Big B is a great actor. In fact, the greatest actor of the millennium, according to a BBC poll. And when he waxes eloquently on television channels about Uttar Pradesh being a paradise on earth, even his die-hard fans in his own native state know he is doing what he is best known for?acting.
Because no sane person in his senses can agree with the Big B'scontention that ?UP mein hain dum, kyonki jurm yahan hain kum?. Because it reminds one of the notorious dialogue ?Let them eat cake, if they have no bread.? Because it reminds one of a Delhi Police Commissioner who dished out crime statistics of London and New York when the city gained notoriety as the country's?crime capital? few years back.
Both senior BJP leader L.K. Advani and Congress President Sonia Gandhi agreed on one thing, that the spiralling prices led to the Congress party'sdebacle in Punjab and Uttarakhand but in Uttar Pradesh, law and order would be the decisive issue in the upcoming elections to the state Assembly.
How can the people of UP forget that it was the Samajwadi Party that inducted into the cabinet a former POTA detainee Raja Bhaiyya, who was jailed by Mayawati for his heinous crimes and atrocities (of course, she had political scores also to settle)? How can they ignore the Chief Minister'sstrident opposition to a CBI inquiry against mafia don Mukhtar Ansari for his alleged involvement in the murder of BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai till the High Court'sintervention?
The involvement of policemen in crimes like kidnapping and looting, bashing-up of government officials by gun-totting Samajwadi Party ?leaders? and the Chief Minister'sutter lack of insensitivity in not visiting the kin of the horrendous Nithari killings are factors no voter in the politically crucial state can afford to ignore.
There is also the politicisation of the bureaucracy in a big way. A recent expose by a television channel showed how the Chief Secretary was singing paens for Mulayam Singh and serenading his son in the presence of an appreciating Home Secretary and ever-obliging Director General of Police.
In a state, where the IAS officers voted one of Mulayam'sChief Secretaries as the most corrupt official, graft is not only taken for granted but also patronized. The Chief Minister'sovert and covert support to fundamentalist Islamic outfits such as SIMI to placate his Muslim constituency has ensured that even holy cities like Varanasi are not spared from terrorist violence.
Amar Singh'semergence as the back-seat driver of the government and the industrialist-Bollywood concoction has left the common man high and dry.
The popular support for Lucknow University Vice-Chancellor Ram Prakash Singh'sefforts to purge the campus of criminal student leaders owing loyalty to the Samajwadi Party is an indicator of the people'sgrowing concern about the collapse of law and order machinery in the state.
Mulayam Singh might have won a vote of confidence in the face of the Supreme Court order disqualifying 13 BSP MLAs and may try to play the victim over the apex court'srecent order for a CBI probe into his alleged disproportionate assets. But will he be able to win the confidence of the people of the state, who are waiting for redemption?
It would be wrong on the part of his opponents to underestimate his strength in a state where cash, crime and caste play decisive role in the elections. The wrestler-turned-Chief Minister knows how to flex his muscles and is confident of the backing of his traditional Muslim-Yadav combination.
Buoyed by the party'sperformance in the recent civic polls, in which it won eight corporations out of the 12 big cities in the civic polls and its recent victories in Punjab and Uttarakhand, the BJP is leaving no stone unturned to retain its lost glory in the state.
Strong anti-incumbency, rising prices, party'spast performance, elevation of Rajnath Singh as the party President, return of Kalyan Singh to the party fold, results of the recent civic polls and its victories in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra civic polls and of course the presence of the party'stallest leader Atal Behari Vajpayee and the guidance of the RSS are factors expected to play a key role in the revival of the party'sfortunes. The party is also expected to enter into an alliance with local groupings like Apna Dal.
?Party ka graph upar ja raha hain (the BJP'sgraph is rising). You will see the improvement in the BJP'sperformance in Uttar Pradesh?, says an elated Rajnath Singh.
What remains to be seen is whether the party would be able to appeal to voters on a broader pan-Hindu plank (as witnessed in the wake of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement) as against the narrow caste appeals of both the Samajwadi Party and its rival Bahujan Samaj Party. As for the Congress, the chances of its revival appear remote with the shoddy performance of its government at the Centre (price rise, terrorism, etc), double standards in Uttar Pradesh, lack of credibility and absence of a charismatic leadership.
The electoral outcome would also depend much on how the Election Commission ensures a free and fair poll in the face of politicisation of bureaucracy and criminalisation of politics in the state. Irrespective of who wins, the results of the Uttar Pradesh elections would certainly influence the course of national politics in the days to come.
Another election, though local in nature, being keenly watched across the nation is that of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, where the fight is primarily between the ruling Congress and the BJP. A third front under the banner of Pragatisheel Morcha, comprising V.P. Singh'sJan Morcha, the Communists, NCP and others as also the Bahujan Samaj Party and Uma Bharti'sJanshakti are also in the fray. The Residents Welfare Associations too are contemplating to put up their candidates.
The BJP'scampaign is expected to focus on the impact of sealings and demolitions on the common man and the hardships he had to endure. Over and above ?Price rise of all commodities under the Congress regime has emerged as the crucial issue?, said Dr Harshvardhan, state BJP president.
Putting on a brave face in the face of strong anti-incumbency, the Congress plans to trumpet the implementation of the Master Plan and the regularisation of unauthorised colonies among its ?achievements?.
?We have managed to help the people and bring out people-friendly policies?, says Congress state president Ram Babu Sharma.
However, even party insiders concede that the price rise and demolitions have smoothe-ned the path for BJP'sreturn and the party would do well to set its house in order ahead of the Assembly elections.