STORYBOARD: TEAR LEADERS
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