Gauging Political Winds

article

This could be a watershed year politically as many states go to the polls. Punjab presents interesting options as the ruling SAD-BJP intend to go together despite corruption allegations against key Akali leaders. But this could be a sideshow for the real test, in UP where the BSP is seen to have the advantage. By GAURAV VIVEK BHATNAGAR

The emphatic victory of the Grand Alliance in the Bihar Assembly elections has given fresh hope to other regional parties across north India, that with proper strategy and alliances they too could pose a formidable challenge to the BJP, which had swamped much of the region in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Regional parties in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, which are headed for Assembly elections in the next year and a half, have already started work on Agenda 2016 which primarily involves reaching out to like-minded political affiliates. However, one thing is clear. Under no circumstances would the Assembly elections to these states be a direct contest as was the case between the NDA and Grand Alliance in Bihar. The reasons are quite obvious.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress, which was instrumental in stitching up the Grand Alliance in Bihar, was toying with the idea of sewing up a similar alliance with both SP and BSP to take on the BJP. But with BSP, making it abundantly clear that it does not want any truck with SP, it remains to be seen if the Congress would play a secondary role to BSP or go it alone.

Incidentally, in the 2012 Assembly elections, the combined vote share of BSP (25.9 per cent) and Congress (11.7 per cent) was more than that of SP (29.1 per cent). BJP had secured 15 per cent votes but in the Lok Sabha polls, its share had spurted to 42.6 per cent. The Assembly polls are again expected to be a different ball game – the reason being the BJP’s vote share had dropped sharply from 46.6 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls to 29.9 per cent in the Assembly polls in Delhi, indicating that the same factors may not play out in different elections.

SAMAJWADI PARTY

After the remarkable success of the Grand Alliance in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was among the first leaders to propose the formation of a similar alliance to keep out ‘communal’ forces. This, to him, seemed the best possibility of overcoming the seemingly impossible position the party finds itself.

Law and order has become a major problem in the state. Sensational coverage of rapes and murders has not helped the ruling party’s image. Even Muslims, who have been its mainstay along with the Yadavs, are angry over its handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The situation has come to such a pass that even Mulayam loyalist Azam Khan, has distanced himself from the Yadavs.

So the party believes that joining hands with the Congress and other smaller parties may help resurrect its fortunes. But the other political groups are wary of its intent, especially after party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav walked away from the Grand Alliance in Bihar days before the State went to polls.

BAHUJAN SAMAJ PARTY

A combined ‘secular’ formation is unlikely as the Bahujan Samaj Party and the ruling Samajwadi Party cannot get along. The bitterness of the past, especially the 1995 Lucknow State Guest House incident, in which BSP leader Mayawati barely escaped a nasty attack after she withdrew support to the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led coalition government, still haunts their relationship.

The Bahujan Samaj Party now reckons that anti-incumbency and growing sense of insecurity could result in a repeat of 2012 and it could return to power with a thumping majority yet again. But with Narendra Modi at the helm in New Delhi and Amit Shah having displayed his tact in getting BJP its highest tally ever in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the party would not want to let go of any olive branches coming its way. It has, however, declared that it would not go with the Samajwadi Party.

Mayawati is more inclined towards joining hands with parties which would be prepared to play second fiddle to her and would not therefore, pose any challenge to her chief ministerial aspirations. Her best bet would be Congress along with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) backing her

Mayawati is more inclined towards joining hands with parties which would be prepared to play second fiddle to her and would not therefore, pose any challenge to her chief ministerial aspirations. Her best bet would be Congress along with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) backing her.

PEACE PARTY

While a large number of Muslims in UP still trust Samajwadi Party more than any other, the support of State parties like the Peace Party – which emerged the fifth largest in the last Assembly polls and won four seats – could prove crucial in a close finish.

Its president, Mohammed Ayub, who is a surgeon and philanthropist, is not only trying to bring all the smaller parties like Indian Justice Party, Lok Janshakti Party, Bharatiya Samaj Party, Janvadi Party and National Lok Hit Party, on a common platform, he also wants to back a secular alliance, with the Congress and BSP in it.

Dr. Ayub recently urged Mayawati to “initiate the formation of a grand alliance, respecting the people’s sentiments”, to prevent a split in Muslim and Dalit votes. Accusing the SP and BJP of supporting communal violence, he was recently quoted as saying: “What has happened in Bihar is an indication. Mayawati is the main Opposition leader here, so she should start the work for a grand alliance in UP.”

