STORYBOARD: TEAR LEAD­ERS

India Today - - UPFRONT -

Then came the SP-Congress al­liance in Jan­uary, and the elec­toral wind changed di­rec­tion com­pletely. A clas­sic gamechanger, the al­liance be­gan dic­tat­ing the cam­paign, with the BSP and BJP re­duced to play­ing catch-up and scram­bling for ways to counter the al­liance.

Polls in UP have for a long time now been four-cor­nered con­tests, which this pre-poll al­liance has al­tered. In the past, parties would win polls with less than 30 per cent of the vote. The SP, for ex­am­ple, swept UP in 2012, win­ning 224 of the 403 seats, with only 29 per cent of the votes, just three per­cent­age points more than the run­ner-up, Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party. In 2017, the min­i­mum thresh­old would end up be­ing over a third of the to­tal vote, in the range of 35 per cent, for any party or com­bine to get a ma­jor­ity. The al­liance has a higher chance of reach­ing that thresh­old than any in­di­vid­ual party, un­less there is a strong wave in its favour. And given that the fer­vour for Modi is not as strong as it was in 2014, it will pos­si­bly work to the al­liance’s ad­van­tage in 2017. VIEW FROM THE GROUND On Fe­bru­ary 11, the day of the first phase of polling in UP, Akhilesh and Rahul held a widely tele­vised press con­fer­ence in Luc­know af­ter the Varanasi road­show was of­fi­cially can­celled on grounds of se­cu­rity. Jointly re­leas­ing their com­mon min­i­mum pro­gramme, a list of 10 com­mit­ments in­clud­ing an em­ploy­ment guar­an­tee to 2

mil­lion youth through skill devel­op­ment, dis­tribut­ing free smart­phones to the youth, waiv­ing farmer loans, cheap power, proper re­mu­ner­a­tion for crops, free cy­cles, Akhilesh used the oc­ca­sion to take a dig at Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, say­ing they talked of “kaam ki baat” as op­posed to his ‘Mann ki baat’.

The same day, at an elec­tion rally in Badaun, the prime min­is­ter re­torted, “Akhilesh Ya­dav says ‘kaam bolta hai’, (but) even a child knows it is your ‘kar­nama’ (mis­deed) that is speak­ing.” Turn­ing then to­wards the Congress, Modi said, “Lo­hi­aji was against the Congress. Those who fol­low the ideals of Lo­hi­aji are sup­port­ing the Congress.” He even coined the acro­nym SCAM for the Sa­ma­jwadi Party, Congress, Akhilesh and Mayawati, a barb Akhilesh ef­fec­tively turned on the BJP say­ing it meant “Save the coun­try from Amit Shah and Modi.”

The al­liance magic seems to be work­ing. A week ear­lier, in Agra, batches of plac­ard-car­ry­ing older Congress sup­port­ers, sport­ing tri­colour scarves, had descended on Day­al­bagh, the spa­cious and spec­tac­u­lar head­quar­ters of the Rad­ha­soamis, min­gling cheer­fully with younger SP ac­tivists in red caps. Af­ter Luc­know,

Agra was where the al­liance held its big­gest road­show. The SP has tra­di­tion­ally been on a weak foot­ing here. In 2012, it was the ri­val BSP that won six of the nine assem­bly con­stituen­cies in Agra district, while the BJP got one seat.

On Fe­bru­ary 3, the day of the road­show, the loud­speak­ers blared: “Akhilesh nahin yeh aandhi hai, saath mein Rahul Gandhi hai (Akhilesh is a storm with Rahul Gandhi in tow)”, “Ek haath mein Sapa ka jhanda, doosre haath mein lehraye Congress ka tiranga (SP flag in one hand, Congress tri­colour in the other). Three in the af­ter­noon, the tim­ing was per­fect as scores of col­lege-go­ers came out on their cy­cles, the SP’s elec­tion sym­bol, with lap­tops donated by the Akhilesh gov­ern­ment.

All along the 12 km route, from Day­al­bagh to Ch­hip­pi­tola and Bi­j­lighar cross­road along the Ma­hatma Gandhi Road, con­nect­ing the four assem­bly con­stituen­cies of Agra north, south, can­ton­ment and ru­ral, colour­ful cam­paign posters pro­claimed: “Yeh hui na baat bhaiyya, UP ko yeh saath pasand hai (UP likes this al­liance)”, “Kaam bolta hai, An­jaam bolta

hai (Work and out­comes speak vol­umes)” and “Mann mein hain Mu­layam, irade loha hain (soft at heart, but an iron will)”.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of sup­port­ers threw rose petals at the two UP boys, dressed iden­ti­cally in white kur­tas and black jack­ets. Over­whelmed sup­port­ers drew lofty com­par­isons with Karan and Ar­jun, Ram and Lak­sh­man.

The Agra road­show was much big­ger than the first road­show, or­gan­ised in Luc­know on Jan­uary 29. About 14 such joint road­shows have been planned all across the state for the en­tire du­ra­tion of the cam­paign be­sides in­di­vid­ual ral­lies and reg­u­lar elec­tion speeches by lo­cal lead­ers.

And if the crowds at their road­shows are any in­di­ca­tion, it could be cause for worry for the BJP and BSP. Za­heer Rizvi is an or­a­tor and one of the pa­trons of the red brick 16th cen­tury tomb of the Shia ju­rist and scholar Qazi Noorul­lah Shus­tari. A BJP sym­pa­thiser, Rizvi ad­mits that had it not been for the al­liance, the BJP might have won a ma­jor­ity. But the sit­u­a­tion has dra­mat­i­cally changed now, he says. Even if the BJP were to emerge as the sin­gle­largest party, it would not be able to form a gov­ern­ment on its own. And who knows if the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the al­liance, as ev­i­denced by the road­show, might swing the tide? Why does he sup­port the BJP? “The lo­cal BJP MLA can­di­date is my friend,” he says, a rare sim­ple an­swer in the churn of UP pol­i­tics.

THE AKHI-RA CHEM­ISTRY

The duo has cer­tainly cre­ated a buzz. The UP boys do not have the chalk­and­cheese dif­fer­ence that Ni­tish Ku­mar and Lalu Prasad had in Bi­har, though their UP gath­band­han is fash­ioned af­ter the ma­ha­gath­band­han the Bi­har chief min­is­ter and the RJD leader formed to de­feat the BJP in 2015. The Bi­hari ver­sus Ba­hari slo­gan that pit­ted lo­cals Ni­tish and Lalu against out­siders Naren­dra Modi and Amit Shah is find­ing an echo in UP as well, where it is “UP ke

ladke (UP boys) ver­sus the Ba­haris”. The two also have a lot in com­mon. Both are young—Rahul is 46, Akhilesh 43; both have stud­ied abroad—Rahul in the UK and US, Akhilesh in Aus­tralia; both are GenNext scions of fam­i­lies with strong po­lit­i­cal roots. Both are emerg­ing from the shad­ows of their re­spec­tive par­ents, Akhilesh af­ter a very

Pho­tographs by PANKAJ NANGIA AND GETTY IM­AGES

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