Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Uttar Pradesh and the national tectonics

Ratnakar Tripathy

Mulayam Yadav
That a small ripple in UP can magnify into a tidal wave in Delhi has been proven time and again and the sole reason here is the sheer number of voters and parliamentary seats from this populous state. We have long known how vital the state of Uttar Pradesh is for the further fortunes of the BJP and Narendra Modi in particular. In simple words - if the BJP manages to garner enough votes in the forthcoming assembly elections in UP, it will have a lot more clout in the Rajya Sabha and avoid constant encumbrances and humiliation in its attempts at making new laws and tweaking the existing ones. But with its popularity on a course of slow decline and with Modi image losing its shine since the 2014 crescendo, an outright victory already seems a distant dream for the BJP. The most that the BJP can hope for is an alliance with either Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party or Mayawati’s BSP. While an alliance with Mayawati is likely in theory, it is difficult to see why she may want to collaborate with BJP in any kind of alliance – right now she is in a strong position and is increasingly benefitting from the disunity within the SP. The split within the SP continues in many phases and the recent developments are not a good augur. Mulayam in his list of candidates for the 2017 assembly elections in UP has left out several favourites of his son Akhilesh, indicating a willingness to do a deal with the BJP if necessary in a post-election scenario. Akhilesh on the other hand has explicitly aired his preference for the Congress. The gulf between the two generations is now fast becoming unbridgeable – Mulayam, the old man has no time to wait, but Akhilesh the youthful son indeed can. Rather than accept the burdensome handshake with the BJP, Akhilesh seems to prefer the lighter embrace with the Congress which for some time will not be in a position to dictate terms to Akhilesh. In fact the Congress under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership may reemerge even in other states as ironically an election partner too weak to fear but too significant to ignore!    

There is a good reason to believe that the recent demonetization move on the part of Modi was a desperate move to ensure victories in the forthcoming assembly elections in 2017 among which UP holds the prime position. With the 50th day after the sudden withdrawal in sight there seems to be no respite from the shortages of currency notes, a blunder that is sure to cost Modi many votes all over. Moreover, the chaotic and impulsive act by Modi will also make his potential allies wary and they may sense trouble in being associated with Modi if not the BJP itself. This is indeed a case of a supposed ‘master stroke’, a ‘surgical strike’ in Modi’s words turning into a self-goal. At this point it would seem that the only political capital the BJP may still have is the voter’s reluctance to turn to the Congress in a hurry. But this is an inhibition not impossible for the voter to overcome if the Congress comes in as a docile candidate riding on the backs of regional parties that have positive images and will be seen as untainted by their association with the Congress. Akhilesh thus has not erred strategically in choosing the Congress as ally but it is his own Yadav clan that may cause his downfall. According to a view in the press this may not be a bad thing for Akhilesh in the long run and he may reemerge as a powerful figure with full control over his party a few years down the line.

UP indeed is proving to be a cause for despair for Modi even as the electoral scenario in Punjab does not look good. With a sure-shot Goa promising to slip out of BJP’s firm grip, Modi’s options are running out. In brief, we may see more desperate acts and overtures from him in the coming days and the only thing one may say about them is they will surprise – the last weapon of the befuddled ruler.

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