The road to Delhi it is said passes through Lucknow. This statement largely sums up the extreme political significance of India’s largest state which accounts for the largest contingent of MPs to Parliament. Bharateeya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party of India, could come to power mostly because of its stellar performance in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 1998 and 1999 when it lapped up a large number of seats. The 50 plus tally from UP ensured BJP’s emergence as single largest party in 1998 and ensured that the stain of political untouchability was a thing of past. The very same parties which have a habit of slapping their backs on their professed secular credentials didn’t blink an eye lid and went on to do shopping with the so called Hindutva party in the Delhi political bazaar.

For a party that straddled the electoral landscape of UP post Ramjanmabhoomi(Rama’s birth place) movement, the precipitous decline in fortunes over the past decade has been difficult to fathom. So steep has been the decline that BJP which ruled UP just a decade back is now a poor third force. This should be deeply worrying for the likes of Kamal Naath in Delhi, who after 2 successive electoral defeats know that for them to do business in Delhi a respectable tally from UP is a must. The party had a chance in form of 2012 elections when it could have put its house in order but it failed pathetically by resorting to the invisible election strategy which it hoped would fool the antagonistic Muslim vote and ensure a surprise Hindu polarization. Unfortunately this low key campaign strategy back fired and the strategists of the invisibility camping became invisible for days after the election results!

Not that BJP had not tried to somehow spring back in UP. But these efforts have largely failed to yield any dividends. The efforts to resurrect yesteryear Hindutva poster boy Kalyan Singh have backfired and one has lost the count of his numerous home-coming and subsequent outgoings. With the party lacking disha and dasha, it was Samajavadi Party (SP) which benefitted massively in 2012 assembly elections from the anti incumbency which was sweeping the state against Mayawati’s administration. It would be incorrect to say SP benefitted solely from the complete Yadav-Muslim polarization for Akhilesh Yadav the son of maverick Mulayam riding high on hopes was able to promise good governance if voted. Well articulated, although lacking any substantive base, it did resonate with large sections of electorate particularly youth and the results were there for all to see. One year on, SP hasn’t yet delivered anything which can be remotely called governance except the freebies which were promised in its manifesto.

With one year to go for 2014 General elections, the political situation is still fluid, although straws in the wind suggest some remarkable consolidation of views on some key issues. If one thing that is fairly conclusive to any serious UP watcher, it’s the seething anger against the Central government. The huge unpopularity of the central government has rubbed onto the fortunes of Congress. Coupled with anti Congress mood the miserable performance of several sitting Congress MPs could well ring death bell for Congress in 2014.

Rahul Gandhi who campaigned aggressively in 2012 hoping to reap dividends by posing as the angry young man needled by the inefficiencies of the system seems to have given up on UP preferring to enjoy the comforts of Delhi rather than slug it out in the dusty lanes of rural hinterland. The severe anti incumbency against Central government could see Congress ending up a poor third in constituencies like Moradabad, Keri, Farukkabad, and Maharajganj which it won in 2009. Indeed the talk in political circles and on ground is that it could be tough ride for Rahul Gandhi in Amethi where there is a great deal of voter discontent. The party was washed out in the key bastions of Amethi, Sultanpur and Rae Bareilly in 2012 Assembly elections

Samajwadi Party government, contrary to reports in Delhi media, continues to enjoy the honeymoon period and has largely held onto the Muslim-Yadav consolidation. Indeed if any lack of choices given the seething unpopularity of Congress has driven larger sections of Muslims into the firmer embrace of SP.

Brahmins, who have emerged the key swing group in UP, gravitated towards SP thus firming up their recently earned reputation of siding with the party in power. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which is licking its wounds after its disastrous performance in 2012 has lost further ground among upper castes, Most Backward Castes(MBC) and sections of Dalit Muslims.

In this scenario an interesting realignment is taking place which has the potential to change the political landscape. The virtual domination by the money and muscled Yadavs and Muslims in Akhilesh’s reign has managed to rub sections of non Yadav Other Backward Class (OBC) on the wrong side. Thakurs smarting under their perceived negligence and sidelining post the Raja Bhaiyya fiasco are looking towards BJP as an option. Indeed the most remarkable aspect today is the sheer popularity of Gujarat strong man Narendra Modi. He has managed to morph into larger than life figure across the state and is voluminously talked and held in aw in urban and semi-urban parts from Lucknow to Allahabad. The readiness of OBC and non Brahmin upper caste sections to embrace Modi has not been lost on either the opposition parties or the BJP cadre. Indeed it would be understatement to say that Modi is a factor for he seems to be a phenomenon. Voters across the state are enamoured of Modi and his development tales in a state which has been starved of developmental activity.

Indeed there are fears among no BJP parties of the dent he is likely to cause among their base should he campaign in the state. A SP leader, who this author talked to while on a visit to Maharajganj, said only factor which could stall SP march in Poorvanchal is the Modi factor. Indeed the assessment across the board while traversing Poorvanchal was that Modi card could significantly alter the dynamics of the region and has the potential to even push BJP ahead in the race.

This overriding public sentiment seems to have been not lost by the BJP President Rajnath Singh who has deftly appointed Modi’s acolyte Amit Shah as in charge of UP. What’s interesting is that while other appointments didn’t even raise a whimper Shah’s appointment managed to raise eye brows across the political circles showing the extent of Modi factor at work.

BJP Delhi leadership should read the public mood and give the baton charge to Modi if it has to have any realistic chances of touching 30 seats in 2014. Should Modi’s PM candidacy be formalized 2014 could well turn out to be a no holds barred battle between Mulayam dreaming of ruling Delhi with the help of Third Front and the Hurricane from the West who has the potential to overturn the existing political order in badlands of UP.

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Chinmay Krovvidi

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