There is considerable excitement over developments in Uttar Pradesh and why not. Among all Indian states, it is politically agile, contributes the largest chunk of members to the Lok Sabha and has a geographical spread that is more than the landmass of many countries in Europe.
In about six months, the people of UP will be voting to elect 403 members to the state assembly and considering that elections are approaching, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) started preparations in earnest.
The stakes for the BJP remain the highest. It won a record 325 seats during 2017 polls and is working on plans to retain power in the state that holds the unique distinction of having provided most Prime Ministers—eight till date from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi.
Assembly elections in UP, next year holds a promise of being a reflector of the mood of the people as the country moves towards the 2024 general elections. These polls will be in the backdrop of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
Handling of the two waves and an impending third wave will be a constant factor in elections to various assemblies between 2022 and 2023. Political parties would interpret the results as a referendum on the work of governments of the day.
Look at the current political landscape in UP. The BJP is in the saddle with Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister. Recent reports that remain unverified insist that the huddle among top leadership in the party is exploring a change of guard.
Now, in terms of pure political calculation will the BJP risk a change of leadership so close to elections? What are the chances of giving effect to such a change? That Yogi Adityanath came to the helm of affairs in the state in 2017 when the central leadership thought of another leader after the polls it went in without a Chief Minister face is history, which also offers different lessons.
One instance that a change of leadership close to polls made little or no difference to the BJP was in Delhi during 1998. The leadership then shifted late Sushma Swaraj to take charge of the city government barely three months before the elections. The party failed to hold on to the government and since remained out of power.
The other instance was in UP when toward the end of the last century, it handed over the reins of the government for 18-odd months to Rajnath Singh after removing Ram Prakash Gupta, a choice of then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The BJP retrieved some lost ground but could not retain power.
Over the past few weeks, Yogi Adityanath travelled the extra mile to interact with officials and dispel doubts over work done to tackle the brutal second wave of the pandemic. Under attack from sections of the party both over handling of the crisis and favouring the community of upper caste to which he belongs, the Chief Minister started an outreach campaign to blunt these charges.
It is in this context that the induction of former Union Minister Jitin Prasada from the Congress into the BJP fold assumes some significance. Over the past couple of years, Prasada has been working on a plan to project himself as a leader of the forward caste community through the Brahmin Chetna Samvad (awareness dialogue). The effort rekindled the traditional upper caste power tussle in the state with towering leaders of the likes Gobind Ballabh Pant, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, Kamlapati Tripathi and Atal Behari Vajpayee among others.
Critics underscored the “acceptability” of Jitin Prasada with the electorate is proved twice over with the former minister losing the last two Lok Sabha elections and the assembly polls in between. Of course, his sympathisers would argue that the outcome should be viewed from the prism of the “Modi Lehar” sweeping the country and the state since 2014.
Caste and its domination is a determining factor in Indian politics and for the past few decades, the landscape is now dotted with sub-castes. Available data in UP shows the Brahmin community is anywhere between 8-10 percent and the Thakurs in a similar range. Yadavs account for some 8.5 percent while some 11-13 percent are Jatavs, a community strongly associated with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The BJP would prefer to go into the UP polls from a position of strength and add to it by inducting leaders from other formations who can also help the party cut its losses.
BJP has great election machinery in place and under the leadership of PM Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and seasoned party president JP Nadda has a pretty impressive war chest and zealous party workers.
The task for the BJP is to work on a formula that will allow it to cross the majority mark. At this point in time, it is doable as the opposition is weak, divided and a few in a state of moribund. For instance, the BSP under Mayawati appears hibernating while Akhilesh Yadav and Samajwadi Party are conspicuous by absence. The Congress, at best, remains a party at war with itself. Amid all this, the BJP is up and running.
—KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal.
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(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)
First Published: IST