs who constitute 40% of the state's population), non-Jatav Dalits (10%), and the Upper Castes (19%) under its tutelage.

This social engineering gave the BJP an effective electoral combination, and it swept 2014 and 2019 parliamentary elections, and 2017 assembly elections.

"The farmers' agitation was a godsend opportunity for the Opposition as it brought different castes and communities on one platform. This realignment has broken the electoral coalition that the BJP had worked out," says Jamshed Zaidi, a welknown public figure in Meerut and its surrounding districts.

One of the endearing image of the Kisan Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar on September 5, 2021 was chants of Hindu-Muslim unity being raised from the stage.

Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav draws his strength from the massive support of Yadavs (10%) and Muslims (19.4%).

Akhilesh took full advantage of the farmers' agitation and worked to revive the Mandal plank by forging poll alliances with the Jat-dominated Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) which has considerable influence in the western UP, and other smaller parties representing other backward castes such as Kurmi, Lodh, Maurya-Kushwahas, Sainis, Nishads, and Rajbhars.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Anilchandra Shah campaigns for the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, January 27, 2022. Photograph: Kind courtesy BJP Uttar Pradesh/Twitter

By weaning away Swamy Prasad Maurya, a former state president of the BSP and a major OBC leader, and several MLAs from the BJP and BSP to the Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh has seized the momentum and appears to be winning the perception battle.

But is this lining up of support enough for Akhilesh to defeat the BJP? When I put this question to a middle-level government officer in Lucknow's secretariat, he said, "Akhilesh has definitely challenged BJP supremacy. If the Election Commission had not banned public meetings, he could have demonstrated this newfound support on the ground, and turned the table decisively."

The poll results are going to depend much on whether the caste and community coalition worked out by Akhilesh will be able to withstand the onslaught of the Hindutva forces who have increased their efforts to polarise the electorate on communal lines.

The demand for removal of Islamic shrines from Kashi and Mathura, calls for genocide of Muslims raised at gatherings of Hindu extremists recently, and launching of the party's election campaign by Amit Shah from riot-hit Kairana, are all part of the Sangh Parivar's strategy to arouse communal passions to reap electoral gains.

Muslims have so far maintained calm despite extreme provocations from the Dharam Sansad and other such outfits.

They are expected to do tactical voting in favour of candidates perceived to be defeating the BJP in different constituencies.

There are about 110 seats where Muslims are in a position to impact poll results in a decisive way.

Out of these, in 70 seats they account for between 20% and 30%, and in 43 seats they are more than 30%.

The tactical voting is, however, easier said than done.

In several constituencies there will be more than one Muslim candidates, and Muslims may end up dividing their votes to the advantage of the BJP.

A number of prominent Muslims this writer spoke with do not think so.

"Muslims will not look at candidates, they will vote for the party, and there is a clear consensus in favour of the Samajwadi Party," said Zubair, a businessman of Moradabad.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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