BJP PRESIDENT AMIT SHAH
may convince voters that the party’s association with criminals has been replaced by a focus on progress.
Unofficially, and despite the recent Supreme Court ruling, the UP election will be fought on the old battleground of communal tension and identity politics. Religious vote-catchers loom large on each side. Azam Khan, a master of getting out the Muslim vote, has been given a ticket by Akhilesh, as has Khan’s son. The BJP’s most boldface campaigners include Yogi Adityanath, Sanjeev Baliyan, Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana. The latter three are infamous for their alleged roles in inciting the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. A BJP leader who preferred to remain anonymous says, “Cow slaughter, love jehad, the partisan behaviour of UP police in favour of Muslims, and the SP’s ‘goonda raj’ will be major issues.” Sources close to Amit Shah say that “when the SP is playing the Muslim card behind the scenes and Muslim leadership openly talks about ‘tactical voting’, there is no alternative for us but to turn to Hindutva, based on specific issues”.
Party insiders are concerned that the BJP has yet to put forward a chief ministerial candidate. Four candidates have come to the fore: Keshav Prasad Maurya, the party’s state president; Manoj Sinha, the current communications minister; Yogi Adityanath and Rajnath Singh, the home minister. Adityanath and Rajnath Singh are the most immediately recognisable. But Adityanath is a polarising figure and was recently reported to have dramatically walked out of a national executive meeting in Delhi.
Given the margin of the BJP’s 2014 general election triumph in UP, its position is strong. But despite the lip service to ‘good governance’, it relies heavily on the prime minister’s popularity and Hindutva. Faced with a reinvigorated SP and Congress alliance, the stakes are high, and the path to victory, tortuous.