INDIA’S POLITICAL HEART
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