UP readying for slugfest ahead of 2017 polls

Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing the BJP Parivartan Rally at Paddal Ground, Mandi.(File Photo: PTI)
Uttar Pradesh is getting ready for the early months of 2017 when people vote in the assembly polls.

An electorate numbering nearly 140 million is eligible to cast its vote in the state. There are 403 assembly seats in UP, and in the 2012 elections 6,839 candidates had contested.

This time around, the issue of demonetisation is likely to radically impact UP polls by sucking enormous amount of liquidity out from the market. This may have come as a setback to prospective candidates targeting the elections to turn around their unaccounted wealth.

But the show must go on and the major political parties and candidates are sure to find ways and means to keep the electoral economy well-oiled.

In the past few weeks, the state has witnessed political heavyweights such as Prime Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) mascot Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Samajwadi Party (SP) president Mulayam Singh Yadav, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati address big rallies and public meetings.

In the coming weeks, more such public meetings are lined up by the parties to connect with their core voters and attack their opponents.

Since the popular narrative has changed from the surgical strikes at the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir to the demonetisation of high-value currency notes by the Modi government, the opposition parties are gearing up to capitalise on the public sentiment for electoral benefits. After his announcement of demonetisation on the night of November 8, Narendra Modi addressed a massive rally on November 14 in Ghazipur district bordering Bihar, where he hit out at his opponents saying his tough decision would weed out black money and that he had the people’s mandate for the job. He has also addressed a rally in Agra.

Now, Modi is slated to address public meetings at Kushinagar, Moradabad, Bahraich, Kanpur and Lucknow in the coming weeks. Modi is expected to attack the opposition parties in his signature style by combining humour with vernacular eloquence and vocabulary. 

The BJP has flagged off four “parivartan yatras” to cover all the 75 districts in the state. These are being addressed by senior party leaders such as Shah, Union home minister Rajnath Singh and other Union ministers. Senior state level leaders and ticket hopefuls are taking part in these events to traverse their respective areas of influence. Although the opposition has been making a hue and cry over demonetisation and the hardships faced by the people in the rural areas, the BJP’s programmes have not been affected and are attracting  crowds, besides supporters.

The spate of other party leaders joining the BJP has also not stopped over the past two weeks.

On the other hand, the Mayawati-led BSP is said to be preparing to hold public meetings across the state on December 6 to commemorate the 60th death anniversary of Dalit ideologue B R Ambedkar. So far, she has addressed a big rally in Lucknow and public meetings at some other places.

She has deployed her closest lieutenants, Satish Chandra Mishra and Naseemuddin Siddiqui, to hold “Bhaichara Sammelans” to connect with different communities, especially Brahmins and Muslims, since Dalits are expected to stick with her.

However, Mayawati herself has failed to hog the limelight in the pre-poll arena, although the BSP is quick to issue press communiqués over major incidents or political events almost every day.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had launched his “Samajwadi Vikas Rath Yatra” with much fanfare in Lucknow on November 3. His yatra has since been on a hibernation mode. Even before the yatra, the ruling party had been beset with power struggle and factionalism for the past couple of months. Now, the SP leaders are busy firefighting and trying to put up a united front before the polls.

Various pre-poll surveys in recent times had forecast a major loss to SP, although Akhilesh Yadav has discarded them saying development work of his government would surely fetch him victory.

Mulayam Singh Yadav addressed a massive rally in Ghazipur district and was flanked by Qaumi Ekta Dal (QED) president Afzal Ansari, the elder brother of jailed mafia don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari.

The SP has announced the merger of QED with itself, a decision that Akhilesh Yadav had been opposed to and which proved to be a bone of contention between him and his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav. This, coupled with other factors, had resulted in the acrimonious power struggle in SP. Despite the outward show to indicate a growing bonhomie, the divide within the SP runs deep and is bound to affect its electoral performance.

Meanwhile, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was the first to slug it out in the hinterland with his “khat sabhas” as part of his month-long tour of the state during September-October.

He tried to expand the rural base of the party by promising farm debt waiver on the lines of one implemented by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, which had waived off farm debt to the tune of Rs 72,000 crore in 2008. With the Congress leaving no stone unturned to regain lost glory in UP where it has been out of power for almost 27 years now, the party is seeking to attract over 22 million farmer households by promising a debt waiver.

Although his meetings saw good attendance, the tempo seems to have been lost in successive weeks. Now, the party is set to bring in his younger sister Priyanka Gandhi onto the poll turf.

There have been sections within the Congress asking Priyanka Gandhi to take up an active role in the party affairs and expand her scope beyond the party and Gandhi family pocket boroughs of Rae Bareli and Amethi.

The Congress is desperately seeking to improve its tally in the state from under 30 now in the 403-member Vidhan Sabha. It is hoping to expand its vote bank to include upper caste voters, apart from its traditional constituency of Dalits and Muslims.

To attract the Brahmin electorate, the party had announced the candidature of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial face in the state. To add another dimension, the Janata Dal (United) and Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal have announced to fight the polls together, although this is unlikely to have any major impact apart from cutting into the votes of other parties.

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