FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Elections in Uttar Pradesh have always demanded national attention. The most populous state in the country sends 80 MPs, or 15 per cent of all legislators, to the lower house of Parliament—the highest of all states. It has given India eight of its 14 prime ministers. It has been the political home to India’s first family, the Nehru-Gandhi clan. It also has India’s largest population of Dalits, who have come to replace minorities as the swing factor in India’s new electoral dynamics.
Yet the significance of Uttar Pradesh is not limited to its size, its intimidating numbers, or its political legacy. It occupies a central position by virtue of its ability to define, regulate and change the political landscape of the country. The failure of the country’s two national parties—the Congress and the BJP—to maintain a steady grip on the state in the past two decades has resulted in the evolution of coalition politics at the Centre. The narrative changed to single-party dominance in 2014 when the BJP and its allies swept 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh.
The post-Mandal era has been dominated by two caste-based formations—the Samajwadi Party, which espouses the cause of OBCs, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, formed to give Dalits a voice. This works perfectly with the arithmetic of a state that has 44 per cent OBCs and 22 per cent Dalits. However, the political success of these parties has not translated into any significant improvement in the socio-economic status of the caste groups they claim to represent. The Dalits continue to face atrocities and discrimination, and nearly 40 per cent of OBC sub-castes have never been represented in the state assembly. What’s more unfortunate is that the state has remained a laggard on almost all socio-economic indicators and often makes headlines for the criminalisation of politics. In the run-up to elections so far, development has rarely become a part of the campaign vocabulary, eclipsed as it was by talk of caste and sops. Many argue that the BJP’s sweeping victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was a mandate for development. But there is a counter-argument that the catalyst was the Muzaffarnagar riots, which polarised the electorate along religious lines.
What is indisputable, however, is that the state is set to witness a pitched triangular contest for the first time this century. If Congress supporters are to be believed, this could even become a four-cornered contest. What is at stake this time is not just Uttar Pradesh but the future political landscape of India. If either Mulayam Singh Yadav or Mayawati wins, they can take centrestage in the search for an Opposition leader who can challenge the BJP in 2019 as part of a federal front. If Rahul Gandhi can overturn the odds and spring a surprise, it will rekindle his political career. And if the BJP can storm to power, it will believe that another five-year term is Modi’s for the taking. But there is a flip side as well. Defeat for the regional satraps could spell their political oblivion. For Rahul, it could raise the clamour for a change in leadership in the Congress. And for Modi, it could lead to the sharpening of knives, both outside the party and within. There is also the possibility of no party getting a clear majority, which could result in strange bedfellows forming a coalition government.
Our cover story scrutinises the strategies of all four big players. Our team of reporters, who tracked the leaders across the state, explain where the parties stand, where they want to go, and what they need to do to get there.
Although there are still five months to go for the UP elections, the campaigns are on in full swing, which shows how desperate the parties are to claim the biggest prize of all. Even for the state, this is an election like no other. What it decides today could have a huge impact on what India decides tomorrow.
OUR JUNE 2016 COVER