The path to the PMO runs through east UP
The challenge here for the BJP remains the same as in 2014, breaking the influence of various caste groups, while the gathbandhan claims to have brought the dalits, other backward classes and Muslims together against the PM
In the Lok Sabha bypolls 14 months ago, east Uttar Pradesh gave the opposition immense hope when the understanding between Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) caused the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Allahabad's twin segment Phulpur and UP Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath's home pitch Gorakhpur. The arrangement has continued in a formal way in the 2019 elections and kept BJP's top contestants and poll managers under serious pressure.
Assessing a shocking by-poll result, Yogi Adityanath had blamed the poor performance on local issues. The outcome was disastrous considering a brute mandate the BJP had been given a year ago in the Assembly polls. "When the general elections are held, there will be national issues. Under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, there has been a sense of confidence which prevails in the country, but all this will be reviewed," he had told media persons.
For BJP, the continuation of the SP-BSP chemistry meant big caution ahead of the general polls that would decide Modi's extended run in the PMO. In 2014, Modi chose Purvanchal's main hub Varanasi, one of the holiest cities in the Hindu culture, to set the ball rolling. Later, he quit his Gujarat seat to adopt Varanasi as his own after UP propelled him to new heights in the Lok Sabha. The PM is running from Varanasi once again, and keeping in mind the gathbandhan threat that is compounded by the Congress's resolve of splitting votes, Modi invested all his energy in the last two legs in east UP. These phases will decide Modi's and his senior colleagues' fate.
Caste-coalition vs BJP
This part of UP, especially Purvanchal, knew Yogi Adityanath well before he became the CM. He wasn't seen as a pan-UP leader before assuming the Lucknow office. The high seat of Gorakhpur Math he holds and a fiery Yuva Hindu Vahini, an organisation of radical Hindu youth he commanded, had made him popular in the region. And, yet he lost the seat that he had won five times to SP. Of late, his social engineering experiment has distanced him from the Vahini, which split recently, in protest of the mentor's act of disowning it.
Some people of the Vahini have been working against the BJP. Like other constituencies in UP, including the 14 that went to polls on Sunday and before, in Purvanchal's 13 where polling is scheduled on May 19, the challenge before Modi and BJP is to break the influence of various caste groups. Voters here shed inhibitions while discussing caste equations and tell us vividly why they like or dislike candidates based on their castes. Issues that directly affect the daily life hardly matter to the voters. Nationalism and development do emerge as points to ponder over but not for long and deep enough.
The overwhelming verdict for BJP in multi-cornered fights of 2014 had overshadowed the caste impact, but this election seems to be tightly gripped by the social divide. The gathbandhan claims to have brought the dalits, other backward classes and Muslims together against Modi. The BJP says it would be able to break the caste barrier just like 2014 and win more seats than ever throughout UP. The Congress, wherever it is in contention, eyes the votes that are unlikely to go either to BJP or the gathbandhan. Party's east UP in-charge Priyanka Gandhi has made her stand clear, sending a cautionary note to both rival camps.
In certain segments, the BJP's core vote bank of Brahmins is not happy with the Rajput CM and his political bosses over selection of candidates. Mind you, Brahmins in UP aren't a small number like in other states. The Rashtriya Swayavsevak Sangh has been pressed into service to retain the Brahmin voters.
Modi, Maya or Mulayam?
The campaign in this part of UP has given rise to speculation over a non-BJP PM. Mayawati told Ambedkar Nagar voters that the road to the PMO went through their constituency. Her statement is taken as her readiness to contest a Lok Sabha by-poll from Ambedkar Nagar if a fractured mandate and the gathbandhan's numbers make her PM. Mayawati's coalition partner and SP president Akhilesh Yadav said the next PM would be from UP. Did he mean Mayawati or his father Mulayam Singh Yadav?
Local BJP leaders insist there is no name other than Modi that the people of the country want as their PM. But they do not forget to add, albeit in a hush-hush manner, that UP, especially the east, can lock or unlock the passage that could lead Modi to the PMO, yet again.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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