Battleground UP: Will it be BJP versus SP?

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav
Until now in battleground Uttar Pradesh, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah was seen to be doing heavy lifting by his indefatigable campaigning for the forthcoming assembly polls. But some swift moves by the ruling Samajwadi Party in recent times has meant the chessboard has a rival. The Congress is unlikely to be a major player in the elections, due by February, unless it aligns with either the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) or SP. But the BSP is having a torrid time and seems bent on predicting Shah correct that the fight for UP is primarily between the BJP and SP.

The BJP was the first to move on the chessboard. It had already raked up the issue of cow slaughter after the Dadri incident. Less than a month back, BJP MP Hukum Singh raked up the alleged exodus of Hindus from Kairana, a district in western UP. Shah pointed a finger at the SP government for giving protection to Muslim mafia that was forcing Hindus to flee. He also spoke of similar protection given by the ruling Yadav clan to the cult that had illegally occupied government land in Mathura.

Shah’s target was obvious — the BJP was asking all communities of UP to unite against the lawlessness unleashed by the Yadavs and Muslims. The ‘MY’ or Muslim-Yadav alliance is the backbone of the SP support in UP. Added to this was Shah’s reaching out to the Dalits by eating at their homes and also reaching out to non-Yadav OBCs by appointing Phoolpur MP Keshav Prasad Maurya as the party’s state unit president. The BJP hopes to consolidate non-Jatav Dalit, non-Yadav OBCs and upper castes of Brahmins, Banias and Thakurs or UP against the SP. 

In all of this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his other senior ministers have promised development to UP and offered assistance to its farmers.

But the response from SP has been swift. It plans to beat anti-incumbency by replacing as many as 100 of its 224 sitting legislators. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has also gone in for a Cabinet reshuffle, dropping several ministers. Recently, the party welcomed back Amar Singh and Beni Prasad Verma. Both were sent to the Rajya Sabha. Amar Singh, the party hopes, could help it reach out to the Thakurs of UP, while Verma is an influential OBC leader.

In a jolt to the BSP, one of Mayawati’s closest adviser Swami Prasad Maurya, the party’s leaders in the UP assembly, quit and joined the SP. He charged Mayawati of demanding money for party tickets. Swami Prasad Maurya, who used to be with SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav when they were together in the Lok Dal and later Janata Dal in the late 1980s and 1990s, is also an influential non-Yadav OBC leader. 

Earlier, Babu Ram Kushwaha and now Swami Prasad Maurya leaving Mayawati, the BSP chief’s appeal among the most backward castes has suffered.

With the BJP also reaching out to non-Jatav Dalits like Valmikis, Mayawati runs the risk of getting restricted in her support to her own caste of Jatavs. In recent years, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has worked assiduously among the Dalits of Uttar Pradesh.

The story that has grabbed headlines is gangster Mukhtar Ansari’s party, the Qaumi Ekta Dal (QED), merging with SP. Akhilesh is upset and even sacked the senior minister who engineered the merger. Observers have said Akhilesh had in 2012 forced his father and uncles to agree to kick out DP Yadav and is apprehensive that inclusion of Ansari’s party will send a wrong message. But Ansari had ensured the loss of at least three Lok Sabha seats to the SP in 2014 in its area of influence in Eastern UP. Some Opposition parties have even pointed out that Akhilesh’s anger was a charade and SP hopes for a consolidated Muslim vote in its favour.

All of this is bad news for Mayawati as she is hoping to yet again stitch a Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim alliance in UP against SP’s OBC-Muslim alliance and BJP’s alliance of upper castes, sections of Dalits and OBCs.

The joker in the pack is Congress. A Congress-Mayawati alliance will be bad news not just for the SP but for the BJP as well.

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