How Uttar Pradesh tally could trigger changes in BJP and INDIA bloc

The INDIA bloc is trying its best to snatch seats away from the BJP

40-Supporters-during-Modis-road-show Saffron tide: Supporters during Modi’s road show in Varanasi on May 13 | Pawan Kumar

UTTAR PRADESH IS a crucial test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. It has been 10 years since Modi became Varanasi’s MP. The constituency has elected him twice, and he has rewarded it with the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, besides consecrating the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Modi has not just carved his place in history, but also cemented support from his core constituency.

INDIA bloc leaders have an ambitious target―40 seats. Their optimism is based on the electoral discourse on livelihood issues and the “lack” of a pro-Modi wave.

“Modi’s entry into Kashi was marked by enthusiasm among people. The second time, it turned into trust. This time, when Modi went to Varanasi, there were scenes of reverence,” said a BJP office-bearer.

The BJP’s ‘double engine’ slogan is most visible in UP. Yogi has his stamp on the administration, particularly law and order. The police have had a free hand in reining in crime, and the deployment of bulldozers to deliver ‘instant justice’ has had other BJP-ruled states replicating it. The poll outcome would be a referendum on Yogi’s seven-year rule.

“On one side, we have PM Modi with his vision, commitment and strong implementation,” said BJP spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal. “Yogi has also ushered in transformation, improved law and order, created infrastructure and enhanced spiritual tourism―be it in Kashi, Ayodhya and now Mathura…. The world needs a strong leader who could address global geopolitical challenges. It is Modi, and UP is electing him again.”

Across the state, multiple factors are at play. Talked-about issues include inflation, farmer distress, stray cattle and general fatigue with a decade-old dispensation. The concerns are visible, but not the anger, which the BJP is trying to overcome with its massive grassroots reach. “There are challenges, given UP’s population and size,” said Agarwal. “We acknowledge the issue of employment, and are working to increase opportunities through various schemes.”

With two more phases of polling to go, Modi has already surpassed his 2019 tally of 142 poll rallies. A.K. Verma, director of the Kanpur-based Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, said studies showed that Modi was getting higher approval ratings after each phase of polling.

“Akhilesh has been changing alliances every election, so people are yet to find an alternative model to Modi’s. The BJP is likely to retain its 2019 tally as Modi has crafted a constituency of his own that looks at him beyond the party and even the RSS,” he said.

The Union government’s scheme that provides free 5kg ration to the poor, which has come to be known as Modi’s scheme, has been a big soother in times of distress. Riding on it, along with Ram Temple, Modi’s charisma, Yogi’s appeal and the party’s organisational strength, the BJP hopes to better its 2019 tally of 62 of 80 seats.

Realising the popularity of free rations, the Congress has its own promise. “We will give 10kg rations free if we come to power,” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge recently said in a news conference.

The INDIA bloc is trying its best to snatch seats away from the BJP. The bonding between Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is visible. Rahul campaigned for Akhilesh in Kannauj, and Akhilesh addressed rallies in favour of the Congress in Amethi and Rae Bareli. Workers of both the parties are active in transferring votes to the alliance’s candidates.

The alliance is looking to consolidate Muslim and Yadav votes. The SP has fielded only five Yadav candidates, all from Akhilesh’s family. In the rest of the seats, it has tried social engineering―fielding candidates of other castes to expand its vote share. In Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav is employing the same strategy―‘sacrificing’ claims of the dominant Yadav caste to give representation to others and maximise vote share. Akhilesh is trying to move beyond his Muslim-Yadav base by including what he terms as ‘Pichda, dalit, alpasankhyak’ (backward, dalit, minorites).

INDIA bloc leaders have an ambitious target―40 seats. Their optimism is based on the electoral discourse on livelihood issues and the “lack” of a perceivable pro-Modi wave.

In 2019, the SP won five seats in alliance with the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (10 seats) and Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. The Congress contested alone. This time, the INDIA bloc comprises the SP and the Congress. Their focus is on livelihood issues such as price rise and unemployment. They are also emphasising local issues, such as the stray-cattle problem, police exam-related paper leaks and Rajput anger.

The BSP’s subdued campaign means the 19 per cent votes it polled in 2019 are up for grabs. Suspicions that Mayawati is being soft towards the BJP strengthened recently when she removed nephew Akash Anand as her political heir. That Anand was aggressively anti-BJP could send Muslims to consolidate behind the SP and send a section of dalits towards the INDIA bloc. Also, contest is keen in the 28 seats that, in 2019, had victory margins of less than one lakh votes. Of these 28 seats, 21 were won by the BJP.

The electioneering in Amethi and Rae Bareli provides a glimpse of how keen the contest is. Akhilesh and Rahul have addressed joint rallies, and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi has been spearheading the campaign, ensuring equal participation of SP leaders and workers.

Rae Bareli, especially, has attained such significance that Union Minister Amit Shah recently said if the BJP’s target of winning 400-plus seats could, in its essence, be met with one seat, it would be Rae Bareli. Clearly, the number of seats won by either side in UP would decide the perceptional value of the overall mandate. The UP tally may also set off changes within the two blocs that would impact its key leaders.

“In the 2017 assembly polls, the SP-Congress alliance did not work that well, because workers of the two parties were not together,” said R.P. Yadav, SP leader in Rae Bareli. “This time, there is nothing to distinguish between us. We are fighting as one.”

With inputs by Soni Mishra