As Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections draw to a close, a wind of change seems to be blowing through the state. Initially, it was thought that because of the farmers’ movement the Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance will dominate Bharatiya Janata Party only in western UP.
Although the revival of SP had begun much before the elections but it was believed that BJP would make a comeback riding on the double engine governments of Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath. However, as the elections moved eastwards, an issue which BJP had not taken much seriously, and neither had other political parties, that of stray cattle – sprang up as a surprise, so much so, that even the Prime Minister had to say during the fourth phase of campaigning in Unnao that BJP government if re-elected, would buy cow dung making it economical for farmers to feed unproductive cattle.
The Chief Minister had to say, also before the fourth phase polling that he would provide Rs. 900 per cattle per month to the farmer so that s(he) may take care of unproductive cattle.
The issue of stray cattle had become a serious issue even in 2019 and should have been a cause of their defeat in parliamentary elections, at least in UP, but BJP was mysteriously able to win seats by huge margins here. There is a general belief that there was foul play in the 2019 elections marked by the absence of any celebrations by BJP even after a ’resounding’ victory.
Amit Shah made a surprising statement in the middle of ongoing elections that Muslims can vote for Bahujan Samaj Party. Why should he worry about BSP?
People suspect that there is a behind the scene alliance between BJP and BSP and either can help the other to form a government. However, if one talks to general people they are clear about two things. They want a change in government and are fed up with this government on various counts – price rise, unemployment, education and health care in shambles, fear and terror in the name of law and order, over the publicity of government achievements on public money, general insecurity in people after COVID, etc. Second, most people would like Akhilesh Yadav to be back as CM. Muslims and Yadavs an unanimous in this but other castes as well, from Dalits to Brahmins also endorse this option.
In seats where Samajwadi Party is not the strongest opposition to BJP, people are voting for BSP or any other candidate in the best position to defeat BJP. This is an amazing phenomenon. Muslims have been known to do this kind of tactical voting – vote for whoever is in the best position to defeat BJP. However, this time a much wider cross-section of the population beyond the Muslims is exhibiting this voting behaviour. BJP has always instilled this fear in the minds of people – that Muslims will one day overtake the Hindu population. That may never happen but already a much larger section of the population has begun to think like the Muslims – that BJP needs to be kept out of power. Such has been the amazing effect of BJP’s polarizing politics.
The BJP leaders’ ammunition to polarize society is getting exhausted. While Yogi Adityanath seems to be repeating, ad nauseam, that SP government used to build boundary walls of graveyards for Muslims, he has built temples, Amit Shah keeps repeating that Azam Khan, Mukhtar Ansari and Ateeq Ahmad will be out of jail if SP comes to power. Although, he forgets to add that Ashish Mishra or Ajay Mishra Teni will never go to jail in BJP rule.
Yogi Adityanath has started sounding like a bulldozer contractor rather than a CM. BJP leaders are now appearing to be unimaginative.
Finally, a day before the fourth phase of polling, they came out with a front full-page advertisement in newspapers abandoning all their divisive issues and instead focusing on people’s issues. They are now talking of meeting the demands of farmers, unemployed, poor, students, etc. But even here they seem to be copying the solutions offered by other political parties like free bus rides for women, scooty for meritorious girls, cooked food at a low cost from Annapurna canteens, etc.
On the other hand, Akhilesh Yadav is going about his task in an unruffled manner. Many people are surprised at how he has handled dissent within his party after his last term when the SP government was said to have four and a half CMs to how has taken on an entire battalion of BJP leaders, each more aggressive than the other. He has been wise enough not to fall into the trap of BJP leaders and has ultimately forced them to talk about people’s issues rather than just harp on the communal agenda.
It is not just Akhilesh but even his voters who have displayed tremendous maturity. There is silent resolve among Muslims and Yadavs this time to see Akhilesh through. Many people from other castes are also happy to be part of this desire to see a change.
The BJP is in for a rude shock on 10 March. They will be humbled by a leader whose age is less than the average age of all important BJP leaders of state and centre.
Akhilesh has entered into very useful alliances with parties like Rashtriya Lok Dal, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, Apna Dal (Kamerawadi) which will yield him dividends as well as he sought the blessings of important national opposition leaders like Mamta Banerjee and Sharad Pawar, whom he has offered one seat.
Priyanka Gandhi has already declared that if required Congress Party would support SP. Things seem to have fallen into right places for Akhilesh and things have gone awry for BJP in spite of much stronger leadership, the structure of party assisted by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, financial power, media and government institutions like Election Commissions, Enforcement Directorate favourable to them.
The Indian electorate has always responded whenever democracy has been threatened. The first time they did it was when Indira Gandhi had imposed an Emergency in the country suspending even fundamental rights. And now when people have started feeling that an undeclared emergency is in place and Constitution is in the threat they are ready to act decisively.
By Sandeep Pandey
Sandeep Pandey is General Secretary of the Socialist Party (India).