India Today - - FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF - (Aroon Purie)

With po­lit­i­cal lead­ers jet-set­ting across the land as lists of fresh can­di­dates are re­leased by var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal par­ties on a daily ba­sis, elec­tion fever is well and truly upon us. Those who have been granted tick­ets are rush­ing to their re­spec­tive con­stituen­cies to make ar­dent ap­peals to their elec­torate, and those who are still wait­ing to get the nod are fer­vently ap­peal­ing to their re­spec­tive high com­mands on bended knee. It’s that rare time when the aver­age In­dian politi­cian is at his best be­hav­iour—ready to give and ea­ger to please.

As per­mu­ta­tions, com­bi­na­tions and caste equa­tions start fall­ing into place, Ut­tar Pradesh is once again emerg­ing as the most ac­tion-packed bat­tle­ground state. It’s been long said that the road to Raisina Hill goes via Luc­know. There is ev­i­dence of this as Ut­tar Pradesh has left a deep im­print on In­dia’s pol­i­tics. Eight of our 14 prime min­is­ters have been from the state. One of ev­ery seven MPs still comes from there. And the fact that if it was a coun­try, Ut­tar Pradesh would be the sixth most pop­u­lous in the world re­mains a hy­per­bolic re­al­ity.

But Ut­tar Pradesh’s in­vest­ment in the coun­try’s two prin­ci­pal po­lit­i­cal par­ties of the coun­try has been strangely limited for the last 15 years, since BJP’s Kalyan Singh led the party to 57 seats in the 1998 elec­tions, in un­di­vided Ut­tar Pradesh, to en­able Luc­know’s own can­di­date Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee to be­come prime min­is­ter. Since then, the state’s so­cial arith­metic has taken over. The con­sol­i­da­tion of re­gional vote banks has led to the rise of Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP, re­sult­ing in a sit­u­a­tion where the two get enough seats to be im­por­tant play­ers in na­tional pol­i­tics, but never enough to have a com­mand­ing pres­ence.

It is this trend of frac­tured man­dates in In­dia’s largest state that has led to the cul­ture of coali­tion pol­i­tics at the Cen­tre. A trend of in­sta­bil­ity from which nei­ther the coun­try nor the people of Ut­tar Pradesh has gained in the long run. The state re­mains one of In­dia’s most back­ward and continues to reel from al­le­ga­tions of ad­min­is­tra­tive cor­rup­tion and peren­nial law-and-or­der prob­lems.

But the con­sen­sus among most poll­sters in the run-up to the 2014 elec­tions is that Ut­tar Pradesh may be drift­ing once again to­wards a sin­gle party. Some leading psephol­o­gists are giv­ing BJP be­tween 40 and 49 of the 80 seats in play, a huge jump from the 10 seats each that it had man­aged to win in 2004 and 2009. As BJP’s prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date Naren­dra Modi continues to stir the na­tional de­bate, his can­di­da­ture from Varanasi in east­ern Ut­tar Pradesh may have an im­pact on a num­ber of seats in the vicin­ity, even stretch­ing to parts of western Bi­har.

It could prove to be a po­lit­i­cal mas­ter­stroke by the Modi cam­paign be­cause a big chunk of the heart­land will be es­sen­tial if he is to hoist the na­tional flag at Red Fort this Au­gust. Modi’s pos­si­ble head-to-head bat­tle with Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Ke­jri­wal, too, will of­fer an in­ter­est­ing twist to the tale.

Our cover story this week looks at BJP’s plan for Ut­tar Pradesh, and the chal­lenges it faces in break­ing the ex­ist­ing vote com­bi­na­tions. We have spo­ken to Modi’s chief UP strate­gist, Amit Shah, who says, “The chal­lenge now is to con­vert the Modi wave into votes.” Though it ap­pears that BJP’s star is on the rise, the un­pre­dictabil­ity of In­dian pol­i­tics lies in how a small vote swing could change the equa­tion in a four-cor­nered con­test. Ut­tar Pradesh is the ul­ti­mate lit­mus test for Modi’s au­da­cious pres­i­den­tial-style cam­paign. Clear­ing it is es­sen­tial for both the party and the in­di­vid­ual. And they’re putting all they’ve got into it.

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