It's Mahagathbandhan vs Modi's BJP in the UP theatre of 2019 Lok Sabha elections

Last Updated: Tue, May 07, 2019 14:03 hrs
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A crucial state in these Lok Sabha elections is Uttar Pradesh. The BJP’s dominance in the state is being challenged by the two key players - the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). A total of 80 seats up for grabs as the BJP’s hopes of remaining in power rely on their performance in the state. It’s the state where big names have hit the trail hard – Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Modi, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi.

BJP

The party has dominated the state and have installed Yogi Adityanath, one of its strongest surrogates as Chief Minister; someone who proudly carries and propagates their Hindutva message across the state and country. Their victory in 2014 was in part due to their good showing in the Hindi heartland states including Uttar Pradesh.

A News Nation Opinion Poll from last month projected the BJP of winning 37 seats. In 2014, it secured 71. Last time, the BJP faced individual parties, now it faces an alliance and a solo Congress in the state. Sunita Aron, in a column for the Hindustan Times, as the question of whether such a triangular contest hurts or helps the BJP –

Ideally the BJP would have preferred a multi-cornered contest like in 2014 when SP, BSP, Congress and other parties independently contested the election as they fought more to protect their own turf than defeating the BJP. Addition of poll percentage does not necessarily mean the alliance can easily trounce the BJP, which is still riding the Modi wave, though much weaker than 2014.

The BJP kept the momentum going as in the 2017 elections it ousted the ruling SP government in the assembly elections winning 325 seats. The state has witnessed many incidents of communal violence and riots. The unemployment rate of 9.6% in the state is a cause for worry as mirrored nationally for the BJP. Farmer distress is present in the state as well with mounting dues of Rs.10,000 crore to sugarcane farmers still unpaid, since the Adityanath government came into power.

An evergreen issue for the BJP and one that it’s made as a poll promise is building a Ram temple at Ayodhya. With the issue still not settled in the courts, hard-line BJP supporters might be frustrated with the lack of movement on this front. Authors, Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar, in a column for The Wire, write on how Modi’s popularity will affect the party’s performance in the state –

Modi’s popularity, particularly after the Balakot airstrike following the Pulwama attack, remains high and the mahagathbandhan in its present form will not be able to defeat the BJP in the state. It is the social profile, seen in terms of caste and community of voters that constitute their outlook with reference to Modi, BJP and its policies, rather than getting constituted by them.

SP – BSP alliance

SP Chief Akhilesh Yadav is rooting for a woman Prime Minister, and he has one person in mind – Mayawati, the BSP Chief. He said in part, “The alliance will give the next PM of the country. And if it is a woman, we will be very happy.” The two came together in an unlikely alliance to take on the incumbent BJP in the state.

The alliance is stark considering the history. In June 1995, Mayawati and her legislators were assaulted by SP supporters at the State Guest House in Lucknow. This incident made sure that the two parties wouldn’t see eye to eye in the decades ahead. However, in 2019, they saw a common foe in the BJP and forged an alliance. A rally where supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, his son Akhilesh and Mayawati shared a stage sealed the deal. Is this alliance formidable enough to get the numbers on their side? Sanjay Pandey, in a column for the Deccan Herald, thinks it will be a tight contest –

The BJP is also grappling with large-scale dissension within the organisation, with some of its sitting MPs threatening to revolt and others joining rival camps. A wiser opposition, however, has not fallen into the BJP trap so far. They have been able to prevent polarisation along communal lines.

The electoral math is one to watch here. Can the alliance secure enough to get an outright majority? The News Nation opinion poll cited earlier project the alliance winning 42 seats. The alliance didn’t include the Congress and according to Akhilesh Yadav, the Congress and BJP are the same. In a recent interview, he said “SP and BSP have done a lot for the people in Uttar Pradesh. What has BJP done here? Congress betrayed SP, set up inquiry against Mulayam Singh Yadav.”

Congress

The Congress has used Priyanka Gandhi in its campaigning fairly extensively in the state. The party, going solo in the state isn’t expected to do well here except in Amethi and Rae Bareli. This complicates things for the Congress as forming alliances in order to get to 272 may be tougher if the SP – BSP alliance performs well enough to dampen the BJP’s hopes in the state. The decision to go it alone could be disastrous, according to journalist Prem Shankar Jha, who in a column for The Wire writes on why he thinks the party, will fare poorly here –

Other than pushing the BJP out, the coalition had no clear programme of action. It also had no leader whom it could pit against Modi on the billboards as the election approached. The reason is not second thoughts among the smaller parties, but the revival of overweening ambition within the Congress.

With Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment as General Secretary for eastern UP, the party is banking on a fresh face and new found energy. With large crowds and a grand introduction, she will play a crucial role in the state for the party. So the strategy according to Badri Narayan is to regain the lost value in the state, as he writes

It is ensuring the fight is triangular on more than a dozen seats in Uttar Pradesh. It is also cutting the votes of BJP and the mahagatbandhan on many seats where it knows that its chances of winning are next to none.

More columns by Varun Sukumar

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