The Uttar Pradesh (UP) Legislative Assembly elections will be held in month of February to March next year to elect 403 members of the Assembly.
As the elections come closer, different political parties are gearing up for a strong fight. The state with the largest population in India — 230 million — is a composite of various castes and communities, which align and realign to boost different alliances to power.
Scheduled Castes (SC) constitute close to 20 per cent of the state’s population. Other Backward Castes (OBC) constitute around 40 per cent of the population, of which, Yadavs are the largest OBC community, wielding substantial political clout. They form 15 per cent of the state's population.
The so-called forward castes constitute around 23 per cent, while Muslims constitute around 19 per cent of the state’s population. Around 80 per cent of the state’s population lives in rural areas, with a large proportion engaged in agriculture.
Belying the predictions of hung assembly by different media portals, in 2017 assembly elections, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) won an overwhelming three-quarter majority of 312 seats with around 40 per cent vote share.
Samajwadi Party (SP) won 47 seats while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won 19 seats, both with around 22 per cent vote share. The Congress party was reduced to 6.25 per cent vote share with seven seats.
BJP not only carried out extensive ground work through over 1.4 lakh booth committees, but also created leaders at the grassroots level by fighting the 2015 Panchayat polls. The information flow from bottom to top and vice versa was immaculate. Various programmes like women meets, youth meets, OBC meets were organised.
It picked leaders (especially defectors) with social bases that matched its strategy of 60-40. These were fielded from the constituencies which were never won by BJP.
Under the 60-40 strategy, BJP focussed on the 60 per cent vote remaining after removing Yadav, Jatav, and Muslims rallying behind SP and BSP. This included non-Yadav OBCs (30 per cent), non-Jatav Dalits (10 per cent), and forward castes (20 per cent).
BJP ostensibly shot to power riding on the Modi wave, despite not a clear chief ministerial candidate before the polls. Despite not fielding a single Muslim candidate, the BJP won in over 60 per cent of minority-dominated seats. It was almost after 40 years that a party had bagged more than 300 seats in an election in the state.
BJP national president Amit Shah had said at the time that the results proved that the UP voters had moved over the Hindu-Muslim agenda and they clearly voted for a progressive government.
"The historic mandate given to the BJP will give a new direction to Indian politics. It will end the politics of caste, dynasty (parivarvaad) and appeasement," Shah said, adding, “It marks the dawn of the politics of performance. You cannot fool voters by building a 100 km express highway to camouflage maladministration, goondagiri and corruption."
In 2022 elections, the incumbent BJP faces a different set of challenges.
The party had promised ‘politics of performance’ and will be evaluated so. Recent assembly elections in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu etc. have highlighted how the preferences of public were shaped by the experience of the pandemic. Persons who are direct beneficiaries of relief programmes, or other government schemes are highly likely to vote for the incumbent party.
Uttar Pradesh has succeeded in curbing the second wave of the pandemic, but people certainly expect more. This time BJP has a strong face in the state — Yogi Adityanath — who is known for strict and decisive action.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Arvind Kejriwal that won over Delhi three times consecutively is also trying to make inroads into state’s politics. The party is seemingly playing caste equations, first using Thakurs as a platform, and now raising the Brahmin card with the arrest of Khushi Dubey, wife of slain gangster Amar Dubey, after the Bikru incident.
The Congress party, on the other hand, is trying to gather the minority votes. It is reportedly holding virtual meets with ulemas in the state, after identifying over 2 lakh madrassas in the state. The party leaders were quoted as saying that they were also in touch with leaders of other groups like Dalits in the state.
The BSP has also started the preparation for elections. On Saturday, BSP supremo Mayawati held a meeting with the leaders of different communities. Mayawati reportedly told the high functionaries present at the meeting that they should trust the cadre and not the “selfish” leaders who can be bought and sold.
She directed them to keep helping and reaching out to the poor suffering due to the pandemic, and asked the leaders to keep holding smaller local level meetings of the cadre to strengthen the party at the grassroots.
In an interview to India Today, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav ruled out any alliance with the BSP and Congress for the 2022 poll. “The Samajwadi Party will not enter into any alliance with big parties. We will go together in the election with smaller parties,” he said.
However, a possible alliance with Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia), an outfit floated by Akhilesh Yadav’s estranged uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav, is on the cards.
“The alliance between chacha and bhatija may prevent division of votes in central Uttar Pradesh dominated by Yadavs which is considered as a stronghold of the Yadav family. Ïn the last elections, the BJP had taken advantage of this division of votes between Shivpal and Akhilesh. If this division could be prevented, we can win the initial battle,” a senior SP leader was quoted as saying.
Ahead of the polls, SP, AAP as well as the Congress party are also raking up the Ram temple issue. They have alleged that the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has purchased land worth Rs 2 crore at an inflated price of Rs 18.5 crore. BJP termed it as an attempt to "defame” and "derail" the temple construction.
Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM has also set its sights on the 2022 assembly election and may wean Muslims away from the other parties. The party is reportedly likely to field candidates for 100 seats and joined hands with former minister Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha (BSM) — a coalition of smaller center-left political parties.
Apart from these, Chandrashekhar Azad's Bhim Army party, Qaumi Ekta Dal of gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari and Peace Party headed by Dr Ayub will also enter the electoral fray in 2022.
Another curveball in the UP elections next year can be the ongoing farmer protests. BKU supremo Rakesh Tikait has already made it clear that the 2022 elections are his target. He is meeting different Opposition leaders.
Tikait belongs to the Jat community and is also a farmer leader. His father Mahendra Singh Tikait, in his lifetime, had played a crucial role in Uttar Pradesh politics without setting a foot in the Assembly. Tikait might have similar dreams.
“I am neither a Jat leader nor a politician, but I know that the state of farmers is not good in UP, and they are all with us. Be it sale of produce or the state of sugarcane farmers, or even electricity, there are issues that we will take to people,” Tikait said a few weeks ago when asked whether RLD leader Ajit Singh's death has created political space for him.
Jats form 17 per cent of the population in Western Uttar Pradesh. Reportedly, all parties have started an outreach to the community that had overwhelmingly voted in favour of BJP in the 2017 assembly elections as well as 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
It is being said to signal to Jats that the party is strongly behind them, the BJP has overwhelmingly fielded Jat candidates, even in the Gurjar-dominated areas like Gautam Buddh Nagar in the Zilla Panchayat president polls.
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