The battle for U.P is clearly the next big political acid test. The BJP needs a win to consolidate its 2014 result and also prop the numbers in Rajya Sabha. For the Congress, it needs the cow belt to stay politically relevant. Though, party’s recent move of making Raj Babbar, MP of Uttarakhand as U.P Cong chief has finally begun the election game for 2017 polls in state. The stakes are equally high for the SP and BSP.

Let us take a close look on what’s currently happening in the upcoming 2017 U.P Polls.

Report card of Akhilesh Yadav as CM

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The sitting chief minister Akhilesh Yadav doesn’t just have an anti-incumbency problem. He also has a credibility problem for it is a well-known fact that he functions as a remote control for his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav. Although, he came to power, waving an Apple IPad, promising change and new rules of engagement, he soon lost the plot and ceded control to his father and his uncles. The first glimpse of this was during the swearing in itself when SP goons trashed the stage, uprooted the mikes the minute the swearing in got over. In fact, the headlines of the jumbo SP cabinet were not development or governance but the fact that he had sworn in the notorious Rajja Bhaiya as a minister. That was an indication enough that this was not a new age Akhilesh Yadav ministry, but a Mulayam Singh redox.

And Akhilesh certainly hasn’t fared any better since then. The law and order in the state has deteriorated. In a state that huge there is no home minister with the CM himself holding the portfolio. In fact, most of the portfolios are divided between Akhilesh himself, his uncle Shivpal Yadav, and one time faithful Azam Khan. With approx one crore unemployed youth in the state maintaining law and order is not easy at all. It doesn’t help Akhilesh that his own partymen or accused of Goonda Raj, such as the instance of SP workers firing in open air to celebrate the victory of a party candidate. The Muzaffarnagar riots, the alleged rape and murder of 2 girls in Badaun and Mohd Akhlaq & gruesome murder over accusations of eating beef have all lead to a communally charged simmering cauldron.

Blame game of political parties

The SP has blamed the BJP for stirring the communal pot in the state as it did recently in Kairana when the party wrongly claimed an exodus of Hindus from the Muslim dominated area. This has led to the Congress claiming a match fixing b/w the SP and BJP to polarize the vote bank. Whatever the motive, this is not helping the state.

With 19.2 percent of the state’s population’s Muslims, the SP could reap the benefits of the politics of polarization. The BJP knows that the Muslims will not vote for it and has made no attempt to reach out as was evident from the recent cabinet reshuffle where Mukhtar Abhaz Naqvi the lone Muslim BJP face from the state did not get an elevation. Instead the party focused on rewarding Brahmin leaders from the state. The BSP too has not sent any reassuring messages to the Muslim community with Mayawati being the sole state stalwart who does not even host a Roza Iftaar. This leaves the Muslim voter 2 options the SP for the Congress. Of the two, it seems as if the SP has the upper hand in the state. And this is one reason why the SP cannot be written off, despite its track record of mis-governance.

Within the party politics of SP

What doesn’t help the SPs case however, are the confusions within the Samajwadi Party. On one side are Akhilesh Yadav and his Uncle Prof Ram Gopal Yadav who is also known as the family intellectual while the other side is the more earthy Shivpal Yadav who is backed by Azam Khan… while Mulayam plays the family elder and tries to balance both sides…

Akhilesh and Ram Gopal are also said to be unhappy with the return of Amar Singh & Beni Prasad Verma that was pushed by Shivpal Yadav. However, Amar Singh has made his peace with all factions.  More recently, Akhilesh angered his uncle by calling off the merger with Quami Ekta Dal engineered by Shivpal and Mulayam.  This has not gone down well with Shivpal at all and the rift was apparent at Ram Gopal Yadavs 70th birthday in June this year (30th June) when Shivpal Yadav came late and was seated at the back. It took Amar Singhs political finnesse to persuade him.

What has also marred the optics is the high profile birthday celebrations of Mulayam Singh Yadav known as the Safai maha-utsav that is an ostentatious display of wealth and opulence, attended by big time celebrities and small starlets..a image that is totally un-Samajwadi in nature. But the Yadavs are carrying on regardless, their strategy based solely on the politics of the vote bank.

How much has Maurya’s ouster affected the BSP?

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On the other side working away from the limelight working away from the media glare is Mayawati, who has been working quietly planning a comeback. And she knows that the return is not as smooth as the pundits in Delhi have foretold. Her Dalit vote bank is still untouched true, but she is worried about the rise of BJP in the state. That all is not well and was evident when her trusted lieutenant SP Maurya left the party recently. There was no immediate provocation for him to leave, as LoP he had cabinet rank. Analysts point out that if he was certain of a Mayawati return then he would have waited six more months and not been in a hurry to leave.  And he is not the only one to leave – Lalji Varma a kurmi is agitating, RK Chaudhurty too has quit. These are worrying signs for the BSP supremo.

