The Lucknow Gambit
The UP election results will set the template for 2017. A BJP win could hasten the Congress decline, nix Third Front ambitions. But if it loses...
THE POLITICAL OUTCOMES of 2017 will shape the politics of the next decade. Two key elections to state assemblies will bookend all others— Uttar Pradesh in spring and Gujarat in winter. A bad outcome for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in UP would mean a summer of political discontent which could stretch into the monsoon months, dampening economic sentiment and sharpening political divides. On the other hand, a happy outcome for the BJP in the state could see the Congress party melt further in the heat of increased internal frustration born out of the party’s Hamletian dilemma—to be or not to be under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.
Consider the alternative scenarios. Scenario 1 would see the BJP emerging as the single-largest party in Uttar Pradesh, perhaps even with an absolute majority. Some UP-watchers suggest that the BJP could have secured that outcome in the aftermath of the ‘surgical strikes’ against Pakistan but that demonetisation has eaten into that support base. As the single-largest party, with or without absolute majority, the BJP could form a government. While the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) will lick their wounds, the ‘Sonia Congress’, so to speak, would enter a phase of intense soul-searching and handwringing, followed by more exits of provincial leaders from the party across the country. It is unlikely that anyone would actually seek a change of leadership. This is the best-case scenario for the BJP.
Scenario 2 would see a hung assembly in UP with either the BSP or SP emerging as the single-largest party, and Congress not having the numbers to back a non-BJP government, forcing the BSP/SP to form a government with implicit support of the BJP. The BJP’s aim in supporting such a government would be to keep the non-Congress opposition divided so that a decline in the party vote would not result in the emergence of a ‘Third Front’. This is a second-best outcome for the BJP.
Scenario 3 would see the BJP performing badly, perhaps miserably, and a non-BJP government taking office in Lucknow. If the BSP or the SP secure an absolute majority, a stable government would be formed. If not, the Congress could stabilise a minority government. This is the worst outcome for the BJP, and the best one for the Congress.
Towards securing such an outcome in which it emerges ahead of rivals, the SP has devised an interesting strategy—the father has allowed the son to project himself as a rebel. This was precisely what Rahul Gandhi tried in 2013 when he tore up an ordinance issued by the Manmohan Singh government—to be the insider-outsider. The incumbent rebel, diverting all the anger against the establishment towards an older generation and painting himself in heroic colours as a Mr Clean. Will Akhilesh Yadav succeed where Rahul Gandhi failed? So far, father Mulayam and uncle Shivpal have played this game more cleverly than mother Sonia and uncle Manmohan were able to.
Scenario 1 would mean the end of Rahul Gandhi’s hopes, a dampening of Third Front spirit and, most importantly, the beginning of a long reign by Prime
SUDARSHAN SHETTY REDISCOVERS THE ART OF STORYTELLING