Tough electoral battle ahead

Tough electoral battle ahead

Rajeev Sharma
From here on, it’s Mission UP for all major political parties as India’s biggest and politically most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh inches closer to assembly polls.
There are only four stakeholders in the UP elections — the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) of the father-son duo Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav, its arch-rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, though not necessarily in that order of electoral chances of winning the polls, which are still a good eight months away.
But it is a high stakes gamble for each of the four stakeholders. It is virtually a semi-final before the final match of the political series that began with the Indian general elections of 2014 and will end with the next general elections due by April-May, 2019. Here is how.
For the SP, the political stakes are high as the party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav has been trying hard to play a larger role on the national stage. This can be possible only if his party performs not only well but well enough to win the elections in a big way. In case of a fractured mandate in the 2019 general elections, which is a distinct possibility, the SP will be an important political force.
But that would happen only if the SP scores a massive victory in the assembly polls eight months later. In cricket terminology, the SP will have to brace itself for NRR or Net Run Rate, which means that the SP will have to win their “semifinal” match in early 2017 by a huge margin.
The SP cannot forget the bitter irony that it had won a record 35 parliamentary seats in the 2009 general elections but its victory proved to be a damp squib as its numerical strength got lost in the twisted political arithmetic that gave zero strategic advantage to the party as the Congress and it’s pre-poll allies had romped home with a clear majority.
However, the SP will have to take into account the anti-incumbency factor. At the same time, the SP has a major tactical advantage over its other three rivals as it is the party in power in UP and holds the strategic advantage of influencing the voters hugely by announcing major developmental and welfare schemes well before the model code of conduct is enforced by the Election Commission.
But haven’t two other regional satraps — Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress — defied the anti-incumbency conundrum and returned to power for second successive term in the recently concluded elections for five state assemblies?
For the BSP, it’s going to be an existential crisis. Second consecutive political decimation may well ring a death knell for the regional party. After all, the BSP had got zero seats in the 2014 parliamentary elections though it had garnered respectable percentage of vote share.
For the Congress party also it’s going to be an existential crisis of sorts as the grand old party has failed to win a single assembly poll since 2014, barring the tiny union territory of Puducherry recently. The Congress party has been an also-ran in the political space of UP for the last quarter century and has consistently finished a poor fourth in the state.
Another washout in UP in early 2017 will inevitably hit the national part very hard. Its only USP will come only if the Congress leadership fields Priyanka Gandhi, daughter of party president Sonia Gandhi as its chief ministerial candidate. If that happens the Congress will most likely go solo in the UP polls and hope to sweep the elections. But that may or may not happen, as Priyanka will be the Congress party’s very last and ultimate weapon.
If Congress doesn’t project Priyanka as the party’s chief ministerial face for UP it has no chance of performing well and winning the elections will be a tall order. In such a scenario, the Congress has no alternative but to forge a pre-poll alliance with one of the other Big Three. The BJP is automatically ruled out while the SP is most unlikely to go for a pre-poll alliance with any party, least of all with the Congress.
That would leave the Congress only with the BSP as a likely pre-poll partner. That arrangement would suit the BSP as well. Coming events cast their shadow before! And this was proven in the Rajya Sabha elections of June 11 when the BSP supported the Congress in many states.
As for the BJP, it is sitting high and pretty in the UP political calculus as the party had won a record 71 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 parliamentary elections. Considering the importance of the poll-bound UP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held the BJP’s National Executive meeting last weekend in the UP city of Allahabad.
It is, therefore, a political inevitability that from here on all roads will lead to UP. This election will be the BJP versus the rest and, therefore, all anti-BJP parties will try to forge a common front like they did in Bihar. In fact, UP is going to be the most fiercely contested assembly election, fiercer than even Bihar six months ago. Watch this space.
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