India Today - - ED­I­TOR-IN-CHIEF - (Aroon Purie)

With polls in five states, we are faced again with the vexed ques­tion of whether the elec­torate votes the same way in state and gen­eral elec­tions. Nowhere is this more rel­e­vant than in Ut­tar Pradesh, where assem­bly elec­tions are un­der way. In the 2014 gen­eral elec­tions, a Modi wave swept across UP. The BJP grabbed 71 of 80 seats with a 43 per cent vote share. This, if over­laid onto an assem­bly poll, would mean wins in 328 of 403 seats. In con­trast, in 2012, in the last assem­bly elec­tion, the BJP, pit­ted against the same op­po­nents, got a mere 15 per cent vote share and 47 seats. The dif­fer­ence? Clearly, 2014 was an over­whelm­ing man­date for Can­di­date Modi.

Five years later, the sce­nario has changed. Can­di­date Modi is now PM Modi who, mid­way through his ten­ure, det­o­nated the D-bomb. Also, two of the BJP’s ri­vals in UP are now al­lies—Akhilesh Ya­dav’s Sa­ma­jwadi Party, cur­rently in power, and Rahul Gandhi’s Congress, which was hu­mil­i­ated in the state in 2014, win­ning just two Lok Sabha seats. The two hope to reach out to not only the tra­di­tional SP-Congress vote bank of Ya­davs and Mus­lims but also to young peo­ple, cut­ting across con­ven­tional ties. There is also four-time chief min­is­ter Mayawati and her BSP, which is strong among the Dal­its and with 100 Mus­lim can­di­dates, hopes to make a pow­er­ful play for that com­mu­nity. She has al­ready ad­dressed 35 ral­lies.

The ques­tion is who to elect as CM. Therein lies the rub. The BJP cam­paign has been head­lined by PM Modi, who has ad­dressed six ral­lies in the state so far. The party, how­ever, has not pro­jected a strong lo­cal can­di­date. Though this strat­egy worked in polls in Ma­ha­rash­tra, Haryana, Jammu and Kash­mir and Jhark­hand, wher­ever they have faced strong lo­cal ri­vals, such as in Delhi and Bi­har, they have fal­tered. Where they put up a strong lo­cal can­di­date, such as in As­sam, they did well.

It’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that in the ab­sence of a ‘wave’, UP’s elec­torate is far from mono­lithic. In western UP, the Jats and RLD may be an el­e­ment cut­ting into the BJP’s loyal Hindu base. In east­ern UP, the dom­i­nance of ex­tremely back­ward castes has meant a plethora of can­di­dates from that sec­tion in all party lists. Will Akhilesh emerge vic­to­ri­ous for a sec­ond term and beat anti-in­cum­bency? His ready-to-mar­ket bro­mance with Rahul and their rel­a­tive youth (Akhilesh is 43, Rahul 46) seem to have en­er­gised vot­ers as was ev­i­dent in their three joint road­shows and his 80 solo ral­lies so far. Akhilesh seems con­fi­dent of vic­tory. Group Edi­to­rial Di­rec­tor (Pub­lish­ing) Raj Chen­gappa and In­dia To­day (Hindi) Ed­i­tor An­shu­man Ti­wari, who in­ter­viewed him in Luc­know, say Akhilesh avoids clichéd rhetoric on Dal­its and mi­nori­ties and prefers to talk about roads, cities, mar­kets and elec­tric­ity.

There is a lot at stake for each con­tender—for the PM, his pres­tige; for the young CM, his record sans his fa­ther; for Mayawati, her hold over her vote bank; and for Rahul Gandhi, the re­vival of a mori­bund Congress. Given all this, March 11 is go­ing to be one stress­ful day for ev­ery­one. I can only hope the win­ner gets a clear man­date to avoid messy coali­tions and chaotic horse-trad­ing.

(From left) In­dia To­day’s Ashish Misra, An­shu­man Ti­wari and Raj Chen­gappa with UP Chief Min­is­ter Akhilesh Ya­dav

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