BJP-SAD

In Punjab too, it would be the Congress which would play a key role in determining how effective an anti-BJP-SAD alliance would be. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi scotching all speculation about BJP and SAD fighting the 2015 Assembly polls separately (by honouring Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal with the second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan), it is almost certain that the two allies would stay together for the time being. That leaves two other major players in the field – the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress.

AAM AADMI PARTY

While AAP had made a sterling debut in the State during the Lok Sabha polls, winning four of the 13 seats, it appears to have squandered away some of the advantage by not being able to keep its flock together. A large number of Left supporters as also local leaders, are angry with the way the Delhi-based party leadership has treated the State leaders.

Two of its MPs -Dr Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa – have in the past openly described the leadership as immature, while a third, Sadhu Singh, had endorsed their views. Even in the case of self-declared loyalist Bhagwant Mann, a video had recently surfaced of his allegedly criticizing the party controlling State affairs from Delhi.

With senior advocate H.S. Phoolka, who had contested the Lok Sabha election from Punjab, also leaving the party, ostensibly to pursue the cases for the 1984 genocide victims, the party is struggling to find a chief ministerial candidate. This recently fuelled speculation that cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was denied an MP ticket last time by BJP, may fill this gap.

What led credence to the grapevine was that his wife and legislator Dr Navjot Kaur, had declared that she would leave the BJP if it did not sever ties with the SAD. However, party convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur denied there were any plans to bring in Sidhu.

As such, AAP would once again rely on the magic of leader Arvind Kejriwal to woo Punjab voters. Kejriwal recently said: “I won’t be surprised if Delhi results are repeated in Punjab.”

It remains to be seen if that would really happen, considering many of his generals like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, have left him in the interim and floated the Swaraj Abhiyan, which may also contest the Punjab polls.

SHIROMANI AKALI DAL

Ten years of anti-incumbency, a blow-hot blow-cold relationship with ally BJP, several controversies and allegations of involvement of its leaders in drug trade and corrupt practices, and favouritism in award of contracts put together, should have proved to be enough to sound the death knell of Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab in the 2017 polls.

But the party has tactfully kept its ally in place, kept the first family out of harm’s way when it came to raging controversies and has portrayed itself as the last beacon of hope from preventing resurgence of militancy in the State. Recently, it even accused the Congress of trying to revive militancy.

All these factors put together along with the “significant economic strides” made by the State, it feels would once again compel voters to return it to power. The party which won 56 seats in the 117 member Assembly in 2012, would this time be banking on a split in the opposition votes, due to the coming in of AAP, to do well.

Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal believes the Congress has been severely damaged by years of infighting and no one wants former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh back. As for AAP, Sukhbir has accused it of robbing the exchequer in a planned way.

Regional parties in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, which are headed for Assembly elections in the next year and a half, have already started work on Agenda 2016 which primarily involves reaching out to like-minded political affiliates

He said people of Punjab have noticed how the party has increased the salaries of its Delhi MLAs four-fold while effecting a four-fold increase in Value Added Tax in Delhi. The anti-people postures have exposed its lack of commitment to the `aam aadmi’ (common man) tag and pre-election promises, he said.

CONGRESS

The Congress, which had won 46 seats, would still remain a significant force in the State, especially since former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has once again been given the reins of the State unit. After much dilly-dallying, Rahul Gandhi saw greater merit in replacing loyalist Partap Singh Bajwa, who did not enjoy much local support, with the blue blooded scion of the Patiala dynasty. Amarinder is confident of a good showing. He believes the Badal’s are out of the race now and his fight would be with AAP.

“We are confident about forming the next government in the State. Our only competition is Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Badals don’t stand a chance of winning this time. Even AAP lacks leadership and has no definite policies related to Punjab. So, it is no threat to us,” he was quoted as saying recently.

Summary

  • Ahead of key Assembly elections, there is political churning in a number of states as old alliances come under strain
  • IN UP, the SP’s poor showing has propelled the BSP forward but other contenders could command major chunks of the vote
  • In Punjab, the SAD-BJP alliance appears all set to contest the Assembly polls jointly despite controversies and other strains
  • The Aam Aadmi Party appears confident in Punjab but has lost most of its ‘generals’ and cadre, so no bets being placed here
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