The Opposition in UP
It is a strange Opposition counter in Uttar Pradesh with the Congress party being left out of all regional calculations. This, despite the effort put in by Priyanka Gandhi Vadhra who is the one leader being more visible than any of her Opposition colleagues - in Hathras, in Lakhimpur Kheri. A woman who fought the security, who shouted at Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s police, preventing them from arresting her workers, or stopping her from reaching a destination.
The videos got big eyeballs and Priyanka trended on the social media, but on the ground the Congress was unable to get mileage out of her efforts. And the reason is not far to seek. The Congress has not been able to build an organisation, and does not have a single leader in Uttar Pradesh who either enjoys widespread recognition amongst the people, or is willing to make the effort to get the support.
The organisation remains in the doldrums, with Congress workers belonging to groups, fractious and ineffective at the district. Priyanka Vadra is just an individual who people like, but do not see as an alternative whose party can mop up their votes and build an effective counter to the BJP. At a time when Union Home Minister Amit Shah spends time instructing the BJP workers to focus on the polling booths and committees, the Congress seems to have little to no idea how to even begin setting up the organisation from the ground.
The over reliance of the UP Congress members on the First Family to ignite the support base has led to the party going really under the ground. As the UP voter might have turned up for Priyanka Vadra’s meetings but is astute enough to know that without an organisation and credible state leaders the party has no chance in a hard fought contest. So by its own reckoning the Congress has slumped to two digit, and some say single digit, figures.
The other leader and party that has chosen to disappear is Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party. The political buzz in Lucknow has always maintained that she is terrified of being booked for economic misdemeanors ( to put it politely) and has opted out of active opposition to the Yogi Adityanath government. She is not contesting the elections, and nor is her chief lieutenant Satish Mishra. The BSP will probably field candidates but more perhaps to fill Mayawati’s coffers than for any real fight on the ground.
Interestingly, the Jatav vote remains with the BSP regardless. This is clearly due to the fact that while the Jatavs in UP have not been able to climb the economic ladder with or without her, under the BSP government the downtrodden community did feel a slight sense of empowerment. In that they were not the lowest of the low and had an ear in Lucknow under the Mayawati governments. This remains with the Jatavs who thus remain loyal - but then are too few to make a major difference in the voting pattern. More so as Mayawati so far seems disinterested in mounting a campaign and has not really reached out to a wider vote bank.
So that leaves the Samajwadi party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, both of whom fared badly but came together pretty early on in an alliance that has stood the test of weeks and months. The two young leaders , Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Choudhary, decided to contest the Assembly elections together, and despite cynics doubts, have kept it going without any public outbursts associated with UP politics. They both announced at the onset that they would not ally with the Congress the reason being simple – the Congress in their view had a hazy footprint in UP but huge ambitions. And hence would use the alliance, as it had done last time in UP as well as in Bihar, to demand more than it was capable of winning.
Akhilesh Yadav in fact told some mediators that he was happy for the Congress to contest on its own, as it would not cut into the SP vote bank but take away some of the upper caste vote that the BJP was looking at.
Both Yadav and Choudhary know that a post poll alliance if required will happen with the Congress, that will be hard pressed not to support a secular coalition. And Akhilesh Yadav who had campaigned across UP with Rahul Gandhi in the last polls, is firm that the Congress at this point is a liability not worth taking.
Akhilesh Yadav has also spent the time in stitching up alliances with smaller political outfits in UP. Something that the BJP had done earlier but did not find the same response this time around. And that his efforts have paid off has come from the recent exodus of backward community legislators from the BJP to the SP, a welcome boost to the morale of the Samajwadi workers who are all out in the districts now preparing for an election that they feel they can win.
Akhilesh Yadav who was missing from the field earlier is in full campaign mode now. His meetings are drawing huge crowds, his speeches have become more and more confident, even combative as in his characteristic gentle tones he makes hard points taking on the Chief Minister and his 80 vs 20 remarks. His sense of humour that seemed to have disappeared over these years has resurrected itself, as was evident when asked by a Republic TV journalist that no matter the result he must reserve an interview for Arab Goswami he shot back spontaneously, “yes but where is he, in jail?”
Jayant Choudhary, smarter than his father Ajit Singh and more political, has been clear throughout in his opposition to the BJP. And has emerged as a perfect alliance partner who has spent these months with the farmers in western UP, joining them quietly without flags at their meetings, and holding his own mahapanchayats across the region. He has not tried to compete with the farmers movement, given the fact that he comes from a family that has always looked upon itself as the leader of the Jat farmers, and has quietly built bridges and links that will clearly stand his candidates and the RLD in good faith during the polls.
All in all an interesting scenario, with the BJP placed on the defensive for the first time in recent years as legislators leave to join Akhilesh Yadav, and the farmers who have become trend setters in UP make it clear that the people should vote for anyone they want but not the BJP. The rest only the vote will tell.
Read Part 1 UP - ‘The Process Has Begun'