National

Strife in SP could turn UP polls into a BSP-versus-BJP contest

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on January 16, 2018

This October 9 photograph shows Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati at an election campaign rally in Lucknow   -  REUTERS



Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence in Uttar Pradesh on the day of multiple implosions in the Samajwadi Party (SP) may have been a coincidence but it marked the contours of the electoral fight in India’s most populous State.

With the SP having shot itself in the foot ahead of the polls, the ground is now open for the main contest to be staged between the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the BJP. For the party that rules the Centre, this in itself is a gain: its positioning as a viable contender for forming the next government in the State.

The spoils of SP’s internal fight will be shared between the two main contestants with the BSP hoping to wean away the Muslim voters, and the BJP looking to consolidate the non-Yadav OBCs, even make a pitch for the Yadav vote which traditionally goes to the SP.

In the light of the surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) and media discourse drifting towards emotive issues such as triple talaq and cow slaughter, the BJP believes the atmosphere is right for voter consolidation in its favour. Also, if the hype about a “Muslim-Dalit alliance” in Mayawati’s favour gains further ground, it will also help in reverse polarisation of OBCs towards the BJP.

The BJP already enjoys upper caste support, which, at 18 per cent of the population — Brahmins comprise 10 per cent and Thakur 8 per cent — is a sizeable figure.

Simultaneously, the BJP has cultivated Kurmis, the second-largest backward caste group in the State with influence in seats stretching from Pratapgarh, Phulpur, Allahabad, Basti, Banda, Mirzapur and Varanasi. The BJP’s alliance with Apna Dal had yielded dividends for the party in the Lok Sabha elections, and the party hopes to continue enjoying the support of the Kurmis in the Assembly polls as well.

Along with the Kurmis, the BJP has also assiduously wooed UP’s third-largest backward caste, the Lodhs. Union Minister Uma Bharti and former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh belong to the community.

The BJP has also made strong overtures towards Kushwaha/Mauryas, a most backward caste (MBC) which has gravitated towards the BSP in the past, and is capable of an impact in seats like Chandauli, Ghazipur, Salempur, Jhansi and Banda. The BJP’s State unit President Keshav Prasad Maurya belongs to this caste group, and the party had also recently weaned away Leader of Opposition Swami Prasad Maurya, who was formerly with the BSP.

Leaderless

Where the BJP takes a beating is in the lack of a credible face to lead the party. This, a senior party member confessed to BusinessLine, is a big disadvantage especially when confronted with a leader of Mayawati’s stature.

“Mayawati has huge credibility, especially on the law and order front. If the BJP does not field a credible chief ministerial candidate, it will be a big disadvantage for us in an Assembly election. We made the same mistake in Bihar,” said a party leader.

Published on October 24, 2016

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