New formulations

Print edition : February 10, 2012

With old alliances coming unstuck and new ones being tried out, Uttar Pradesh seems to be heading for instability.

in Lucknow

STATUES OF ELEPHANTS, the BSP party symbol, after they were covered on the Election Commission's orders, at the Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal in Lucknow on January 11.-SUBIR ROY

UTTAR PRADESH, the country's most populous State, seems all set to return to the time-tested pattern of hung Assemblies and coalition governments after a five-year stint of single-party government under the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The verdict of the 2007 Assembly elections was perceived as a watershed in the contemporary political history of the State, for a variety of reasons. To start with, the victory of the BSP in a majority of seats meant that the State had a single-party government after a gap of 15 years. This government was supposed to provide political and administrative stability to the State and thereby bring in peace, progress and development. The fact that the victory was triggered partially by two antithetical groups in the caste hierarchy Dalits and Brahmins was also seen as a salutary factor that would dilute the caste-based identity politics practised in the State.

Five years later, as the campaign for the next round of Assembly elections gains momentum, the electorate does not display any overwhelming predilection to vote to power any single party. In fact, the prevailing voter sentiment in the early stages of the campaign was that single-party government by itself had not helped usher in peace or improve the lot of the people of the State.

Apart from the anti-incumbency factor against the Mayawati government, many traditional and also new factors are impacting the election scene. The most prominent among the traditional factors is the caste-based political orientation. Parties in the contest are trying their best to consolidate their traditional support bases and supplement them with tie-ups with other caste and community groups.

The second most important factor is the emergence of a large number of young voters. During the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the number of voters in Uttar Pradesh was 11.06 crore. In a span of 18 months since then, the Election Commission of India undertook extensive awareness and enrolment campaigns, which led to the addition of more than 1.4 crore voters. The rough estimate is that every third voter in the State is less than 39 years old (that is, 4.37 crore voters). Out of them, 53 lakh voters are in the 18-19 age bracket. Political parties and election officials expect them to exercise their franchise in large numbers, pushing up the voting percentage.

Third, the element of communal division that has time and again weighed down electoral battles in Uttar Pradesh is virtually non-existent, with even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) refraining from highlighting issues with communal overtones. Fourth, the emergence of smaller parties like the Peace Party of India (PPI) and the Ulema Council from within the Muslim community, with significant influence in certain areas, is causing discomfiture to the three big secular parties in the contest the BSP, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Congress. Over and above all is the impact of delimitation, which has changed the complexion of several constituencies so drastically that seats once considered the bastion of one party or the other do not fit the description anymore.

Brahmin disillusionment

All parties are pursuing caste- and community-based politics on predictable lines. The caste alliance that the BSP had formed in 2007 to craft a famous victory no longer evokes strong reverberations in the State. The slogan Dalit-Brahmin bhaichara (Dalit-Brahmin brotherhood) symbolised this alliance and at that point of time it was considered that the coming together of these communities would have medium- and even long-term implications for the State's polity and also for the country as a whole. However, large sections of Brahmins across the State have got disillusioned with the BSP regime as well as with the slogan over the past five years.

While travelling across a dozen districts in the central, western and eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh, this disillusionment was one of the most palpable socio-political factors that Frontline could sense. So much so that the slogan evokes derisive reactions every time it is uttered. The slogan now is, Brahman shankh bajaayega, haathi aage jaayega (the Brahmin will blow the conch and the elephant will march forward).

CHIEF MINISTER MAYAWATI releasing the list of BSP candidates in Lucknow on January 15.-SUBIR ROY

Obviously, the BSP leadership has realised this. And that is exactly why the party is seeking to work out different caste combinations this time. The effort is to rally round significant sections of the non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Muslims as a powerful supplement to the core caste support base of the party, the Dalit Jatav community, which accounts for nearly 14 per cent of the State's population.

The caste- and community-wise break-up of the party's list of candidates makes evident this change in strategy. The list contains 113 candidates from the OBC communities and 85 from the minority Muslim community. Upper-caste Brahmins have got 74 nominations and Thakurs 33. The BSP's campaign managers, including senior Minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui, told Frontline that the BSP had a core Dalit vote base of around 18 per cent and that, along with the votes from candidates from other communities, would help the party win a majority or near-majority this time . Mayawati has sought to overcome the fairly strong anti-incumbency sentiment by dismissing as many as 10 Ministers who face corruption and criminal charges and also by denying the ticket to over 100 sitting legislators. This, in turn, has led to a revolt-like situation in several districts.

Advantage Akhilesh

The principal opposition, the S.P., is clearly the biggest beneficiary of this anti-incumbency sentiment. It scores over other opposition parties such as the Congress and the BJP on account of a variety of factors. The party has a large support base in the OBC Yadav community, which accounts for nearly 8 per cent of the State's population. In 2007, some sections of the Yadav community had moved away from the ruling S.P. in the context of the general resentment against it. This time, however, the community is overwhelmingly rallying around the party. The S.P. also has a more structured organisational presence across the State than the Congress.

BJP PRESIDENT NITIN Gadkari releasing the party's vision document for the U.P. election in Lucknow on January 16.-SUBIR ROY

The Kranti Rath Yatra carried out by S.P. State president and Lok Sabha member Akhilesh Yadav over the past four months has generated tremendous goodwill for the party. This campaign, along with a number of other factors, has resulted in an Advantage Akhilesh situation, says a prominent BJP youth functionary. Akhilesh Yadav has successfully managed to create the impression that he represents a new phase in the history of the S.P. a phase where it seeks to put behind it the links with criminal-mafia sections and work towards the creation of a new Uttar Pradesh that will fulfil the aspirations of the agrarian community as well as the emerging middle class. A number of personal factors have accentuated this effort. These include the educational background of Akhilesh Yadav, his sense of moderation in political and social interaction, his connect with the S.P.'s core support base, and the young blood that he has been able to infuse into the party's organisational structure. The four-month campaign and the strong position Akhilesh Yadav has taken on issues such as the re-entry of tainted politicians like D.P. Yadav, generated the impression that his dynastic succession does not involve any compromise on political merit. The Akhilesh Yadav factor is expected to help attract a sizable section of first-time and youth voters to the party. In the matter of caste combinations, the party is following the time-tested tactic of seeking to integrate the OBC Yadav-Muslim communities along with a section of upper-caste Thakurs and Dalit communities like Pasis.

