With eight months ahead of the Assembly polls, battle lines appear to be drawn in the country’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh. With the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) set for a solo battle, the stage is set for a multi-cornered battle in the state.
All eyes are on the polls in this politically significant state as it will be a pointer to the 2024 general elections, say observers. On Sunday, BSP chief Mayawati announced her decision to go solo in the upcoming assembly polls. She also denied reports of a tie-up with Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM in the state.
Earlier, the other regional satrap SP chief Akhilesh Yadav also made it clear that his party wouldn’t be allying with any mainstream political parties. SP spokesperson and party leader Ghanshyam Tiwari told Outlook that the party will be looking to tie up with small parties in the election.
The two parties snapped ties after a dismal show of the much-touted SP-BSP alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The SP-BSP tie-up was described as ‘historical’ as both the parties came together – burying two decades of bitterness to stop the Modi juggernaut. However, contrary to expectations, the alliance failed to make a significant impact. The BSP could win only 10 of the 38 seats it contested, while SP secured five out of 37. Meanwhile, the BJP registered a thumping victory by crushing the formidable combination of SP-BSP-RLD, by winning 64 seats with the help of Apna Dal.
Though the main opposition parties- SP, BSP, and the Congress have been dormant since the drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, the recently concluded panchayat polls have given a reprieve for them. The BJP’s poor performance in Ayodhya, the Prime Minister’s constituency Varanasi and CM Yogi Adityanath’s forte Gorakhpur has given a new lease of hope to the opposition ranks.
However, political observers say that a multi-cornered election will be advantageous to the BJP if the main opposition parties are set to fight each other. “If everybody's fighting against each other, that would definitely give BJP an advantage,” says Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
SP leaders are hopeful that the anti-incumbency factor against the Yogi government will work in favor of the party. The party, which suffered a major jolt in 2017 assembly elections are looking to revive its fortunes and to repeat the 2012 success story of winning 224 seats. In 2017, despite an alliance with Congress, the SP managed to secure only 47 seats, while BJP stormed to power with 312 seats in the 403-member Assembly.
SP leader Ghanshyam Tiwari says that the Yogi Government’s mishandling of the pandemic and its anti-people laws such as ‘Love jihad has angered the public and it will adversely impact its prospects.
“UP is facing a state-sponsored model of terrorizing civil society, marginalized sections, minorities, journalists, women, or anyone who's telling the truth. Propaganda becomes the basis for coining laws like ‘Love jihad. There was a specter of helplessness when people were dying without medical treatment. People are extremely angry about all this. As a party, we have stayed consistent and continued to work for people,” says Tiwari, adding that the squabbles in the BJP will spell doom for the Yogi dispensation.
Though the BJP is on the back foot owing to internal squabbles, the mooted question is whether opposition parties will be able to grab the opportunity. The recent visit of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath along with senior RSS leaders to the residence of Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya was interpreted as a damage control exercise to quell the dissent within the ranks. Recently, the CM also had a series of meetings in the capital with Prime Minister Modi, indicating that all is not well in the party.
The BJP is also facing heat for the mishandling of the pandemic and the coverage of the images of dead bodies floating in river Ganga in national and international media has sullied the image of the government. Sanjay Kumar says that despite the rift, the BJP can turn the tide in its favor as long as opposition parties remain a divided house.
“The BJP can be in a vulnerable position only if there is some understanding or unity between the opposition,” says Kumar.
Political commentators also point out that the ongoing farmer's protests are likely to cast a shadow on the prospects of the BJP in Western UP, where it received support from the prominent Jat community in the previous elections. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait’s call to vote against BJP in the elections may spell more trouble for the party. However, it all depends on the opposition’s ability to capitalize on the situation, say commentators. With the BJP already on poll mode, the question is whether its opponents will be able to beat its Ram Mandir and Hindutva politics narrative?
“We are hopeful that people will vote decisively like the way they did in 2012. There is a narrative about the oversized BJP. I think the undercurrent and public anger is very strong that people will cut BJP to size,” says Tiwari.
The buzz about the new entrant Aam Admi Party (AAP) and talks of small caste-based parties tying up with mainstream parties are also heating up in the poll scape. While BJP allies Nishad Party and Apna Dal (S) are flexing muscles, former NDA ally Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) may give trouble to the BJP.
With talks of an anti- BJP coalition at the national level ahead of 2024 Parliament elections gaining currency, political scientist Dr. Sandeep Shastri says that the UP elections will have a decisive role in the future of such a coalition.
“We have seen how the SP- BSP tie-up came to naught. It's not just the coming together of leadership, the parties need to come together at the ground. That did not happen last time. Without a concrete program, they are bound to fail,” says Shastri.