Battle lines drawn in Uttar Pradesh, not yet time to write off Congress

Not too far away from the unrelenting political cloudbursts in Uttarakhand, three silent but significant developments have been taking place at the socio-political level in Uttar Pradesh.

First, upper caste Hindus, especially Brahmins, who have been watching with dismay the emergence of a pro-backward and pro-reservation politics within the BJP, are beginning to look towards the Congress as an option. This is big news.

 Battle lines drawn in Uttar Pradesh, not yet time to write off Congress

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. Reuters

Second, Muslims who have slowly, but steadily been drifting away from 'Maulana' Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party in the aftermath of Muzaffarnagar riots are also looking up towards the Congress as a safer bet. And this is bigger news.

Third, on one hand, the backwards camp is in a state of flux with Yadavs holding on to the SP as always, and on the other hand, other backward communities are beginning to look towards the BJP for a change. And as far as the Dalits are concerned, they continue to stand unflinchingly behind Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempts at appropriating the legacy of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.

It’s in the backdrop of all these developments that PK’s moves on the chessboard of UP politics are being made. (PK stands for Prashant Kishor, who is the mastermind behind Congress' strategies for the 2017 Assembly elections). He has perhaps seen through the subtle shifts that are at a nascent stage. He may or may not be able to rope in Rahul or Priyanka Gandhi as chief ministerial candidate of the Congress, but one thing is certain: the Congress would do all that is possible to re-create a Brahmin-Muslim combination this time. Who knows, he may succeed massively.

Given the BJP’s newly found penchant for backward politics that came about as a natural reaction to its ignominious drubbing in Bihar not too long ago, formation of a Brahmin-Muslim axis appears to be a distinct possibility in UP. And nobody should be surprised if this axis develops into a full-scale upper caste-Muslim vote bank. Signals emanating from the three major Muslim centres of learning – Bareilly, Deoband and Lucknow— are indicative of the possibility of this theory turning into reality.

Political analysts can recall the fact that both Muslims and Brahmins had abandoned the Congress almost simultaneously in the wake of the Babari Mosque demolition, though for different reasons. While the Muslims blamed the Congress for their failure to protect the mosque, the Brahmins looked elated at the prospect of construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The clock has turned full circle now and construction of the proposed temple looks like a pipe dream. Even the RSS and the BJP do not focus on it poignantly any more. You can’t blame the masses in general and Brahmins in particular if they all feel that the temple agenda was used all these years as an election winning tool. Nothing more.

Those who know UP politics know it for certain that Brahmins have over the years developed a special knack of knowing who the winners are beforehand. They had always been with the Congress in its heydays. When the BJP became the dominant force in the state in the 90s, they joined the saffron bandwagon. And when the BJP lost its lustre by 2007, they sided with Mayawati without any qualms. But the one thing which needs to be remembered about them is that they had always regarded Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as their tallest political icon and none else – not even Guru Golwalkar of the RSS.

With the BJP pursuing backward politics doggedly, nobody should be surprised if its core vote bank looks elsewhere for relief. Two things need to be remembered in this context.

First, the Congress had become an also-ran-party the moment it began to pursue what is known as soft-Hindutva in the 1990s, a departure from its core values. What had happened as a result was that Muslims deserted the Congress en bloc. And when the Muslims left, upper castes too left for the simple reason that there was hardly any solidly supporting core left in the Congress. Yes, this is what happens precisely in the first-past-the-post electoral politics. A core is a core. And it’s around that core that you draw support of others to become a winning horse.

Second, it is unlikely that the BJP would succeed in making a decisive dent into the backward vote bank despite their pro-reservation statements. They had failed in Bihar. And they are likely to fail here too. Bihar and UP have similar terrain and characteristics.

Meanwhile, all the four major players in UP — SP, BSP, BJP and Congress — are burning midnight oil to zero in on winning formulae. And politics does not have any pause buttons with elections less than a year away.

However, one thing looks certain after the recent turn of events: Nobody, not even the sharpest political observer, is in a position to write off the Congress in this all important state.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2016 19:27:14 IST