SPECIAL POLL REPORT
By Shivaji Sarkar
The scenario in Uttar Pradesh is getting gradually communalised. Congress is trying to ride a difficult horse playing the communal card.
The Congress move on announcing 4.5 per cent quota for Muslims out of the 27 per cent OBC quota just before the elections is not being taken kindly by many of the voters. The OBCs are seeing it as an onslaught on their rights. It is doubtful that it would make Muslims happy. In fact, many Muslim castes were already beneficiary of the OBC quota. The gimmick may have its own cost.
But now the announcement by Union Law Minister Salman Khursheed that after elections it might consider 9 per cent reservation for Muslims, is communalising the election scenario. It is surprising that a supposedly secular party is playing the minority card. It has not even tried to assess the adverse affect it would cause on the society.
For petty political gains, Congress is dividing the society.
With the passing of each day, the political scenario is getting murkier. Congress obviously is trying to play the card to polarise votes of the minorities in its favour. It is not sure whether minorities would fall into the trap or not.
The Muslims, of late, have been voting very strategically. During the past few elections they are not casting their plank for one political formation. It has been observed that they are casting their votes for candidates from their community.
The strategy has paid. In the present assembly there are 55 Muslim MLAs, a significant rise from the strength in previous houses. Since there are many seats, where the Muslims have a 30 per cent concentration they are now planning to improve upon this tally. Some Muslim researchers have stated that if Muslims voted properly they could elect 75 MLAs from their community.
No political party has considered this as a threat to the secularism. The Muslims have spread themselves in key positions in BSP, SP and to some extent in Congress too. At different places, their candidates get support from the community irrespective of their political loyalty.
This polarisation so far has not created any backlash from other communities. As a subtle strategy, unlike voting for one political party, the Muslim community does not try to flaunt bloc voting in the open. As they vote for different formations, the suspicion and backlash that it used to cause earlier is avoided.
Bharatiya Janata Party strategists need to take this as cue and act.
If the issue could be handled properly, BJP along with some of its allies can create waves in UP elections. It is not just a political issue. As a nation the move must be fought for keeping it integrated.
But this requires BJP and its leaders to sail together and contest the election with the required vigour. This can change the pattern of voting and poll prospects in the state. It requires creating the nationalist fervour.
It is still not late to strategise. Elections are almost 25 days away. But that requires creating an intense campaigning, not necessarily at a high pitch. It can change the scenario.
The state so far has no major issue to catch the fancy of the voters. If properly planned and strategised such issues can gel the political scenario. But it also requires raking the issue of development.
Roads and infrastructure are in abysmal condition. One corporate house, supported by Chief Minister Mayawati, is monopolising all real estate, expressways and other activities. Nobody has taken up these issues as well. These are potential issues that rocked the state. It needs effective articulation.
No political party has tried to do it so far. People are looking towards the party with a difference to change the course of the state polls.
The state as of now remains a difficult proposition. Any prediction about UP is fraught with risk. It is difficult to understand the mind of the electorate. There is unanimity that UP results may not be on the expected lines.
There is an undercurrent for a change in the state. The style of functioning of Chief Minister Mayawati has raised many eyebrows. There is fear as well. The party functions in mafia style and does not tolerate dissent at any level – whether within the party or even outside. There is no internal democracy. Even the topmost leaders cannot open their mouth without orders from Mayawati.
Even her closest aide Satish Chandra Mishra does not have the authority to speak. When he spoke last after Election Commission’s order to cover Mayawati’s statue and statues of party election symbols – elephant, he read out a written statement.
The authoritarian functioning has its advantage as well. Her caste supporters are proud of it. They are proud even of her amassing of wealth – the methods do not matter. Her criticism is taken as a criticism of a Dalit woman. They say since the upper and intermediary castes are envious of her, they make “false” allegations. Ethics do not matter. This keeps her hardcore support intact despite allegations of corruption – be it disproportionate asset, extravaganza on her statues or anything else.
Mayawati has gone stronger for all her supposed misdeeds. Even her betrayal of BJP, which thrice supported her to become Chief minister, is taken as a courageous step and a rebuff to the party of high castes. Her dalit vote bank has remained firmly with her despite idiosyncrasies. So far nobody has been able to penetrate this segment of voters, who were once staunch Congress supporters.
Congress is trying hard to regain this vote bank. Rahul Gandhi’s dramatic entry into dalit households, spending the nights in shanties and sharing food with dalits is being seen as a desperate attempt to win them over. The tantrums have helped Congress or not but it has not been able to dent the vote bank of BSP.
Congress is propagating that it has given tickets to many youth. True, but it is also true that majority of them are scions of an MLA, MP or top party leader. Dynastic politics within the party is spreading.
The BSP has another advantage. It had announced the names of its candidates eight to ten months earlier. The candidates have got longer campaigning time.
There is a problem with BSP too. Almost 18 of its ministers were charged with adopting corrupt methods and have been sacked from the party. Many of them were indicted by Lokayukta. Some are even facing CBI probes.
This has dented the image of the party. The opposition is trying to make a capital out of it. For Congress campaigner Rahul Gandhi, this is the staple food of his public speeches and barbs against Mayawati.
The scams in National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and MNREGA are creating ripples. Murders of two chief medical officers have further aggravated the political scenario. Would Mayawati be able to retain hold despite these scams?
If she does not then who would make it? Can it be Samajwadi party? The SP had lost the last elections owing to its mafia-type functioning, goonda raj in the state led by the members of family of SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. At that time its main advisor was a non-Yadav, a Thakur – Amar Singh, also known for his financial and political manoeuvrings. Singh has been gradually edged out of the party particularly after cash for vote scam in Parliament.
Singh’s exit is being taken as a plus point. Mulayam Singh’s son Akhilesh Yadav is actively moving around the state. No one now feels the void of Amar Singh. Akhilesh is trying to give the party a new image makeover. He is trying to give it a cleaner image.
Party old-timer Azam Khan tried to induct DP Yadav, known for his criminal background. His son is convicted in the Nitish Katara murder. Akhilesh shot it down. Despite announcement by Azam Khan, DP Yadav could not be inducted into the party.
People say because of Akhilesh, SP is back in the race. It is being considered as a tough contender for wresting power in UP. In the post-Amar Singh phenomenon, the SP has also earned the epithet of being a Yadav party.
Of late, Mulayam Singh Yadav has gone soft on Congress. It is being interpreted as an olive branch for a post-poll scenario. The SP might try to form government with the support of the Congress. The SP is hoping that it would improve its tally but not enough to form a government on its own.
Another aspect that might have an impact on UP elections, is the presence of smaller caste-based localised parties like Apna Dal – party of Kurmis, Peace Party of some Muslim sub-groups and some others. In UP politics they are known as “vote katwa” – vote cutters of other bigger parties. These have power to upset results in many seats. In many seats, in the last elections “vote-katwas’ lost the polls by 1500 to 2000 votes. It may not be different this time.
These are the patterns widely talked over. But the election in UP would spring many surprises. It is often said that the results would be hung. No one knows for certain how the balance would really tilt.
Uttar Pradesh presents a myriad picture. Would UP go for a change? Possibly. Would it repeat the incumbent? May be. Would it hand over the responsibility to a new hand? Not ruled out. Or would there be some new possibility? Not impossible.
The largest and complex state of UP can come out with any of these possibilities or may spring surprises.
It is, however, certain that UP would decide the course for the next parliamentary elections.