UP Assembly Election 2017: Rahul-Akhilesh's focus on Muslim voters may play into BJP's hands

Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi have learnt a lesson or two from their first "Uttar Pradesh ko ye saath pasand hai" Lucknow road show.

While planning for the second joint road show in Agra of the principal concerns — one national and other regional — of the core members of their respective team was the same: The road show must not pass through areas where electric wires were low-hanging. The pictures from the Lucknow road show with Rahul awkwardly ducking and Akhilesh bending over the bus roof while SPG personnel pushed up the wires with a bamboo stick came as severe embarrassment to the two supposed "youth icons" of two political dynasties.

Akhilesh Yadav. Reuters

They were lampooned on social media. Rahul’s unease was clearly more apparent than Akhilesh’s, inviting sarcasm against both leaders and their Samajwadi Party pre-poll catch phrase "Kaam Bolta Hai" — Akhilesh looked slightly confident because he knew his work would speak for itself, and that the low-hanging wires in Lucknow would hurt them because there was no "current" in them.

Designated strategists of Akhilesh and Rahul will hope that in Agra there won't be any embarrassing snapshots, only perfect pictures.

The other lesson that the two leaders and their strategists learnt in Lucknow is that it pays to pass through — although it was consciously designed that way — Muslim-dominated areas, especially in terms of having a crowd of onlookers and gaining their sympathetic traction. The only problem for them, as in Lucknow, is that most such areas have the problem of underdevelopment and thus the slogan "kaam bolta hai" takes a beating. Four months ago when Rahul was travelling through Uttar Pradesh and doing a road show on his own without an alliance, he received an electric shock from a wire hanging on the road while he garlanding a statue of Agrasen.

And so, better-placed minority-dominated areas in Agra have been chosen for road show route. The road show is to pass through the Muslim-dominated Wazirpura area.

But then it’s no secret that Muslim factor had been key to guiding the coming together of this alliance between the Samajwadi Party and Congress or between Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul-Priyanka Gandhi. In search of the consolidation of Muslim votes, it didn’t matter to Akhilesh that his father — founder of the Samajwadi Party and the one whose rise on Uttar Pradesh's political landscape threw Congress to the margins, and even irrelevance — was opposed to this alliance.

It is thus important to both Akhilesh and Rahul that they keep portraying themselves as the new champions of the Muslim cause. Although they have not done anything tangible for the community’s welfare in the mainstream of the country’s economy, educational standards and aspiration, the only thing that matter now is to keep engaging them through symbolism. One such form of symbolism is to take their road show through areas where they live as dominant community. They have taken care of this matter in Agra.

Consider the ground situation.

The Akhilesh-Rahul road show will move through three assembly segments — Agra Cantt, Agra South and Agra North. In the last Assembly election (2012), when the Samajwadi Party had won with a clear majority in the state, it had lost in all these three segments — BSP won Agra Cantt and BJP won the South and North seats. While finalising the road show route, differences had emerged between Congress and Samajwadi Party leaders over what can at best be called matters of symbolism — from where the road show should begin and whether it should be a constituency in which the Congress had fielded a candidate or the Samajwadi Party had fielded one.

The Congress was insistent that the show should start from Agra South — where its candidate Nazir Ahmed is contesting, whereas the Samajwadi Party demanded that the road show begin in Agra North, where its own candidate was fighting the election. Due to their conflicting stances, the route could be finalised only on Thursday evening and yes, the Samajwadi Party prevailed over the Congress.

The starting point for the road show becomes important because it is there that campaigners will find the maximum media coverage.

For party workers too the starting point is important, and in an alliance it becomes significant for the optics — which party's banners and flags are most visible. In the Lucknow road show, Samajwadi Party workers hailed only Akhilesh, and their caps and flags were seen all over. In contrast, Congress workers raised slogans for both Akhilesh and Rahul.

The road show will start at around 3 pm from Dayalbagh Engineering College and pass through Bhagwan Talkies, Deewani Chauraha, Sur Sadan, St Peter's College, Hari Parvat Chauraha, Agra College, Chiptola Modh to finally conclude in the south side of the city, Chiptola Chauraha.

The Akhilesh-Rahul emphasis on the Muslim factor can have its own political implications in western Uttar Pradesh. It can create a situation for reverse polarisation.

And the BJP is waiting for just that to happen.

Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 21:36 PM

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