The sudden resurgence of the RLD which has been catapulted to the political centre stage in western UP during the farmers' agitation is one of the biggest factors to watch for this election.
The battle lines have been drawn in Uttar Pradesh just about five months ahead of the assembly elections. A multi-cornered contest appears to be on the cards with each of the major opposition parties set to take on the ruling BJP on their own. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have already ruled out an alliance on past lines. Both parties have also made it clear that they want nothing to do with the Congress. The Aam Aadmi Party too is looking to make a solo debut in the state. With no large pre-poll alliances shaping up, these parties are instead tying up with smaller and caste-based parties, in their bid to strengthen their prospects in different pockets of the state.
Pre-poll alliance strategies have not yielded much for the Opposition, be it in the 2017 UP assembly polls when the Congress joined hands with the Samajwadi Party or the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when the SP forged an alliance with the BSP. In both the elections, the BJP emerged as clear victors in the state.
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Speaking to FinancialExpress.com, senior journalist and author Rasheed Kidwai notes that even if the opposition parties manage to form an alliance this time, it is unlikely to make a difference in the poll outcome. “I don’t think that Opposition unity or lack of it is going to affect Uttar Pradesh elections. I don’t think a fragmented opposition is a deterrent or an insurance policy for Yogi Adityanath,” he said.
The bigger worry for BJP
On September 5, thousands of farmers gathered in Muzaffarnagar in western UP at the ‘kisan mahapanchayat’ where Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait expressly called on farmers to defeat the BJP in the forthcoming elections. Jai Kisan Morcha founder Yogendra Yadav also told FinancialExpress.com, that they would like to make a “difference” in the upcoming elections, with the clear motive of challenging the BJP government.
“We have announced ‘Mission Uttar Pradesh’ and ‘Mission Uttarakhand’. It has to do with our assessment that pressuring this government in UP would yield results,” he said. Clearly, a re-energized farmers’ protest is the clear and present danger for the BJP at the moment.
The Muslim-Jat brotherhood
The 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, in which over 50 people were killed and 50,000 affected, had shredded the relationship between Hindus, particularly Jats, and Muslims. This also led to the divergence of Jat voters towards the Hindu and Muslim voters towards the Samajwadi Party, making the region polarised.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that followed, the BJP’s Sanjiv Baliyan, a Jat who is an accused in the 2013 riots cases, won the Muzaffarnagar seat with a record margin of close to 4 lakh votes, and 59 per cent of the vote.
However, Rakesh and Naresh Tikait brought the two communities together again after eight years, at the ‘kisan mahapanchayat’, promising to heal the wounds of 2013. A reunion of Muslim and Jat voters, coupled with the resentment against the BJP, could work in favour of the Samajwadi Party.
Meanewhile, the SP’s tie-up with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which enjoys significant clout in western UP, could tip the scale against the BJP. Many feel that the enormous support that the RLD has been drawing at Kisan Mahapanchayats in indicative of the resentment of the Jat voter against the BJP. Other than eyeing smaller parties, Akhilesh Yadav is also said to have kept his doors open for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). His recent meeting with AAP MP Sanjay Singh further fuelled this speculation. Also, the Bhim Army’s political wing – Azad Samaj Party – has been inching closer towards the SP-RLD alliance, and the trio may keep the BJP in check in western UP which houses around 120 out of the 403 assembly seats in the state.
Political analysts feel that the SP-RLD-Bhim Army combine could bring Muslims, Jats and Dalits on a single platform and this could upset the BJP’s apple cart in region.“See, what’s happening in western UP, you have farmers doing agitation, you have SP-RLD alliance and somewhere the Muslim-Jat unity and then Rakesh Tikait raising ‘Allah-u-Akbar’ and ‘Har Har Mahadev’ slogans. So, a combination of that in 120 seats, if the non-BJP opposition manages to get 80% of it, then a clear majority for the BJP can be really ruled out,” Kidwai observes.
Veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta echoed similar sentiments, foreseeing an anti-BJP front being formed up in western Uttar Pradesh, with its focus on capitalising on the farmers’ protest.
“The Opposition has already been fractured since the 2017 elections. I think the opposition will be relatively less fractured in the western Uttar Pradesh. There is a strong chance of an arrangement between the Samajwadi Party, the RLD and the Tikait brothers. Who knows, perhaps even Chandrashekhar Azad’s Bhim Army might work out some arrangement with them in certain parts of western Uttar Pradesh. In Western UP, there is a distinct possibility of the anti-BJP coalition holding together, I’m not sure about rest of the state,” said Guha Thakurta.
The sudden resurgence of the Rashtriya Lok Dal which has been catapulted to the political centre stage in western UP during the farmers’ agitation is one of the biggest factors to watch for this election. At a social event that has political ramifications, leaders of different khaps in western Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Haryana on Sunday presented the traditional headgear to Jayant Chaudhary and formally anointed him as the successor of Chaudhary Charan Singh’s legacy.
Owaisi, the ‘spoiler’?
Guha Thakurta, however, also cautioned the anti-BJP parties in the state against Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, saying that it might cut into the Muslim votes. “We might also see Owaisi’s AIMIM playing the spoiler, cutting into the Muslim votes, if Owaisi sticks to his claim that he is going to put up 100 candidates.”
Amid the opposition’s allegation of AIMIM acting as the BJP’s B-Team, analysts believe that Owaisi’s plan to contest from 100 seats is an attempt to cut into the Muslim vote bank of Samajwadi Party. For the upcoming UP polls, the AIMIM has formed an alliance with the ‘Bhagidari Morcha’, a political conglomerate of smaller parties constituted by BJP ally-turned-rebel Suhaildev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) chief Om Prakash Rajbhar.
Notably, Rajbhars from the Most Backward Castes account for around 7 per cent of the OBC block in the eastern UP region. SBSP alliance with Owaisi would shape up a new MBC-Muslim combination, which could potentially trouble both SP and BSP.
Will a fragmented opposition play in BJP’s favour?
The farmers of western UP, particularly the Jat farmers, have been expressing discontent against the BJP since 2016 when the Narendra Modi government announced demonetisation. Since then, a major percentage of voters in the region have not been extending support to the BJP. In the 2017 UP assembly polls and 2019 general elections, the BJP won 37 and 27 seats in western UP respectively, arguably with some support from farmers.
Secondly, even if the voters of the region decide not to vote for the BJP, it is not clear which party will gain from it as the second biggest party in the area is the BSP, which is weak in other parts of the state.
JNU Political Science professor Narender Kumar says that an overall observation of the current political scenario in Uttar Pradesh clearly indicates that the BJP is retaining power in the upcoming polls, “primarily due to the fragmented opposition”.
“And even if factors like farm laws are going to have an impact on BJP’s prospects, it will only be in some pockets of the state. But I don’t think it will make much difference as far as central UP and Awadh are concerned, the BJP will do well in these areas,” he said.