The first phase of the elections to the 403-strong Uttar Pradesh state assembly, that ended on Saturday, was marked by many firsts in the electoral history of the politically crucial state — a major one being the absence of many veterans and political heavyweights from the campaigning. The front-ranking name in the list of these politicians is of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. She has been almost out of public life ever since she took ill last year during a roadshow in Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sources in the Congress confirmed that ‘Madam’ was unwell and not fit enough to hit the dusty roads of Uttar Pradesh and plunge into the high-decibel campaign. She is, however, working the wires from her high-security 10, Janpath residence in New Delhi.
Of late, the 71-year-old Italian-born widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has spoken to some candidates in party pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Barely, asking them to “adjust to the alliance compulsions” with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and withdraw from the race. She is strategising with her daughter Priyanka Vadra and son and party Vice President Rahul Gandhi behind the closed doors. The second noticeable absentee is Bharatiya Janata Party patriarch Lal Krishna Advani, who has been forced into virtual retirement by the new-age dispensation under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah. Right from the Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the 1990s, the veteran Sindhi politician has always been a star campaigner for the party. Not any longer!
Another BJP veteran and master strategist of the caste matrix in Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh is also out of the campaigning scene as the crucial polls unfold. Holding the office of the Rajasthan governor, the Lodh stalwart is for now bound by constitutional propriety and cannot campaign for a political party. Though his son Rajveer Singh is a Lok Sabha member and his grandson Sandeep Singh is contesting on a BJP seat from Atrauli, an assembly constituency he represented eight times and held since 1967, the 85-year-old ‘babuji’ is not actively involved in the hurly-burly of election politics. He is, however, invoked by Prime Minister Modi at election rallies as a “symbol of good governance”.
Samajwadi Party (SP) founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, recently edged out by son and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav as the party President, is known for his political ‘charkha dao’ (a wrestling master-stroke). The one-time wrestler has gone into a sort of oblivion in the 2017 polls. Once a man in high demand by party candidates to seek votes for them, Mulayam now cuts a sorry figure as his party and family are bitterly divided. So far, his close aides confirmed to IANS, ‘netaji’ has only confirmed he would canvass for his younger brother Shivpal Singh Yadav in Jaswantnagar and younger daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav, who is contesting her maiden election from Lucknow Cantt. He showed up on Saturday to seek support for Shivpal.
Shivpal, who enjoyed the No.2 status in the Samajwadi Party since its inception 25 years ago, is now a lone figure. Having crossed swords with his estranged nephew Akhilesh, he has since been pushed to the sidelines and has not been involved in any list of star campaigners for the ruling party. At one point, till the last elections, he was the party’s favourite ‘chacha’ (uncle) who had a helicopter at his disposal during the polls. Also missing from the act are leaders like Amar Singh and former actress Jayaprada — both now expelled from the Samajwadi Party. While the duo was out of the SP during 2012 state assembly polls too, the wily Thakur had floated his own political outfit, the Rashtriya Lok Manch, in 2011 and fielded candidates in 360 of the 403 assembly seats in the 2012 polls — not winning even a single seat.
Film actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha is also absent from the campaign and is likely to remain so in the rest of the six phases that will be conducted over the next one month. The Patna MP is known to have angered the party leadership with his barbs against top leaders, including the Prime minister. Multanpur MP Varun Gandhi has also failed to make the cut. Having fallen from the party high command’s grace, he was not included in the initial list of star campaigners for the state elections but was later added hastily for some of the phases. The 36-year-old has since chosen not to accept the campaign invite and close aides confirm his snub. “Bhaiyya-ji will not campaign,” a close aide confirmed to IANS.
Former Lucknow MP and a close protege of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lalji Tandon too has walked into the sunset. While his son Gopal Tandon is contesting on the BJP ticket from Lucknow (East), Lalji has not hit the campaign trail so far. His ‘kothi’ in the old city’s Chowk area, which was once the hub of a heady mix of ‘thandai our rajniti’ has now fallen quiet, again signaling the generational shift in the saffron camp. Three-time Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha Speaker Kesharinath Tripathi, an eminent lawyer and respected Brahmin face of the BJP, has been forced to give the elections a miss. He is the West Bengal Governor. One of its most prominent faces in the state, former UP Congress Committee (UPCC) chief Nirmal Khatri has also been sidelined and is not seen during the elections.