Kushwaha and the BJP

A BJP functionary in Ayodhya, the town that is at the core of Hindutva politics, pointed out that the Akhilesh Yadav campaign has created the impression that parties, like people, can try to change for the good. The BJP's induction of Babu Singh Kushwaha, a Minister dismissed from the BSP on corruption charges, generated much controversy in the saffron party as well as the Sangh Parivar, even leading to announcements that senior leaders like Uma Bharati would withdraw from campaigning. The party's central leadership finally forced Kushwaha to repudiate his membership in the BJP.

Many BJP functionaries in the State said the party would have come a close second in the electoral race had it not been for the Kushwaha episode. There was a clear plan to build up once again a caste combination of the OBC Lodh and Kurmi communities, and Brahmins and Thakurs. The leaders rallying these communities were Uma Bharati, Vinay Katiyar, Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh respectively. This was having considerable impact on the urban and semi-urban constituencies. But the Kushwaha episode spoiled the plan. Barely 24 hours after Khushwaha was inducted, Kirit Somaiyaa, the BJP's main protagonist in exposing corruption under the Mayawati regime, released documents highlighting the Minister's complicity in several scams, pointed out a senior party functionary.

Congress prospects

Until the emergence of the Akhilesh Yadav factor, the Congress had hoped that it would garner the support of the majority of the youth. The response evoked by party general secretary Rahul Gandhi's sustained campaign across the State had made the party optimistic.

The party had also drawn up a formula to bring together Kurmis, Brahmins and Muslims as its support base. Beni Prasad Verma, a former S.P. leader who is now a Cabinet Minister at the Centre, was projected as an important leader of the party at the State-level. The Congress' calculation was that Verma would attract to the Congress fold the Kurmi community, which forms around 6 per cent of the State's population. A sizable segment of the Brahmin community has already moved towards the party since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. It also calculated that a significant section of the Muslim community constituting 18 per cent of the population would move towards the party once the Kurmi-Brahmin combination was in place. The Congress campaign managers point out that as many as 305 constituencies in the State have Muslim populations of over 20,000 while 95 constituencies have about 20,000 Kurmis in each. The calculation further showed that in 100 seats, the Kurmi-Muslim combine would be decisive, while in 107 seats the two communities accounted for over 50,000 votes.

RAHUL GANDHI AT a campaign rally in Gorakhpur on January 8.-PAWAN KUMAR/REUTERS

By all indications, the 9 per cent sub-quota for Muslims within the existing 27 per cent OBC reservation in government jobs was announced by Union Minister Salman Khurshid in order to cement this combination. But, on the ground, there are no concrete signs of this resulting in a big electoral gain for the Congress. In constituency after constituency, the move is being perceived as an election gimmick. If the Congress was serious about minority welfare, the Congress government at the Centre would have implemented the recommendations of the Justice Renganath Mishra Committee, which advocated 15 per cent reservation for minorities, of which nearly 10 per cent would have been for the Muslim community. The Centre has also not taken any steps to alleviate the socio-economic conditions of Muslims, highlighted in the Rajinder Sachar Committee report, pointed out Khaliq Ahmed Khan, the Faizabad-based social activist belonging to the Babri Masjid Action Committee.

Obviously, armchair calculations and mere announcements are not enough to draw the Muslim community to the Congress. The discussion within the Congress branding sections of the Muslim community as jehadis and extremists is also creating a negative impression about the party among Muslims. Central to this is the argument between Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh on the police encounter of 2008 in Batla House in Delhi. Digvijay Singh had maintained that the encounter in which suspects from Azamgarh district were killed was a false one. He had demanded the reopening of the case. But Chidambaram firmly held that the case could not be reopened. The Prime Minister supports the Home Minister's stand.

Muslim vote

It is in the context of such debates that the presence of parties such as the PPI and the Ulema Council acquires significance. These parties argue that the mainstream politicians have given a raw deal to the Muslim community and hence the community has to assert a political role of its own. The PPI, led by Dr Mohammad Ayub, has advanced the concept of a Muslim vote base and its deployment in the way the BSP uses the Dalit Jatav vote, the S.P. uses the core Yadav vote, or the Congress uses the Brahmin-OBC vote.

The PPI leadership is already seeking to implement this strategy by putting up candidates belonging to Hindu communities and giving them the support of the core Muslim vote base. A striking case in point is former Congress legislator Akhilesh Singh, a powerful leader in Rae Bareli district, who recently joined the PPI. Rae Bareli is considered to be the pocket borough of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. But the impact created by the PPI-Akhilesh Singh association is such that retaining its supremacy in the region is an uphill task for the grand old party. The PPI is apparently causing similar discomfiture to the BSP and the S.P. in other areas. On its part the PPI hopes to win about 25 seats, which its leadership claims will decide the ultimate ruler of the State.

Whether this projection comes true or not, there is little doubt that the PPI factor will have a role in throwing up an unclear verdict and a hung Assembly.

Clearly, Uttar Pradesh seems destined for political instability. The elections are held in seven phases from early February to early March.

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