Will the Uttar Pradesh elections be a free for all?

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 06, 2017 10:21 hrs
Will the Uttar Pradesh elections be a free for all?

The stage is set for the Uttar Pradesh elections which will be held in seven phases between February and March this. Yesterday’s announcement by the Central Election Commission has set the stage for what is likely to be a fascinating electoral battle.

With 403 assembly seats, the UP elections are the largest and therefore the most crucial. However, for now, all focus has been on political storm within the Samajwadi Party where trouble has been brewing from September ever since the feud between uncle Shivpal Yadav and Chief Minister Akhilesh grew heated.

The DNA provides a blow by blow account of the events on the eve of the new year that concluded in the re-instatement of Akhilesh Yadav, who was expelled the day before from the party and a resolve to present a united front ahead of the polls. However, the very next day, The Pioneer reported that following the emergency national delegation convention of the party Mulayam Singh Yadav was voted out as president and replaced by his son and current Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. Soon after, Amar Sigh, Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brother Shivpal Yadav submitted a memorandum to the Election Commission claiming that the meeting was illegal and that the election symbol, the cycle, must remain with their faction.

However, the EC is unlikely to resolve the issue regarding the symbol before the election given that the hearings take up to six months. This article in The Indian Express points out –

The panel may, in the interim, freeze the party symbol and provide ad hoc recognition to the two factions under names similar to the parent party. The factions will be asked to contest on different symbols.

Efforts to resolve issues have reportedly failed yesterday despite meetings between father and son.

The meeting, between CM and his father sources said, focussed on three issues ``who will have the final say in the distribution of tickets for the assembly elections, the future of Amar Singh and the role of Shivpal Yadav in the party, who was ousted from the post of the state president of the party on January 1. Amar Singh was expelled from the party on January 1.

Sunil Rajguru writes in Sify that the split was inevitable, given that Akhilesh Yadav has not been successful as a Chief Minister in translating schemes announced to changes on the ground. Rajguru writes –

In UP, there was a virtual free for all. Mulayam-Akhilesh was not the last word. There were two powerful brothers in form of Ram Gopal and Shivpal. When one chose Mulayam and the other Akhilesh, it was clear that there would be hectic lobbying and politicking and the party would be torn apart.

According to Vidya Subrahmaniam’s piece in The Hindu, it is rather surprising to see that Akhilesh Yadav has retained the goodwill of the people for his attempt to maintain a clean and corrupt free image.

There is a view in Lucknow corridors that the split, whether scripted or not, has changed the game for the Chief Minister. Indeed so, and the proof was in the rapturous young crowds that thronged the streets of the capital shouting their support for the son. The SP, which had been placed last in the election stakes before the split, found itself bumped up to the second if not first place with Akhilesh Yadav seizing control.

The BSP, which suffered a major defeat, losing a large number of dalit votes in the last election may be able to regain support among its core base following the Una protests. The BJP too had a few things going in its favour, but now the lack of a popular chief ministerial candidate and the demonetisation aftermath may affect its chances.

There is much speculation on what these developments will mean during the polls. But some crunching of numbers from the last few election results by India Spend’s Praveen Chakravarty reveals that the BJP would have to lose very big to lose the election.

The BJP lost the Bihar elections of 2015 after winning it in 2014, by having no more than 4% of its voters switch loyalties. The BJP would need a performance nearly four times worse than Bihar to lose UP, given its magnitude of victory in 2014. If any two of the opposition parties get together, the BJP would still have to lose more than 10% of its voters to lose the UP election. Whichever way one looks at the data, it would take a massive shift of loyalties of 2014 BJP voters for the party to lose the 2017 election. The BJP has pounced on the opportunity to hit out at the Samajwadi Party. Spokesperson Sambit Swaraj said that the drama was meant to distract from the failures of the present government.

Many opinion polls show BJP in the lead with the BSP emerging as the second favourite to win the elections. The First Post quotes the results of the India Today poll which shows the BJP winning 170-183 seats and the Congress losing big.

Having Sheila Dikshit as the chief ministerial candidate seem to have failed to create any buzz for the party, with just one percent of those surveyed approving the choice of Dikshit as the next chief minister. The party seems to have failed to create any impression in the public with its chances of winning just eight-12 seats in the upcoming election.

Mayawati announced 403 candidates who will contest polls and appealed to Muslims not to vote for the SP. She also attacked the BJP for demonetisation, calling it a betrayal of the people. Giving a caste breakup of the candidates, she said –

85 are reserved for the SCs and 87 tickets have been given to dalits, 97 to Muslims, 106 to OBCs, 113 to upper castes (66 to Brahmins, 36 to Kshatriyas and 11 to Kayasthas, Vaishyas, Punjabis

Prashant Jha analyses the distinctive features of the UP elections given the recent developments in his article in The Hindustan Times. Calling it one of the most important elections which will affect the lives of 200 million people, Jha opines that victory requires a mix of understanding caste equations, but also going beyond it.

If the BJP wins, it will once again be due to the PM’s popularity; if Mayawati wins, it will be because of the nostalgia for her ‘strong law and order’; and if Akhilesh wins, it will be an endorsement of his focus on infrastructure and welfare, and rebellion against the old patronage networks.

Will the young Chief Minister continue to retain power, or will the BJP or Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party be the victors, there is a lot riding on the result.

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