Cycle with Wings
Akhilesh Yadav is flying on the anti-incumbency wave across UP, while the game seems to be over for Mayawati
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow
Even as Mayawati's five-year-old, almost 'dictatorial' regime's future hangs in uncertainty as UP goes to polls, there is a genuine desire for change. However, among political analysts, there is confusion over who would make it this time as the chief minister, a signal which has the potential to decisively alter politics in New Delhi.
"The game is over for Mayawati. Samajwadi Party (SP) will form the government with Congress and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)," said Rakesh, a rickshawpuller. Lucknow, gripped with election fervour, is strangely benign towards all political outfits. Government official Ramesh Chandra, a Dalit, said that Mayawati's BSP will again emerge as the single largest party. Agitated that the Election Commission (EC) 'covered up' the multi-crore monuments of 'Dalit pride' that came up during the last five years, he said the move will unify Dalit voters in favour of Mayawati.
Under pressure over gigantic scams, including the murder of three officials in the massive NRHM scam, and the dismissal of a fleet of ministers in other scams, the 'Dalit ki beti' (daughter of a Dalit), as she prefers to call herself in times of adversity, is facing the heat from young scions, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav. They have been attacking her consistently in their meetings all over the state. "Anti-incumbency and the wave against corruption will dent BSP's hopes this time," said SR Darapuri, former IG, UP Police. Mayawati dismissed 20 ministers and denied tickets to 100 MLAs; the move might backfire and these candidates will work against BSP candidates.
Others feel this will neutralise the anti-incumbency wave. BSP has given tickets to 88 SC candidates, 113 OBCs, 85 from the minorities, including Muslims, and 117 upper caste candidates, including 74 Brahmins, along with others. Mayawati, along with Satish Chandra Mishra, her Brahmin face, and Naseemuddin Siddiqui, her Muslim face, is trying hard to recreate the 'Sarvajan Hitay' magic which propelled her to a majority in the last elections, the only party to get a majority after BJP got it in 1991, riding on the Ram Mandir wave. "Now that there is a clear indication that Brahmins are not going to vote for BSP, she is trying to woo OBCs, Muslims and her stronghold, Dalits. This is why she has fielded 113 OBC candidates," said a political observer.
To lure Muslims, BSP appealed that it has set up an Urdu and Persian university in Lucknow, included 100 madarsas on the list of government grants, increased the scholarship given to one crore Muslim students to Rs 1 lakh, financial grant was given to Muslim girls for their marriage, the grant to Urdu Academy was increased, and 58 educational institutions were set up in predominantly Muslim areas. Muslims account for almost 20 per cent of the total electorate in UP and their presence is as high as 45 per cent plus in western UP. The Muslim factor will also be a decisive factor in this crucial assembly polls.
Salman Khursheed raked up the issue of Muslim reservations; this might upset the whole OBC equation. There is a feeling within Congress that the way so many tickets have been given to OBCs, under the influence of Kurmi leader Beni Prasad Verma and general secretary Digvijaya Singh, the move might backfire. They feel that OBCs (Yadavs and Kurmis) are upset with the 4.5 per cent sub-quota for Muslims within the OBC quota proposed by Congress.
Local Congress leaders believe that Verma and Singh are sabotaging the prospects of the Congress, and destroying Rahul Gandhi's 'Vision 2012'. Singh raked up the Batla House encounter issue; this resulted in protests by Muslims when Rahul Gandhi visited Azamgarh, where he was shown black flags. Verma was booed and not allowed to speak in Barabanki, his home turf.
The rift between UPCC chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Congress Legislative Party leader Pramod Tiwari is well-known. The rift reflected in ticket distribution whereby allegations of taking money in lieu of tickets were levelled. The Congress is banking only on the charisma of Rahul Gandhi. "The huge turn out at Rahul's rallies are a sign that Congress is going to form the government this time," Rita Bahuguna told Hardnews.
There are great expectations from the RLD alliance, but many doubt if this will translate into victories. "RLD has been made to do away with many seats to the Congress in its bastion. The way they had to give Shamli, a Jat stronghold, is an indicator," said an analyst. The Congress is banking on local leader Rasheed Masood to brighten its prospects in western UP. "How many people know him now?" asked a disgruntled Congress MP, debunking Masood's claims that he will be influential in at least 15-20 constituencies in and around Saharanpur.
Kushwaha was brought in to cut to size Uma Bharti’s growing stature, much to the discomfiture of Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra
Surely, Rahul's relentless campaign in the Bundelkhand and Poorvanchal belt, and the Union government's subsidies and loan waivers to weavers, will help Congress. Said Prof Ramesh Dixit of Lucknow University, "The way Rahul visited Dalit households and actively politicised the Bhatta-Parsaul land issue will definitely work to the benefit of Congress." Priyanka Gandhi's visits to Rae Bareilly and Amethi, Congress strongholds, and her promise to spread the campaign, is creating ripples of hope. "The way this election is going, I don't see the party getting more than 40 seats," said a Congress MP. "We will hit 100," said a Rahul loyalist.