Clearly, if Maurya has read the writing on the wall, and it’s something that is worrying Mayawati too. She knows that this election is not a cake walk, and has activated her cadres.

Local journalists find to their surprise that the BSP leader is holding a press conference every 2-3 days instead of once a month as she used to.  And – as a departure from the past they are even allowed to keep their shoes on and enter her house. Clearly the Lady in Pink has other weightier matters to worry about these days — And the target of her ire is not the SP – but the BJP. Clearly, she has identified her threat.

The one factor that is worrying both the SP and BSP is the recent MLC elections where the maximum number of cross voting took place in favour of the BJP, while the BJP MLAs remained loyal and did not cross vote gains the party. Six months before a state election, these are telling signs. Moreover, Mayawati doesn’t have an effective second in command, as she was to Kanshi Ram. The disquiet is showing specially when there is a viable option to the SP in the form of the BJP.

Will the Bihar politics repeat in U.P?

Those who point to the BJP drubbing in Bihar would do well to recall that in the state the BJP was facing the united might of the two regional parties-the JD-U and the RJD. Both Nitish and Lalu consolidated their vote banks to take on the BJP. This is highly unlikely to happen in UP.

But Mayawati knows that this is a fight for relevance and so unlike other parties had already identified her candidates a year in advance. Also running a one person outfit leaves out any room for confusion. Hers is the final word and she has already begun work on her comeback at least a year back. The Congress, sensing a winning horse is hopeful of a tie up with her, but so far the lady is not yielding.

How big is BJP up to in 2017 Polls?

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The BJP sensing blood in the Lok Sabha poll where it won 71 of the 80 seats is also focusing all its energy and expertise in the state. Already party chief Amit Shah has recruited 1,20,000 booth level workers and given them ID Cards and his party office number to call in case of any problem.

IT is a well-calibrated campaign by the BJP, with the initial focus being on West UP. Analysts point out that as soon as the NDA govt. came to power party hotheads began the chant of love jehad and notables like Sangeet Som and Sanjeev Baliyan came to the centre stage. The culmination of this was Kairana incident.  After this, the focus has shifted to East UP, with the party hosting its national executive in Allahabad recently. If the focus was on communal politics in the West, then in the East the focus is caste politics — The promotion of Anupriya Patel, a Kurmi in the cabinet will woo the Kurmi vote-bank that is in this belt. The party is also focusing on the Brahmin vote by giving SP Shukla, a Rajya Sabha seat and making Meharnath Pandey, a minister and retaining Kalraj Mishra as a minister despite his crossing the age-barrier. Apart from Modi’s rally at the national exec even Amit Shah has hosted a slate of rallies in the state.

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But the BJPs main problem remains the lack of a CM face. It had initially wanted to project Rajnath Singh but the former UP CM & current Home Minister said a polite No. That shifted the focus to the second rung – of which Varun Gandhi was a clear favorite amongst party workers. But therein, lays the rub. Having made dynasty and campaigned against the Gandhis. The BJP could now not look at a member of the same dynasty to be its saviour. Others like Smiriti Irani and Yogi Adityanath, were seen as lightweights who could at best influence pockets and not the entire state. Moreover, Irani has already been pitted against Mayawati and didn’t come out too well when the two clashed in the Rajya Sabha recently.

The grand plan for now seems to be to divide UP into 6 zones and make a regional leader in charge of each zone. Then, depending upon performance the party could identify a leader or a CM face if the need arose.

Here is a look at the current party positions in the state in the Uttar Pradesh 2012 Elections.

Recall this is a time when Rahul Gandhi was the face of the Cong campaign:

PARTY                                     SEATS              VOTE %

SP                                             224                   29.2

BSP                                           080                   25.9

BJP                                           047                   15.0

CONG                                       028                   11.6

RLD                                          009                   02.3

APNA DAL                                 001                   00.9

OTH                                          014                   15.1

TOTAL                                      403                  100

And here is a look at the picture in the Lok Sabha elections that followed a year later and were fought under the MODI WAVE.

UTTAR PRADESH LOK SABHA ELECTION 2014 results:

PARTY             SEATS              VOTE %

BJP                   71                     42.6

SP                     05                     22.3

CONG               02                     07.5

APNA DAL         02                     01.0

BSP                   00                     19.8

RLD                  00                     00.9

OTH                  00                     05.9

TOTAL              80                    100

Although elections are still 6 months away the posturing, planning and strategizing for this all important state has already begun. We’re going to keep a strict watch on it, wait for the next narrative to read on upcoming 2017 U.P Elections.

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