Monday, January 30, 2017

The Positive Wave in UP and Negative Wave in Punjab

by Ratnakar Tripathy

The BJP’s only advantage in Uttar Pradesh may have been what seemed like an unending fracas among the different factions within the Samajwadi party till some days ago. It seemed unlikely that Mayawati’s BSP would have been the sole beneficiary of the internal wrangles within the SP and some of the SP votes may have turned up in BJP’s kitty. But there is a sea change now and we already have the beginnings of an SP wave that may bring the Akhilesh government back to power in Uttar Pradesh. The analysts in the press have covered more or less all the factors at play, including caste, development issues, earlier track record, the recent failings of the BJP due to demonetization, the fast fading image of Narendra Modi, the internal strife within the BJP and its lack of solid leadership within the province. But there is a subliminal aspect that has gone largely unnoticed or underemphasized – even the most unnuanced reading of the recent handshake between the Congress and the SP will not fail to notice the subservient role played by Rahul Gandhi in all the images circulating in the media. It may sound like an over-subtle point here but may become the clinching factor in determining the voter choice in the forthcoming assembly elections. Within a matter of weeks Akhilesh has managed to project the image of an honest rebel capable of taking on his own father and uncles, an undaunted risk-taker and then finally a figure that can wrap within its fold the national figure of Rahul Gandhi and the towering though now largely titular figure of the Gandhi-Nehru names. There is enough evidence from the photos and footage in the media that Akhilesh is finding acceptance among a large swathe of voters in Uttar Pradesh. Unlike other partisan groups who have been routinely showing the BJP as victorious in their polls, the CSDS-Lokniti outcomes linked here draw the picture very differently. 

The Aam Admi Party [AAP] on the other hand is having a similar run in Punjab where it has managed to upset everyone with its rising popularity – it is now openly alleged that the BJP-RSS combine have instructed their followers to vote for Amarinder and the Congress rather than waste their ballot on the SAD-BJP combine. If this is really true, the BJP is surely convinced that there exists a visible and irreversible negative wave against the Badals. Interestingly in this case, the AAP has not declared its CM candidate and is letting Arvind Kejriwal’s image do the job for the time being, although AAP has repeatedly ruled out the likelihood of Kejriwal moving into the CM chair in Punjab. Here again Kejriwal cannot make the fatal mistake of claiming to lead a government in Punjab, the reason being he comes from Haryana and no Punjabi worth his salt will accept such chieftaincy. But more important that AAP has a long way to go and Kejriwal cannot on all occasions place himself in the CM bracket, thereby also scuttling his image of a prominent national figure. In this sense Kejriwal very much like Modi may become the chief star campaigner in various states but with no claims on CM-ships. 

The picture that emerges from both Punjab and Goa seems bleak from the BJP viewpoint and there are signs that the party now plans to take measures it often does when cornered – create communal tension and raise the temple issue in UP. BJP seems to be doing both weaving its development rhetoric with provocative communal propaganda at the local level. In the coming days this rhetoric is likely to become more strident. But this will only ensure that the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh get into a tighter huddle and instead of splitting their votes between the BSP and SP decide to go whole hog for Akhilesh. So Akhilesh has a lot to rejoice these days though this is unlikely to make him smug, lucky as he has been to skip and escape so many insuperable hurdles lately.         

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