On one side is the high decibel blitzkrieg around the consecration of the half finished Ram Temple in Ayodhya signalling what was hailed as the ‘return of Ram’, and branding as ‘Ram Rajya’ the government of Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Adityanath. On the other side is the unity born out of a shared consciousness and feeling against exploitation and oppression of the ‘Pichre’ (backward) Dalit and Alpsankhyak (minorities) or PDA.

This social justice plank of the Congress-Samajwadi party combine I.N.D.I.A. Bloc promises to address the issues of survival faced by the most marginalised: unemployment, inequity, discrimination and violence on the basis of caste and religion and guaranteeing a caste census as well.

In between there are parties, for instance the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which have decided to remain ‘neutral’. This practically means denting the secular vote, and virtually helping the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) without spelling it out.

It is said that the “road to Delhi passes through Uttar Pradesh” as 80 Members of Parliament, the highest number, go to the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh.

As per the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) slogan “‘Abki Baar, 400 Paar’” (this time cross 400)” it is definitely eying for more than the 62 seats it had won in 2019 on its own, and the two seats that its ally Apna Dal-Sonelal won. This was a ‘loss’ for the BJP as compared to 2014 when it had won a whopping 71 seats and ally Apna Dal brought another two seats taking the NDA tally in UP to 73.

This windfall was far better than the BJP had ever imagined, senior leaders at that time had conceded. The Gandhis had managed to retain the two seats of Amethi and Raebareli, while the Samajwadi Party could hold on to the five ‘family seats’. The BSP had come a cropper without even opening its account.

However, in 2019 the SP-BSP pre poll alliance had proved to be a saviour for the BSP. It wrested 10 seats while its poll partner’s status remained the same with five seats. Congress President Rahul Gandhi lost his seat of Amethi, reducing the Congress to just one seat.

Needless to say that the BSP in 2019 had not been sincere as its vote, the most transferable, were not transferred to the candidates of the SP. On the other hand, the SP transferred its vote to the BSP candidates ensuring victory in 10 seats. The SP candidates could retain only five seats where the party has a strong family hold.

Interestingly, soon after the debacle Mayawati unilaterally broke the alliance, accusing Akhilesh Yadav and his party of not living up to the alliance dharma and not transferring its vote to her candidates!

Of the 10 BSP MPs only, Girish Chandra Jatav, is being repeated now, albeit from the new seat of Bulandshahr instead of Nagina from where he won in 2019. All the remaining nine MPs have quit, been thrown out of the party or denied a second term by Behenji. Three sitting BSP MPs, Malook Nagar, Ritesh Pandey and Sangeeta Azad, have since joined the BJP.

After 2019 the ruling BJP had snatched away two more Lok Sabha seats from the Samajwadi party during by polls when SP President Akhilesh Yadav vacated his Azamgarh seat to become a member of the UP Vidhan Sabha and also when now jailed Mohammad Azam Khan quit his bastion of Rampur to similarly join the state assembly. This increased the BJP tally to 66 and brought down the SP to 3.

Obviously, the ruling party did not leave any stone unturned to ensure the loss of face for the SP by ensuring its defeat in two of its strongest bastions of Azamgarh and Rampur! As a matter of fact the Rampur seat was won by a non-Muslim for the first time since Independence.

Let’s examine the UP scenario at this time. The consecration of the Ram temple by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ayodhya on January 22 with much religious flourish, presence of VVIPs and media attendance has set the mood for the BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign.

It has given UP Chief Minister Adityanath the opportunity to claim that the saffron party and its alliance partners will win every single 80 seats in UP this time. True this is partly a poll bluster. But it is also a fact that the BJP has further strengthened its position by adding some significant caste leaders to the NDA alliance in UP.

On the eve of the 2019 Lok Sabha election the Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal (NISHAD) had walked out of the SP-BSP alliance and joined the NDA. Claiming to empower the sub castes whose occupation is centred on rivers, NISHAD party President Sanjay Nishad is now the Fisheries minister in the Adityanath cabinet.

Similarly, Om Prakash Rajbhar, President of the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj having 6 MLAs joined the NDA last year and recently became part of Yogi’s cabinet as well. Similarly, Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Jayant Singh Chaudhary has also joined hands with the BJP bringing along nine of its sitting MLAs and getting two cabinet berths.

Both these parties had fought the 2022 Vidhan Sabha election in alliance with the SP presenting a formidable challenge to the saffron party and winning 126 Vidhan Sabha seats. Both these leaders are believed to have a hold over the Rajbhar community in Purvanchal and Jats of Western UP.

On the other hand some other significant political parties and personalities have gone their own way further weakening the secular alliance against the BJP. Among them is Sonelal-Kamerawadi, the Apna Dal section represented by Sonelal Patel’s wife Krishna, and other daughter Pallavi Patel. During the 2022 Vidhan Sabha election on a Samajwadi party ticket Pallavi Patel had knocked out BJP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya from Sirathu in his home district of Kaushambi.

However, she has recently broken ties with the SP charging it of not doing enough for the backwards. She has formed the Pichda Nyay Morcha including Apna Dal-K, Pragatisheel Manav Samaj Party, Rashtriya Uday Party and Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMM). It remains to be seen what damage this alliance will do to the INDIA vote bank in the seats of Purvanchal which goes to vote in the 6th and 7th phase.

Another tall leader to quit the SP after taking a strong stand against Hindutva is Swami Prasad Maurya. He resigned from the SP and formed the Rashtriya Shoshit Samaj Party. He is likely to contest the Padrauna seat against BJP’s R. P. N Singh.

The major fight is clearly between the BJP and the I.N.D.I.A. Bloc representing SP and Congress. The SP is contesting 63 seats while the Congress is to fight from 17 seats.

However, with just a few days to go for the first phase of polling on April 19 when 9 seats of Western UP will vote, the I.N.D.I.A. Bloc partners have not addressed a single joint rally. This stitching together a last minute alliance, delay in decision about seat sharing, finalising candidates and no joint campaigning blueprint creates problems on the ground in building a cohesive electoral machinery to check the ‘always in poll mode’ BJP.