Uttar Pradesh’s month-long tryst with the electorate has begun three days ahead of Valentine’s Day. There is much excitement palpable among the Left of Centre liberati in Main-stream and Social Media at the prospects of a Bihar Redux, stopping BJP on its tracks in the run up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The chatter in the political grapevine, about BJP not doing well in Punjab and Goa as well, has further buoyed their hopes. Their optimism may not be entirely misplaced.
Meanwhile, to observers it would appear BJPs campaign in Uttar Pradesh, though high on decibel and ground mobilisation of crowds for rallies, has lost its punch since the Akhilesh-Rahul ‘dostana’ was announced. Without a Chief Ministerial face and a fuzzy agenda, even the Prime Minister’s campaign is largely restricted to anti-corruption rhetoric steam rolling over the carry over resentment against demonetisation effectively fanned by other parties.
On the agenda of ‘Vikas’ Akhilesh Yadav has also upped the stakes showcasing his work of the last five years. His report card on law and order looks much more promising now with initiatives such as ‘Dial 100’, which by all accounts is a major achievement. Coming down heavily on some of the tainted associates of his uncle, Shivpal Yadav has apparently spruced up his image.
Most importantly – Akhilesh is seen as a gen-next “ghar ka ladka”, young, bright and progressive, who has the potential of making it big even in national politics. This ‘Bihari Vs Bahari’ factor had worked for Nitish Kumar as well. In UP too, BJP has made the tactical error in projecting Amit Shah over other state leaders. There is absolutely no doubt that Narendra Modi stands tall above all politicians and his personal ratings are at an all time high despite demonetisation. But, Amit Shah comes across as an imposition of an outsider to the state. Further, attribution of perceived injustice in ticket distribution to Shah will not add to his acceptability among grass root leaders. Sulking constituents like Varun Gandhi and Yogi Adityanath spreading discontent and dissidence from the wings will only muddy the waters of Gomti and Prayag.
With the people’s fascination for the bromance between the “Yuvarajs” of two political dynasties, Akhilesh and Rahul commentators seemed to relegate Mayawati to an almost “also ran” status and all but write off Ajit Singh’s RLD. It is only lately that the media has started acknowledging that both these leaders have committed voters who will not be easy to deflect.
The sum total of all this is the dice is loaded against BJP going against its original arithmetic of vote splits. No matter which direction the wind blows over the next four weeks, not even its most ardent supporter will bet on BJP getting an absolute majority. In the unlikely outcome of BJP emerging as the single largest party – defying the prevalent popular prediction of 70 – 100 seats, post electoral deals will keep them out of power. The likely scenario could be Ajit Singh’s RLD joining the government and Mayawati supporting the Samajwadi-Congress alliance from outside. The latter explains Rahul Gandhi going soft on Mayawati in his public engagements.
The only variable that has not been factored in is the role of the BJP cadres and RSS Swayamsevaks on the ground. But, if they were not able to stem the tide in Bihar, it is unlikely they will succeed in the highly caste polarised contest in UP.
One can already sense an element of dejection creeping into BJP’s tone, tenor and body language notwithstanding the public posturing. The Prime Minister’s recent election speeches in Uttar Pradesh seemed lacklustre, repetitive and clichéd – sometimes replaying old jokes from his 2014 and Bihar campaign. There is a ring of deja vu – when he compliments the crowd at every place as the largest he has addressed even bigger than what he had seen in his outings for Lok Sabha. This was his stock line even in Bihar towards the end and, hence, sounds a bit ominous.
But, even more remarkable is his aggression in Parliament, which has been the subject of much debate. There is much that can be said in support of Mr Modi, who has been at the receiving end of relentless personal attacks for the last fifteen years. Every action of his governments be it in the state or at the centre have been personally tagged with him. Even after he became the Prime Minister,
The opposition has routinely made derogatory remarks about him, both inside and outside the House that go way beyond the boundaries of parliamentary etiquette and decorum. Therefore, if Mr Modi has dispensed with the customary generosity of spirit that is generally associated with a Prime Minister, one cannot fault him summarily.
That Mr Modi has chosen to take the pitch to the next level may be indicative of his bracing for rough days ahead if the election results do not go in favour of BJP. In such a situation, it is going to be a protracted battle between Modi Vs the Rest both inside and outside Parliament all the way up to 2019.
An electoral setback could also upset the internal power dynamics of the party and its equation with the RSS. The Uttar Pradesh results may also impact the JDU – RJD relationship in Bihar, while making Modi baiters like Mamata, Kejriwal and Uddhav Thackeray more belligerent. Of course, there are no prizes for guessing how Congress would behave if they taste victory in UP, albeit riding on the pillion of the Samajwadi cycle.
However, irrespective of whether BJP wins or loses – the real test for Narendra Modi as a national leader will begin only now.
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