India Today - - COVER STORY -

beaten in Bi­har and Delhi last year.

The elec­tions may be five months away, but the heat and dust of India’s largest cam­paign is al­ready swirling. Blood has been spilled in the SP camp. The BSP has sharp­ened its claws. The Congress has em­barked on a mas­sive re­cruit­ment drive. The BJP is sneak­ing in its guer­rilla war­riors. Their com­mon ob­jec­tive is to woo, coax or bully India’s biggest elec­torate in the Hindi heart­land, where the un­for­giv­ing poll arith­metic takes no pris­on­ers. This is not an­other league game, as many state elec­tions can be. It’s a knock-out match: the semi-fi­nal for 2019. The im­por­tance of Ut­tar Pradesh to India’s po­lit­i­cal his­tory can­not be over­stated. While it makes up a size­able 7 per cent of India in terms of area, the un­ro­man­ti­cally named ‘North­ern Prov­ince’ is the coun­try’s most pop­u­lous state—its 200 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants ac­count for more than 16 per cent of India’s pop­u­la­tion. If Ut­tar Pradesh was a coun­try, it would be the world’s sixth most pop­u­lated.

This stag­ger­ing statis­tic not­with­stand­ing, the state’s im­pact on In­dian pol­i­tics has been dis­pro­por­tion­ately large. It sends 80 par­lia­men­tar­i­ans to the 543-mem­ber Lok Sabha, and seven of India’s eight prime min­is­ters un­til 1991 had called UP their home. This tally now stands at eight prime min­is­ters out of 14—and the down­ward trend deeply both­ers peo­ple of the state be­cause it sug­gests the grad­ual de­mo­tion from a po­si­tion of leadership. It was to ful­fil UP’s de­sire to be at the cen­tre-stage that Modi had de­cided to con­test from Varanasi in 2014, and then re­tain the seat af­ter the elec­tions at the cost of his old Gu­jarati bas­tion of Gand­hi­na­gar.

The de-link­ing of Ut­tar Pradesh from the na­tional po­lit­i­cal spot­light be­gan in 1989, soon af­ter the proreser­va­tion Man­dal Com­mis­sion came into force, with Mu­layam’s Sa­ma­jwadi Party emerg­ing as the voice of the newly em­pow­ered back­ward castes. It also led to the Dalit com­mu­nity ral­ly­ing be­hind the BSP, first led by Kan­shi Ram and then by Ut­tar Pradesh’s pop­u­la­tion ri­vals that of Brazil. Home to 17% of India’s pop­u­la­tion At 69.7%, Ut­tar Pradesh’s lit­er­acy rate ranks 29th among states and UTs Sup­port­ers: Sup­port­ers: Dal­its Tar­get: Mus­lims It is the fourth largest state, with 7.3 per cent of India’s to­tal area Be­tween 2005 and 2014, Ut­tar Pradesh’s GDP grew at 6.6% Pos­i­tives: Mus­lims are not happy with SP, may side with Mayawati Neg­a­tives: Sev­eral se­nior lead­ers have left the party; no in­flu­en­tial Mus­lim leader 8 of India’s 14 PMs have come from UP Ut­tar Pradesh has the coun­try’s high­est Dalit pop­u­la­tion

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