UP 2012: Unpredictable outcome (Uttar Pradesh Newsletter)

February 4th, 2012 - 3:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Bahujan Samaj Party Lucknow, Feb 4 (IANS) Considering what is at stake, top leaders of all political parties have descended in Uttar Pradesh’s poll arena to select its 16th assembly.

However, unlike in the past, when issues used to be clearly visible and so was the inclination of the voter, thereby making poll speculation easier, the 2012 state assembly election appears to be most unpredictable.

Besides the four key political players - the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP), Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - there has been the emergence of the Peace Party, that is seen, more than anything else, as a spoilsport.

Congress took the first plunge into the electoral campaign in the state, where it had been out of power for more than two decades. With an uphill task of reviving it in the state, star campaigner Rahul Gandhi had started the ground work way ahead of others.

Be it visiting Dalit homes in the poverty-ridden backwaters of the state or taking a plunge into the cauldron of farmers’ issues in Noida’s Bhatta Parsaul, or boarding a second class compartment of a Gorakhpur train, every move of Rahul was clearly aimed at wooing the electorate. And the moves paid dividends to the extent of establishing the Gandhi scion’s goodwill with a large chunk of the masses across the state.

After all Rahul had finally stepped out of the confines of Amethi and Rae Bareli - his and his mother Sonia’s parliamentary constituencies. By the time elections were announced, Rahul had already done much of the spade work. His mother has recently joined him to cover several areas, while sister Priyanka too has pitched in to take care of the assembly segments under Amethi and Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituencies. The only other prominent face to join the Congress campaign here was Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit.

All other parties got down to business only after the elections looked in sight. And SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh Yadav who had also travelled the length and breadth of the state well before the announcement of the elections, was the first to take to the road, moving from one constituency to another. His initial objective to drive home the message that he was out to re-invent the party was well received and the 39-year-old was also making waves in many places.

Meanwhile, his father was hopping all over the state on a chopper with colleague Azam Khan, trying to woo Muslims. The entire focus was on reviving the party’s support base of Muslims, who had in a big measure drifted away from the SP because of Mulayam’s shortlived handshake with ousted BJP bigwig Kalyan Singh, better known as the mastermind of the Ayodhya mosque demolition.

Unlike the Congress and Samajwadi Party, the BJP has a whole army of leaders swarming Uttar Pradesh. While the campaign was initially entrusted entirely to Uma Bharti, who was not very long ago imported from Madhya Pradesh to turn around the party’s fortunes here, several other top line BJP leaders have started spreading their tentacles across the state. These include Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely. But the BJP has somehow remained shy of bringing in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the campaign.

The ruling BSP, however, has a lone campaigner in Chief Minister Mayawati, who chose to step in far behind her rivals. But her supporters have an explanation for her late start.

“Behenji has her core constituency of Dalits who form 20 percent of the electorate; none of the other political parties have a solid base of more than five percent, therefore in real terms, she is well ahead of others,” is what one of her close confidantes reasoned.

And doubtlessly, her support was more than amply demonstrated in the mammoth turnout at the half a dozen election rallies she addressed over the first three days of her campaign.

With the first phase of the seven-phase balloting just days away Feb 8, no one is able to say with some confidence which way the political wind is going to blow in the country’s most politically consequential state.

(Sharat Pradhan can be contacted at sharat.p@ians.in)

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