UP Headed For A Fractured Mandate
Six months before the 2017 assembly elections, Uttar Pradesh seems headed for a hung assembly with Mayawati’s BSP emerging as the single largest party. Among the BJP leaders in the running for chief minister, Varun Gandhi is miles ahead of the rest
The Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are a puzzle that every poll pundit wants to solve but finds difficult to fathom. Is there a latent anti-incumbency or an underground Hindutva wave? Will Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s youthful appeal and pro-development approach sway young voters? Or will the Congress party’s strategy to re-ignite its Brahmin voter succeed in transforming its otherwise doomed fortunes? Will BSP chief Mayawati be able to convince the people that her governance record was better than Akhilesh’s? Or Will Modi-magic work again in the state that gave him 73 MPs in last Lok Sabha elections?
The political air in UP is already heavy with anticipation. Yet, it is quite unlike 2007 or 2012 Assembly elections when the political winds were clearly in favour of the BSP and SP respectively. The 2007 election was won by the BSP by targeting the lawlessness of the SP government under Mulayam Singh Yadav. Indeed people were fed up with Mulayam’s patronage of criminals.
As chief minister, Mayawati came down with a heavy hand on lawlessness, even putting away 11 of her own Cabinet colleagues. But she faced two charges she could never counter: Of rampant corruption, and of squandering public money on statues of herself across the state. The red sandstone structures were eyesores. But it was Akhilesh Yadav’s youthful appeal that was the nail in her political coffin. He traversed the length and the breadth of the state in the six month preceding the February 2012 Assembly elections and won handsomely with the Samajwadi Party bagging 224 seats.
Akhilesh, an environment engineering graduate from Australia, tried hard to change the political discourse in UP, launching several schemes for the poor and needy. Distribution of free laptops to students, Kanya Vidya Dhan Yojana, Samajwadi Pension Yojana, beautification of the Gomti riverbank in Lucknow and reforming the power sector. He tried to live up to his pro-development image by completing mega-infrastructure projects like the Ballia-Lucknow Expressway, the Lucknow Metro and Agra-Lucknow Expressway in record time.
Has Akhilesh won peoples’ trust? He has done well on infrastructure but failed to deliver on his promise of ridding the state of corruption and criminals. Lawlessness has sullied his image as an administrator. With a riot a week, three murders a day and a rape every six hours, Akhilesh’s tenure stands tarnished.
The Samajwadi Party seem to be losing heavily – as many as 150 seats - and the spoils are being shared almost equally by the BJP and the BSP, with latter having an edge. The BSP will gain 89 and BJP 88 seats, more than what they got in 2012. The Congress may end up with 13 seats less than what it got in 2012.
Mayawati Leads CM’s Race
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown! Yet, everyone wants to be king. Even a party like the Congress which has scant hopes from the 2017 elections, has declared Sheila Dixit its chief ministerial candidate. There are clear faces from SP and BSP — Akhilesh Yadav and his ‘bua’ Mayawati respectively.
Mayawati is leading the pack with 28 per cent of voters wanting her as the next CM. But Akhilesh is close behind with 25 per cent of popular votes. The BJP’s most popular leader seems to be Varun Gandhi who is breathing down Akhilesh’s neck with 23 per cent votes.
Akhilesh Yadav’s performance
Akhilesh still appeals to the youth, which is why he is the second most popular chief ministerial candidate across parties. The Assembly polls will test not only his popularity but also effectiveness as CM.
The survey results show that 39 per cent voters rate his performance as bad or very bad, while 33 per cent rate him average. But 28 per cent voters found his performance to be good or very good, which suggests anti-incumbency isn’t working here.
Will Varun Gandhi Be BJP’s Face?
The only party which hasn’t finalized its candidate so far is the BJP. There are too many potential chief ministers, from Varun Gandhi to Yogi Adityanath, also former CM Kalyan Singh and the state BJP Chief Keshav Prasad Maurya.
The BJP is still mulling over whether it’s politically smart to go with a candidate or without. The party won Haryana and Jharkhand Assembly elections without declaring a candidate and lost Delhi after announcing Kiran Bedi’s name as its prospective chief minister. By this logic, the BJP should not make public its face for UP but that strategy floundered in Bihar.
The dilemma illustrates why the BJP hasn’t given a prominent position to Varun Gandhi though with 53 per cent votes, he is the tallest BJP leader. The second “most favourite” BJP leader is Kalyan Singh - a distant second with 18 per cent votes, followed by Uma Bharti with 12 per cent. Kalyan Singh is Rajasthan Governor and therefore not eligible for the job. On the other hand Uma Bharti already has an important assignment as Union Minister for Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation. Hailing from Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh, she can get elected as an MLA in U.P. but it’s doubtful if she would be acceptable to the party rank and file. That leaves Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath but he trails at number four position with mere 10 per cent BJP supporters rooting for him. It therefore, remains a mystery why the party is not projecting Varun as its probable chief minister.
Interestingly, Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani who was being touted as chief ministerial candidate of the BJP, has the backing of only two per cent of BJP supporters. The only leader trailing her is Kalraj Mishra at 1 per cent.
The Congress overhauled its state leadership for the Assembly elections last month. It dispatched former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial nominee, scion of erstwhile Amethi state Sanjay Singh as campaign committee chief and matinee idol Raj Babbar as state president. This was followed by a grand workers’ interaction with Rahul Gandhi in Lucknow. Other decisions include Gulam Nabi Azad replacing Madhusudan Mistry as party in charge of UP, and poll strategist Prashant Kishore deploying his arsenal of political tricks, which could see Congress emerge from its slumber. Congress is trying to bring around upper castes, Dalits and Muslims into the party fold. But,the Congress lacks workers and voters, not leaders, in UP.
Thirty per cent of UP voters say Priyanka Gandhi can steer Congress to victory. As for Rahul Gandhi, 26 per cent say he can steer the Congress to victory in 2017.
Biggest Election Issue
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav may have tried his best to control goondaism in the state, yet most people say law & order will be the biggest election issue next year followed by price rise, corruption, lack of development and unemployment.
Best Youth Leader
If Congress had thought of using Priyanka Gandhi to counter the youthful charm of Akhilesh Yadav, its ploy would have failed miserably. Priyanka is the fourth choice of UP voters for youth leader. Yadav tops with 30 per cent of popular votes while Priyanka’s cousin Varun captivated 22 per cent with his charm. Even the firebrand Yogi Adityanath with 18 per cent finished ahead of Priyanka who could muster only 14 per cent votes.
All-time Best Prime Minister
People waiting for a good news for the BJP may be glad to know that the people of Uttar Pradesh consider Narendra Modi as the best ever prime minister, rating him much higher than the likes of Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Modi’s rating at 35 per cent is, in fact, very close to the aggregate of ratings of all Congress prime ministers so far — most popular among them interestingly is not Jawahar Lal Nehru but his daughter Indira at 14 per cent. Only 3 per cent voted for Nehru while his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri garnered 8 per cent of votes.
So where does BJP stalwart Atal Behari Vajpayee stand in this list—second after only Modi at 19 per cent—a good four percentage points ahead of Indira Gandhi.
(This is an independent survey by Parliamentarian magazine & My Mandate-PCRA. The views expressed are not of BW Businessworld)
This article was published in BW Businessworld issue dated 'Sept. 19, 2016' with cover story titled 'Rs 1.5 Lakh Crore Gambit'
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