Monday, July 4, 2011

Electoral Battleground - Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election 2012

Political drama is at its peak in Uttar Pradesh, with instances of police atrocities, murders and rape continuing to hog the headlines in national media. This has pushed Mayavati on the the backfoot, who till a few months back was enjoying tremendous power without any problems. She was sweeping bye-elections, MLC elections and panchayat elections with ease. But now BSP cadres are jittery. They are not so sure now about the Sarvajan ideology helping them, this time around. The traditional vote bank of the BSP may still remain intact but the success mantra for the clear majority in the last assembly election was the support of upper castes (primarily Brahmins) and certain sections of Muslim community.

Today, the upper caste voters in Uttar Pradesh are having doubts about the capability of Mayawati in tackling the deteriorating Law & Order situation in the state. This was the very plank that catapulted Mayawati into power throwing out the Mulayam Singh government. Voters in UP always knew that they have no choice with regards to corruption but the least they wanted was an end to the goonda raj rampant in SP rule. Congress and BJP are trying hard to woo this segment as they have been their voters in the earlier days. How successful will these attempts be, will only be known at the hustings in about 10 months time. But they will surely regain some part of their lost support base.

Another important factor in these elections will be the impact of the new delimitation. By the very nature of the excercise, the number of urban seats have grown in sync with increasing migration to cities. This works to the advantage of Congress and the BJP as they are the major parties in the cities. The SP and the BSP at best play a fringe role in most big cities, coming 3rd or 4th. Many speculate that the rise in fortunes for the Congress in LokSabha 2009 in UP was in part due to the delimitation of seats.

This brings us to the all important Muslim vote bank in a state where they matter more than anywhere else in India. Mulayam had a setback in the LokSabha elections when he joined hands with Kalyan Singh, who is seen as a major architect of the Babri Masjid demolition. He then went on to antagonize Azam Khan, another popular muslim leader from SP, because of Amar Singh. Situations have now changed, Mulayam has kept Kalyan SIngh at a fair distance and would not dare repeat the same mistake again. Amar Singh is on his own and with that Mulayam has welcomed Azam Khan once again in the party. All is still not well and Azam Khan will definitely have his pound of flesh as he realisies that he is critical to Mulayam in his strategy to woo back the muslim community to SP fold.

Congress's efforts to woo the Muslims are being led by none other than Digvijay Singh, who one can argue sometimes goes overboard with his muslim appeasement agenda. Still Congress has no big names in UP to draw the Muslims to its side, the 3 Muslim MP's from the state are Cabinet Minister, Salman Khursheed, Mohammed Azharuddin, and Zafar Ali Naqvi. Salman Khursheed is not a popular face amongst the Muslim community and is not a mass leader. Azhar had jumped into politics and won form Moradabad, but has not been active ever since. Zafar Ali Naqvi is not a well known face amongst muslims and he was not able to get his son elected in one of the recently held bye-elections in Lakhimpur district.

One key entrant to the political landscape in UP has been the Peace Party. Led by Dr. Ayub, this party had started out from  Purvanchal and has now spread considerably. This is widely percieved to be led by well educated and professional muslims and are not seen as extremists. They have done well in a few bye-elections, where their candidates have come ahead of the Congress and BJP candidates. They also claim to be able to transfer their core votes to the parties in alliance, claiming to be similar to BSP in this aspect. They have formed a coalition with Ajit Singh's RLD, Indian Justice Party, Bhartiya Samaj Party and others and are planning to contest on all 403 seats. People across party lines are waking up to their potential of spoilers, if not winners. It is still early days but they might hurt the likes of SP and Congress and hence there are speculations about the financial backing of the party. Some sections of the political class claim  Peace Party to be a front set up to divide the muslim votes intended to help BJP. A name of a certain Hindu hardline MP from eastern UP surfaces in many such conversations.

With so much drama unfolding day by day, it is difficult to ascertain the facts from rumours, but one thing assured is a keenly contested election and lots of interesting plots and sub-plots. Keep your eyes and ears open till May 2012.