India Today - - NEWS - (Aroon Purie)

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.


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