Major political players are surveying battleground Uttar Pradesh, which goes to polls early next year. The outcome will tell us which way the wind is blowing for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

In UP, there is no alliance among the major Opposition parties — Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress — to take on the BJP, which won big in UP in both the last general and Assembly elections.

The stakes are big and the yatras numerous — by Yadav and BJP’s top leaders, led by its election expert, Home Minister Amit Shah. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself sounded the bugle last week when he inaugurated the Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor in Varanasi, took a dip in the Ganga and performed pooja at the temple.

A couple of days later, laying the foundation stone of the ambitious Ganga Expressway project in Shahjahanpur, he heaped praise on UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for improving the law and order situation and eliminating “mafias”, with “bulldozers razing their unauthorised properties” and claimed the monk-turned-politician had taken the State on a “path of development”.

Viewed from any angle, this is difficult to digest. Yogi’s reign, one of the most controversial in UP, has ruthlessly targeted his opponents and the minorities.

From lynchings and closure of abattoirs to the seizure of properties of those who had protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act, Muslims of UP have been at the receiving end.

The Gandhi siblings were out there in Amethi, one of the two family bastions that Rahul Gandhi lost to Smriti Irani in the last Lok Sabha polls; and Rae Barelli, the other one that Priyanka Gandhi is trying desperately to retain for her mother Sonia.

But, frankly, unless there is a major upheaval and the angry farmers decide to vote en bloc against the BJP, the Congress is likely to be an “also ran” in the UP race. So does Mayawati, who too had fared poorly in the last Lok Sabha and UP Assembly polls.

The only one likely to challenge the BJP juggernaut is Akhilesh, who is busy putting together a “rainbow alliance’ of small local parties. With the RLD in his camp, the support from farmers belonging to this group will be substantial.

Akhilesh has claimed that the recent searches by income-tax sleuths of the premises of his close aides prove that the BJP considers him a serious threat. Daring the BJP to next send the ED, the CBI, etc., he, as also Priyanka, have charged Yogi with tapping the phones of Opposition leaders, and that Adityanath himself listens to these recordings every evening.

The acrimony, charges and counter-charges against opponents are only going to get uglier as the elections approach. While campaigning in Amethi, Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP at the Centre of hitting the poor and the middle class through demonetisation and other flawed economic policies that have resulted in acute unemployment and distress.

The ruling party’s retort is long years of misrule by the Congress, the SP and the BSP.

Worrying factor

Yes, how the Muslims of UP vote will be important, and , even a tiny portion of their vote is unlikely go to the BJP. But the saffron party will be least worried as there is no united Opposition to take on the BJP.

But what is surely worrying the BJP leadership is the anger of the farmers at the three farm laws, which they rejected so passionately that the Centre had no option but to repeal them. Modi’s announcement withdrawing them came after BJP leaders were not even allowed to enter some western UP villages for electioneering.

Will the outrage and pain on the mowing down of protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, by a car in which Union Minister Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra was travelling, be forgotten? Lakhimpur Kheri, the sugar bowl of India, is the largest district in UP, and the FIR lodged by a farmer, Jagjit Singh, with the UP police, accuses the minister’s son of opening fire which, he has charged, was “premeditated”.

The delay by the UP police in recording the FIR had only increased the farmers’ outrage. Whether the farmers forget being called anti-national and, worse, and vote according to their party affiliation, remains to be seen.

If Yogi returns, BJP’s internal politics will undergo a major upheaval for the 2024 polls, and his brash style of functioning will get the endorsement of those who really matter.