Congress's quota move, which had upset the EC, has also put the SP in a dilemma as most of its support base comes from the Yadavs (OBC) and Muslims. An unnerved Mulayam Singh Yadav had to promise an 18 per cent quota outside the OBC bracket for Muslims. Mayawati too wrote a letter to the Centre asking for a quota for Muslims.
"For the SP, the strategy is clear. Yadavs are voting for us, so manage the Muslim vote," said Uday Veer, a close aide of Akhilesh Yadav. This is the main worry for SP after the Muslims deserted it post the Kalyan Singh fiasco in 2009. Now that SP has got back its Muslim faces – Azam Khan of Rampur, and others, including Shahid Siddiqui – it hopes that the Muslim electorate will not disappoint 'Maulana Mulayam'.
The young Yadav scion is receiving a generous welcome from all sections. His visits to the Jat and Muslim belt in western UP have been successful. Muslims have not forgotten that RLD had aligned with BJP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. This factor has caused worry in the SP camp; former MP Amir Alam opposed RLD leader Anuradha Chaudhary's inclusion in SP. She was vehemently anti-Muslim during the 2009 elections and even got Narendra Modi to campaign.
Small parties like the Peace Party of Dr Mohd Ayub, a surgeon from Gorakhpur, poses a serious threat to SP and Congress. Widely perceived to be funded by BJP and BSP, this party has spent a lot of money in the last two years to build a strong constituency among Muslims, especially the pasmanda, backward sections. The party has fielded as many as 220 candidates.
The ‘Dalit ki beti’, as she prefers to call herself in times of adversity, is facing the heat from Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, who are attacking her all over UP
Akhilesh argues that he is still hopeful Muslims will understand that small parties can't form a government and hence they won't waste their vote. Moreover, infighting within the Peace Party has dampened its hopes. "It will only get five or six seats," said an analyst.
Mulayam's brother Shivpal Yadav brought in 'goonda raj' earlier under the SP regime. Now, Akhilesh has given a strong message that SP stands for development and is against criminal elements. He did not allow notorious 'bahubali' DP Yadav to enter the party; this has sent a positive signal. "Had I allowed him in, I would have to answer so many questions on his criminal past," Akhilesh told Hardnews.
SP has its own share of worries. The apparent rift within the Yadav family and the way tickets were distributed in western UP at the behest of Azam Khan, have left many red faced. Spokesperson Mohan Singh was stripped of his position when he came out in support of DP Yadav's inclusion. "I think it was Shivpal Yadav who was behind this DP Yadav episode. Netaji has made it clear that it is Akhilesh who is the boss in the state," said a SP source. "Akhilesh is not being projected as the CM because Netaji doesn't want one more issue to come up and lead to infighting. Akhilesh will finally take over the reins," he added.
"There is a buzz that SP will emerge as the single largest party," SP general secretary Mohan Singh told Hardnews. There are talks of a post-poll alliance with the Congress and the RLD, but all the parties are mum on it fearing a polarisation in favour of one.
BJP is banking its chances on a polarisation resulting from the reservation issue has cropped up. Working silently in assembly constituencies where it is strong, operating on a consistent RSS strategy designed by RSS organiser Sanjay Joshi, BJP hopes to sail through in seats where more than one Muslim candidates are contesting on BSP, Congress/RLD or SP tickets, as is the case in western UP. "The way Mulayam and Congress have raked up the Muslim reservation issue, it will only polarise votes for BJP," senior BJP leader Kalraj Mishra told Hardnews.
For the SP, the strategy is clear. ‘Yadavs are voting for us, so manage the Muslim vote’
BJP was hoping to gain a foothold riding on the Anna wave. It suffered a setback after the inclusion of tainted BSP turncoat Babu Singh Kushwaha, who was formally brought in the party at the behest of Nitin Gadkari and Vinay Katiyar. The move not only dented its so-called anti-corruption poll plank, but also resulted in severe infighting. Senior leaders, including Uma Bharati and Yogi Adityanath, and the RSS came out openly against the move.
After Kalyan Singh's exit from BJP, Bharati has been brought in to balance the Lodh vote deficit in central UP where this backward community commands sizeable influence. She too threatened that she won't campaign if Kushwaha is brought in. It is learnt that Kushwaha was brought in to cut to size Uma Bharti's growing stature, much to the discomfiture of Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra. "They will definitely gain OBC votes by bringing in Kushwaha. He has obliged his constituency during his days in power," said a Congress MP.
In what many perceive as a blind election, Ramesh Dixit says, "Delimitation of constituencies, which has changed the caste equation across the state, will be a crucial factor." Indeed, points out Justice SHA Raza, Lokayukta of Uttarakhand: "The 1.3 crore new young voters would matter a lot in this election."