Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s hegemony over the state’s politics remains unchallenged with just a little over a year left for the assembly elections.
In spite of several failures on the political and administrative front during his four years in power, not a single opposition leader is in a position to confidently take on the chief minister, in the polls scheduled for February-March next year.
The caste-based parties that once ruled the state before Yogi’s advent on the scene are literally in a disarray. Their leaders, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) and Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP), are at war with each other at the moment, battling for the position as the top challenger to Yogi. And the Congress is in such a mess that even its pocket borough, the Gandhi bastion of Raebareli is under siege by a relentless BJP.
After the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had conveyed its eagerness to reclaim the state it had once ruled by anointing Priyanka Gandhi in charge of UP. Her team-members in the state claim that the Congress is the only party that has, at least, been seen fighting against Yogi’s “misrule”. But, Ms Gandhi has very little results to show for her efforts, or the lack of it, so far.
Both Yogi and his party have made extra efforts to stymie this emerging challenge from Priyanka Gandhi and embroil her in controversies to divert her attention away from UP. The family was first stripped of the Special Protection Group security cover. Besides this, her New Delhi residence too was taken away by the BJP-led government at the Centre. Soon afterwards there was speculation about Priyanka relocating to Lucknow to concentrate on the state politics, but, there has been nothing to substantiate the rumours.
Simultaneously, there has been a concerted effort by the BJP to wrest Sonia Gandhi’s constituency Raebareli from the Congress. This Lok Sabha seat, not far from Lucknow turned out to be the lone bastion that Congress could hold and retain in the Modi wave that had swept through UP, in the 2019 elections. So much so, the Congress president at that point of time and Sonia’s son, Rahul Gandhi, lost the neighbouring Lok Sabha seat in Amethi to union minister Smriti Irani.
Before the 2019 general elections, Amit Shah had visited Raebareli and inducted Congress MLC Dinesh Singh into the BJP. Subsequently, his brother and MLA from Gauriganj (an assembly segment in Raebareli Lok Sabha seat) Rakesh Singh, besides Raebareli’s city MLA Aditi Singh, have all turned against the Congress party.
The BJP leaders claim that the 2022 assembly poll results would help them in either shooing away Sonia Gandhi from Raebareli or she will lose the polls like her son Rahul in Amethi.
The Congress’ standpoint on the desertions from the party in the past or similar possibilities in future, is that the ongoing organisational changes in their UP party unit may have led people to look for greener pastures, by pretending to be unhappy with the grand old party. Congress insiders say that the party has silently been trying to bring new blood into the party by inducting fresh faces, both in the urban and rural parts of UP. The party, according to its leaders, is being built from scratch in all the 80,000 villages in the state, under the leadership of the new president Ajay Kumar Lallu.
As for Raebareli, the Congress believes the BJP is trying to undo the work and projects that were undertaken by the UPA government, in order to discredit Sonia Gandhi.
The SP, has of late, started waking up to Yogi’s deepening sway across UP. Akhilesh Yadav has started touring neglected regions like Bundelkhand, besides other parts of the state. The SP leader is reported to be drawing sizeable, if not huge crowds. This shows that despite the BJP’s claims of turning UP into its invincible fortress, the state and its people are not as comfortable with the party, as it would like others to believe.
But, it is also a fact that Akhilesh’s efforts this time are yet nowhere near to match the campaign, which he had launched riding a bicycle (it is also his party’s election symbol), for the 2012 polls. It had made him the youngest chief minister of UP, at the age of 38. His cycling for long hours, day after day, through vast tracts of the state, is still recalled longingly by his party cohorts, amid the thickening pall of the colour of saffron through the skies of UP.
Unlike what was the case with the SP in 2012 polls, the party may well face a rather new challenge in the 2022 polls. This is expected to be posed by the moves being made by AIMIM, or All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s leader Asaduddin Owaisi in UP, after his party’s success in the recently held Bihar polls. Muslims have generally been voting SP in large numbers in the state’s previous polls, but Owaisi, who plans to field his party’s candidates in large numbers in UP this time may well upset SP’s plans.
On January 15, meanwhile, the BSP leader Mayawati had observed her birthday though without the customary bash that used to mark this particular day in the previous years. Via social media, she exhorted her extraordinarily loyal supporters not to make a beeline to her residence to greet her in lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she asked them to observe the day by staying home and helping each other, more so the poor, needy and deserving among them.
Though she is now 65, the BSP leader has been keeping a low key even before the corona outbreak because of reasons best known to her. But, her critics and detractors often come up with the refrain that she has chickened out or been neutralised by the seriously intimidating attitude of Yogi and BJP against opponents. Some say that age has started slowing the BSP’s main messiah of Dalits.
There are still others, who suspect that Mayawati has become apprehensive about the rise of Chandrashekhar Azad, a lawyer from Saharanpur, as a Dalit leader of UP. It is believed that Chandrashekhar is going to prove to be as detrimental to the BSP or Mayawati, as Owaisi could be for the SP. This appears to be far-fetched since the Azad Samaj Party (ASP) launched by the lawyer-turned-politico could get only garner a few votes in the recently held assembly by-poll in Bulandshahr.
The reason for this lies in the fact that ASP’s appeal has been limited to mostly the Balmiki sect of Dalits, whose numbers are considered to be miniscule in the larger fraternity of scheduled castes voters.