The import of Uttar Pradesh's assembly election can be much graver than it appears. As you hear speaker after speaker at Nauchandi in Meerut before the star appearance of Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi, you get a feeling that it is not just a routine election; everyone is training their guns on a bigger common enemy. The refrain: a victory for the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance here will be the beginning of the end of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"We don't want daangas (communal violence). It's not in Uttar Pradesh's culture; leaving in harmony with the spirit of bhaichara is," said some. Many in the crowd nodded in agreement. "The victory of the alliance in the state will pave the way for a change of guard in Delhi," said one, though in not exact words. Considerable energy went into calling the prime minister a liar. He made tall promises in 2014 but have failed to deliver on all of them, specifically on creating jobs and black money, said someone from the Congress. Rahul Gandhi has been playing the 'liar' theme for quite some time now. His today's speech offered no variation.
The message is clear: the opposition would make riots and poor delivery on promises its major talking points in 2019. And the singular target would be Narendra Modi, who is now synonymous with the BJP and whatever it represents. If the mood in Meerut is some indicator then people won't mind making amends for 2014 whenever the opportunity presents itself.
It is interesting that the prime minister would be the sole talking point of the entire opposition in a state election. While the public rally was in progress at Nauchandi, in neighbouring Ghaziabad BSP leader Mayawati was going hammer and tongs at Modi. Such attack from the opposition is anticipated when a party is in power. The BJP is neither in power here nor does it share power with some other party.
So what gives? The BJP has walked into some kind of a trap. Modi versus all could be pleasant for the ego of the person himself but it does not augur well for the future of the party. Personality cult has its serious limitations. If it has any merits, it is not visible yet. The next obvious target of the opposition would be the idea of a strong leader propagated so vociferously by the party. Akhilesh, in his public speeches, has already asked of Modi to talk less and work more. It won't be long before other parties started asking questions what strong leadership means in the first place.
Moreover, the overt or covert support to violent fringe Hindutva groups from certain BJP leaders has started to boomerang on the party. It has lost the popular goodwill and earned a poor
reputation. Now all parties have started talking about communalisation of minds and senseless violence while they themselves could be in some way responsible for it. Modi, for them, is the soft target again. His rise to power is responsible for the proliferation of the activities of fringe Hindutva groups, they conveniently argue. We notice this over and over in the approach of all opposition political leaders in this election.
But that is how it is. For bad or for good it has to be Modi. He is the party. It should not surprise that no other leader from the BJP, including the likes of Rajnath Singh, even registers on the mind in the context of the election this time.
It is Uttar Pradesh that propelled Modi to the top job in 2014. Seventy-three seats was indeed a stupendous achievement. But again it is the same state which can throw a nasty surprise. A loss in this election would set in motion several forces antagonistic to him, including those within his own party. This is not to suggest that BJP has already lost the battle here but the political cloud looks ominous. The opposition, clueless earlier, now knows where to hit. The BJP needs to provide answers.
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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2017 19:15:00 IST