Monday, January 30, 2023

The big fight

With the last phase of voting due on March 7, the assembly election to 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh is being closely watched as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s eight years in office, during which he and senior leaders of his party have unabashedly pursued a Hindu-first agenda that observers say has empowered his supporters’ polarizing emphasis on religious identity. When election comes and when the battle gets difficult, the BJP has always refocused on religion and on reinforcing new coalitions that have formed around caste. The party is apparently counting on that divisive tactic to resonate in Uttar Pradesh, a bastion of the Hindu right, preserving its hold on power in the state and putting it in a favorable position for a general election in 2024. So far, six phases have been completed with the seventh and final slated on March 7. The BJP has realised that UP is certainly not going to be a pushover as expected in January. It is for this reason, that from March 3, till curtains fall on the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Varanasi. Union Home Minister Amit Shah spent several days while Union minister and BJP in-charge of UP Dharmendra Pradhan has been camping for over a week. BJP president J P Nadda will also join the biggies of the BJP for unleashing the party’s weapons. Among this is the party’s deployment of well known leaders having influence on caste and community. RSS and senior BJP functionaries are also speaking personally to those unhappy over ticket distribution, some of whom have declared open revolt. The BJP has pulled out all stops even giving bail to Ashish Mishra, arrested for running over farmers at Lakhimpur with a vehicle belonging to his father and union minister Ajay Mishra. Farmers in UP are angry with the BJP though this has been in a small way, assuaged after Modi did a U-turn by repealing the three farms laws in November 2021. The farm laws had practically led to a nationwide protest by farmers with one of the longest siege since November 2020 at the Singhu border between Haryana and Delhi. Farmers began a massive protest and were on way to Delhi during end 2020 to hold a rally in Delhi in January 2021 when the government erected walls to prevent Haryana protestors from reaching Delhi. The indication of voters mood could be gauged after fourth phase was held. As per media speculations, the anger of Jat and Gujjar farmers against the BJP turned out to be decisive in the first two. The third phase was held mainly in the ‘Yadav belt’, the Samajwadi Party (SP) strongholds like Mainpuri, Auraiya, Ferozabad, Farukkabad etc. The B.J.P.’s focus on religion and Islamic terrorism may not be enough to take voters’ minds off their economic struggles, political analysts said. There has been a change of political discourse and it’s not . about mandir and masjid. People say that “Economic issues are far more important for people.” This new focus on the economy among voters in Uttar Pradesh could threaten the B.J.P.’s firm hold on the state. However the BJP is not credulous enough to ignore that and has reminded people about the goonda raj during the rule of the Samajwadi Party(SP) during 2012. The suspicion is that even if BJP does not get majority it will retain power and this has led to the interesting question of how?.

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