Surprise is in UP margin not frontrunner

By: | Updated: 02 Mar 2012 09:10 PM

The only imponderable in the Uttar Pradesh election marathon ending on
Saturday is whether the perceived frontrunner can get a majority on its

The Samajwadi Party, seen surging towards the first place, is banking on a
"bumper" showing in Rohilkhand. That could make the difference between
forming a government on its own, like Mayawati had in 2007, or falling
short by 15 or 20 seats, or "worse" having to turn to the Congress for

If faced with the second scenario, Samajwadi strategists claimed they
would make good the shortfall by roping in Independents or MLAs of smaller
parties. Between them, the latter are projected to emerge as a block of
half-a-dozen or more.

If the Congress is brought into play, the Samajwadi sources said support
would come with "tough" caveats, although they were mum on whether the
Congress could ask for a chief minister of its choice.

The BSP, weighed down by anti-incumbency, is leveraging its big and
still-intact base of Dalit-Jatavs, other castes as well as Muslims.

The fight in the 60 constituencies voting on Saturday is largely between
the Samajwadi and the BSP, with even the Samajwadis grudgingly
acknowledging in private that Mayawati's presence and clout are key

Of the national parties, the BJP appears in the fight in more places than
the Congress. From being an "underdog" that scarcely merited a mention
initially thanks to the aggressive campaigns of the Congress and the
Samajwadi Party, the BJP has become a key player in the last phase.

BJP leaders said they "hoped" to partially make up the "losses" suffered
in the first three rounds in the eastern region and Avadh. A senior BJP
leader in Delhi attributed the assessment to the "rise" of the Samajwadi
Party and the BSP's "decline", reinforcing conventional political wisdom
that whenever the "pro-Muslim" Samajwadi consolidates its base and bags
gains, "Hindus" polarise in reaction.

However, such equations are only working in some places. Thanks to a
resurgent Samajwadi, a never-say-die BSP and flashes of goodwill for the
Congress that would translate into votes, the "Hindu vote" is going
different ways. That means the BJP is unlikely to vastly improve on its
2007 showing of 51 seats.

For the BJP, the election has largely been a saga of opportunities missed,
with local leaders and cadres puncturing their own inflated claims with a
"had we".

This suggests that if the party had packaged and promoted a state leader
— the consensus veered around Uma Bharti, although she is from Madhya
Pradesh — contained infighting and engaged its phalanx of regional
veterans, it could have been a "decent" number two. "There are lessons in
this that we should draw immediately for (the general elections in) 2014,"
another BJP leader said.

For the Congress, there is a sense of nostalgia and optimism among those
Hindus and Muslims fed up with the regional parties. However, given that
such feelings are voiced in flashes, the party is not expected to make big

At the same time, considering that the Congress had drawn a blank in 2007
in the seats going to the polls on Saturday, even the addition of one seat
would be a boost.

"Frontrunner" Samajwadi, too, isn't exactly breezing through. In the
Muslim-dominated Bareilly region, the presence of sectarian entities such
as Ittehad Millat Council has queered the party's pitch for a near-total
consolidation of minority votes.

Although the council has also fielded Hindus, its plank is essentially
sectarian. "The Congress forgets the promises it makes to Muslims after
elections. Mulayam Singh Yadav only patronises his caste. Mayawati's
record for Muslims was zero," said party activist Mohammad Feroz Khan.

But the projected "loss" for the Samajwadi — ranging from 20 to 30 per
cent — might be recompensed with the support it is garnering across the
caste spectrum for the first time, especially from youths.

At Khamariyapur village in the Pilibhit town seat, Kurmi youths Anand
Prakash and Devendra Gangawar, both first-time voters, said they were
rooting for the Samajwadi because of its promise of an unemployment dole,
scholarships for high school and college students and free laptops. "The
Samajwadi manifesto impressed us because education had become expensive
under Mayawati," said Gangawar.

- The Telegraph, Calcutta

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First Published: 02 Mar 2012 09:10 PM
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