UP Assembly Elections Advantage Congress?
With just a month to go before the UP assembly goes to the polls, the Congress party has commissioned yet another survey which surprisingly shows that the Congress along with the RLD has made huge gains in the coming elections and has emerged as the single largest party. According to the survey, the Congress-RLD combine would win 127 seats out of which 115 are going to the Congress kitty with the RLD winning 12 seats in its stronghold of Uttar Pradesh.
But what is equally surprising is that the real battle in this election appears to be between the Congress and the BJP with the BJP seen to be winning in 113 constituencies, a big gain from the last election. The survey, conducted by the American agency MODE, shows a steep drop for the BSP as it is struggling at 92 seats while the Samajwadi Party is at 69.
The biggest gains that the Congress is making is in Western UP where along with the RLD the Congress is set to win 87 seats. Out of this the RLD is winning only 12, while the bulk of the seats are being won by the Congress. This is particularly so in those constituencies which are Muslim dominated. If anything, the 2012 UP assembly elections would be known for the return of the Muslims back to the Congress party.
It is learnt that the Barelvi sect of Nadwan Sherief has issued a fatwa in favour of the Congress party and this has internally changed the dynamics of the entire UP election. Rahul Gandhi had recently paid them a visit and that plus the slew of measures taken by the central government in favour of the Muslims appears to be paying the party rich dividends. With the Muslim vote shifting to the Congress, the biggest loser is Mulayam Singh Yadav and the SP which is currently placed at number four. Interestingly, Mayawati’s BSP is coming second on a large number of constituencies in Western UP.
For the Congress, Eastern and Central UP is still very weak with the BJP making big gains in Eastern UP, particularly in Benaras and Gorakhpur divisions. Interestingly, the Congress is catching up with the BJP in Eastern UP with the survey showing that the Congress is placed at number two in many of the Eastern UP constituencies. Congress leaders say they have just one month to catch up and put their house in order in Eastern UP. But the problem is that the Congress has no big Bhumihar or Brahmin neta which can help the party catch the votes. The Rajputs, the Banias and significant sections of the upper castes are at the moment firmly behind the BJP. This is also being seen as a result of the polarisation in the state because of the Muslims coming firmly behind the Congress party.
Congress leaders say they are worried since it is for the first time that the BJP has crossed the 100 mark in their various surveys. Based on feedback received from the state unit, the survey commissioned and complaints of party leaders and workers, the Congress is reviewing some of the seats which have been given and is likely to make some course corrections.
While some Congress leaders claim that the Kurmi vote has shifted to the Congress party, the survey shows this fact is to the contrary. At a number of places, including Faizabad division where the Kurmi vote is in significant numbers, it is going to the BJP. The Kurmis are spread out and are not consolidated in significant numbers in any of the constituencies. The Yadav and the Kurmi votes are not known to come to the Congress party as they prefer to exercise their options elsewhere.
For the Congress party, the survey pointers are a matter of happiness at the way that the Muslims are backing them and that it has emerged as the single largest party in the polls. But senior leaders point out that unless the Congress can make more gains in Eastern and Central UP, the BJP can narrow the gap further and emerge as a real threat. By all indicators, UP polls 2012 are slated to be the big fight between the BJP and the Congress after a long gap, during which regional parties like the BSP and the SP had dominated the political space of Hindi heartland’s largest state.
With Rahul Gandhi campaigning extensively in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress had decided to experiment with deciding and nominating their candidates early, so that they had more time to become familiar with the people, the terrain and to campaign extensively and intensively. Candidates whose tickets were decided early say this has definitely given them an edge and they have had much more time to put their electoral act together.
There is a huge demand for Priyanka Gandhi to campaign in parts of Eastern and Central UP where the party is still seen to be weak and where the traditional hardcore upper caste voter has still not distracted his attention from supporting the Congress party. Senior leaders feel that Priyanka who remninds the people of Indira Gandhi may just be able to swing many of these fence sitters onto the Congress side and give them a much bigger margin of victory.
The survey in Eastern and Central UP shows that in many constituencies the Congress is seen to be coming second and the assessment is that if Priyanka campaigns these seats may be won by the Congress party. Mayawati for the first time has hired a Mumbai-based advertising agency and is spending a great deal of money around Rs 400 crore in a multi-media advertising Blitz. Along with this she is also chucking corrupt leaders out of the party on the advice of this agency and the feedback it is providing to her.
BJP is banking on the polarisation in the state since the Muslims are veering towards the Congress and they feel that in reaction caste Hindus would gravitate towards the BJP. The Rajput, the Bania, the Kurmi and sections of the Brahmins are supporting the BJP. In the Samajwadi party, its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav is not well, say party leaders. Akhilesh Yadav has taken on the mantle of campaigning throughout the state but within the family there are major problems of turfdom along with the fact that the Mulsims seen for long to be staunch Mulayam supporters now appear to be shifting towards the Congress.
With the state likely to throw up a classically hung assembly, there are as many opinions and assessments on UP and its politics as there are political parties but with the Congress emerging as a major player after a long gap of 22 years, the political equations of many of the parties have gone haywire as the process of re-evaluation begins and how to win back possibly lost vote banks.
By Renu Mittal