The generational battle in Uttar Pradesh’s first family can have long-term political ramifications, starting with the 2017 state elections. The two unintended beneficiaries of the ruling Samajwadi Party’s disintegration—the BSP and the BJP—have already started strategising to maximise their gains.
The strategy became apparent within hours of the ugly spat involving Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, his father and uncle in Lucknow on October 24. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was in Uttar Pradesh on the same day, waded into the controversial issue of the triple talaq during his party’s rally in Mahoba. “What is the crime of my Muslim sisters that someone says talaq over the phone and her life is destroyed?” he asked. It was the first time Modi had spoken on the issue. BSP president Mayawati reacted sharply to the PM’s speech saying he should not interfere in religious matters and let the community decide on the issue.
At the heart of this tussle is a rich constituency of Muslim voters, who are confused because of the family war in the Samajwadi party. The community which constitutes nearly 18.5 per cent of UP’s population had voted the Samajwadi Party to power to keep the BJP at bay.
“It is a good sign for us,” Veer Singh, a BSP member of the Rajya Sabha, told THE WEEK. “The BSP will be the biggest beneficiary of the Muslim votes, and some of the other castes that had voted for the Samajwadi Party. The BSP can now repeat its 2007 performance.” He said since the Congress was nowhere in the picture, the BSP was the sole claimant of the Muslim votes.
Worried that a huge chunk of Muslim votes, combined with Mayawati’s core dalit vote, can give her the upper hand, the BJP is expanding its focus to all castes. “The BJP supports the cause of women. Muslim women and girls, who are at the receiving end of the divorce issue, will vote for us,” BJP’s national general secretary Arun Singh told THE WEEK.
BJP strategists say that in the wake of the disarray in the ruling party, they are wooing the non-Yadav OBC castes like the Nishads, the Kushwahas, the Kurmis and the Lodhs. The BJP has sent out a message to the upper castes through aggressive hard-selling of the Army’s commando action across the LoC.
“The Yadavs, wherever they are in majority, may vote for Yadav candidates propped by the Samajwadi Party,” said a BJP leader. “However, they will vote for us in all other seats, where they are not in a position to get their leader elected. They have 10,000 to 15,000 votes in all the seats.”
The director of Kanpur-based Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, A.K. Verma, told THE WEEK, “The way the situation is unfolding in the state, Akhilesh may go his own way. So, the Yadav community will wait to see who would be best to safeguard their interests.”
“Even Muslims who have sided with the Samaj-wadi Party will wait and watch. Mayawati is already wooing them aggressively. In 2007, she gave 60 tickets to Muslims; this time it is over 120, which hints at how things are shaping up,” he said.
While the BJP is preparing for its biggest battle in the state, riding on Modi’s appeal, Mayawati is banking on her track record as a strict administrator. However, the shaky situation can upset all calculations.