Elections are well underway in the state of Uttar Pradesh having voted in two phases and the process having been completed in Goa and Uttarakhand. Now the focus will shift to Punjab, along with central and eastern Uttar Pradesh.
First, let’s take a look at the state of Punjab where the BJP is not really a player. It has a marginal role in supporting Capt Amarinder Singh but since this is the BJP of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, no election is taken lightly, and so we had the PM campaigning in Jalandhar. The BJP is focusing on the Hindu belt of Pathankot, Sujanpur, Bhoa, and Dinanagar, as Capt Amarinder Singh’s PLC wields no influence here. The state BJP has been asked to focus on 45 seats that have a Hindu population of more than 60%. However, the real fight is between the Congress and the Aam Admi Party with anecdotal evidence giving Team Kejriwal the edge. His campaign is based on his Delhi Model of governance and the slogan of ‘Ek Mauka Aap Nu, Ek Maukha Kejriwal aur Bhagwat Mann Nu’ (Give AAP and yourself a chance, give Kejriwal and Bhagwat Mann a chance). Although Bhagwat Mann is the local face of the campaign, it is clear that the mandate is being asked for in Kejriwal’s name. There is talk of the Delhi Model with its emphasis on mohalla clinics and schools and this is gaining a lot of traction, for don’t forget that this is an election in covid continuous times where healthcare is of primary importance as are jobs and education. In addition, Punjab has been fighting a drug menace for decades. Education and schools will go a long way in saving the state’s youth. So, while Kejriwal realised that the party had to declare a local face to overcome the tag of an outsider (that too one from neighbouring Haryana), the campaign is still being fought on Kejriwal’s brand name. For the first time, we also saw his wife Sunita and daughter Harshita enter the campaign field. The average voter in rural Punjab may just give the AAP the ‘mauka’ that it is asking for, having tried the other parties, and found them wanting.
The Congress too realised the need to put a face to its campaign and announced the sitting CM Charanjit Singh Channi as its CM face. This was inevitable for there was no way the party would destabilise a Dalit Sikh in favour of Navjyot Singh Sidhu. As expected the Sidhu family has not taken it well. For now, Navjyot Singh Sidhu is not saying anything but his wife Navjyot Kaur has made her displeasure clear even to the extent of saying that she would be voting for the AAP that has the edge in Punjab.
In all this one should not forget the SAD whose chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has been working quietly on the ground for over a year now ever since his party parted ways with the BJP over the farmers’ bills. He has been reaching out to the Panchayat level leaders and has a sizeable on-ground presence. In case Punjab throws up a hung assembly then SAD could well go back to the BJP and tie-up with Capt Amarinder.
As for Uttar Pradesh, the first two phases took place in Western Uttar Pradesh where the RLD-SP gathbandhan has an edge because of the sizable presence of Jats, Muslims and farmers. Both Akhilesh and Jayant have been trying hard not to fall into the BJP’s game of making this an 80:20 election but instead focusing on the caste arithmetic. In fact, as analysts point out, the Yogi Government lost the Jat vote even before the farm bills because very few members of the community were accommodated in his government. This is significant because the Jat vote had fled to the BJP after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.
With the political theatre shifting to Poorvanchal the focus will be on the OBC vote. Although the Prime Minister had inducted 28 OBC leaders in his cabinet reshuffle in July 2021 this did not stem the exodus of caste leaders and cabinet ministers such as Swami Prasad Maurya, Dharam Singh Saini, and Dara Chauhan towards the SP. Will Akhilesh Yadav’s gambit of ‘Mela Hobe’ win the elections for him? In the initial phases, he had managed to steer the narrative away from 80:20 and Hindu-Muslim issues to caste and development. But after the Hijab controversy in Karnataka, the focus is back on religion. Interestingly while Akhilesh Yadav is yet to comment on the Hijab controversy but Assaduddin Owaisi has no such compulsions. His comments that one day a Hijab clad woman could be the PM had Yogi Adityanath talk of the threat from Ghazwa-e-Hind adding that the country would be run by the constitution and not by the Shariat. This hardline talk suits Owaisi and Yogi for it appeals to their respective vote banks but it does not work for Akhilesh who is trying to widen his party’s base from the traditional MY combination of Mulayam Singh Yadav.
There are 42-45% OBC voters in UP with the Yadavs forming around 9% of these. The fight is for the 32-35% of non-Yadav OBC votes. In addition, the Brahmins are about 17% of UP’s population while the Thakur community forms about 7 to 8 % of the state’s population. There is a buzz that the Brahmins are unhappy with the hegemony given to the Thakur’s in Yogi’s government. But which way will this community that has traditionally been associated with either the Congress or the BJP vote? Akhilesh Yadav has been reaching out to the Brahmins by visiting a Lord Parshuram temple and promising to build Parshuram statues in every district. Back in 2007, even Mayawati had tried to woo the Brahmins by appointing Satish Mishra as her pointsperson for this outreach.
It is clear that the election in Uttar Pradesh will be a multilayered one, fought on caste lines and religious divides. And one hopes somewhere in all this, development and jobs will get a mention too.