Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

Meerut: The electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh has got into high gear with the acceleration of campaigning for the 33 seats that go to polls in the third and fourth phases scheduled for April 30 and May 7 respectively.

The two phases will decide the fate of presidents of four important parties — Ms Sonia Gandhi (Congress/Rae Bareily), Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party/Mainpuri), Mr Rajnath Singh (Bharatiya Janata Party/Ghaziabad ), and Mr Ajit Singh (Rashtriya Lok Dal/Baghpat). Elections in several prominent cities such as Lucknow, Kanpur and Agra, are also scheduled in these two phases.

The assessment of various parties about the polling trends in the first two phases have added to the importance of the elections in these 33 constituencies.

In UP, the first two phases were essentially a battle between the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the ruling party in the State, and the principal Opposition, the SP. But an analysis of the polling trends in the first set of 33 seats (16 seats in phase 1 and 17 in 2) did not really match up to these expectations.

Changing equations

The SP and the BSP were of course in contest, but it also transpires that the Brahmin bhaichara of the predominantly Dalit BSP is not working as smoothly as it did in the 2007 Assembly polls.

More significantly, there was a noticeable shift of the traditional Muslim votes from the SP, especially in several seats in eastern UP. New Muslim minority-oriented organisations such as the Ulema Council (UC) and the Peace Party of India (PPI) also cut into the core votes of the SP and the BSP especially in seats such as Azamgarh, Lalganj and Basti.

In the process, the BJP is perceived to have emerged as a strong contender in more seats than expected. The Congress, which hoped to attract new voters from the Brahmin and Muslim communities, also had the assessment that it suffered on account of voter apathy.

While all the four formations in the State would seek to improve their performance in the 33 seats, the stakes are higher for the SP and the BJP. For, the efficacy of the electoral understandings built up by the parties would be put to test in these 33 seats. The SP has a controversial association with the former BJP Chief Minister, Mr Kalyan Singh, and the BJP has tied up with the Ajit Singh-led RLD, which has a significant following among the Jat community in western Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP had great expectations about the alliance with the RLD, but reports from various parts of western Uttar Pradesh, including prominent towns such as Meerut and Mathura (where Mr Ajit Singh’s son, Jayant Chaudhary, is contesting) suggest that this enthusiasm has not led to the creation of an electorally-potent alliance.

Kalyan Singh factor

The OBC (Other Backward Castes) Lodh community, to which Mr Kalyan Singh belongs, has a significant presence in 13 of the 33 seats.

The expectations are that the Lodh votes would get transferred to the SP, but at the same time large segments of the Muslim population are upset with the Kalyan Singh-Mulayam Singh Yadav understanding across the State. Even Mr Azam Khan, one of the founders of the SP, has opposed the understanding.

SP leaders, including Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, have been putting in extra efforts to justify the Kalyan Singh association among the party’s Muslim supporters. The campaigning in the coming days will show how far these efforts have succeeded. Clearly, it is a life and death struggle in these two phases for the party that had the highest number of seats from the State in the last Lok Sabha polls.

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 25, 2009)
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