FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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.