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UP polls 2022- Visible and invisible challenges for Yogi Adityanath and BJP

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As UP approaches nearer to poll-dates, the nationalist Indians are fervently hoping for Yogi led NDA’s return and continuation of the state’s stellar journey to emerging as the new powerhouse of the country.  

But there are a couple of areas BJP needs to address with political astuteness!

Firstly, it seems to be making an easy victory complicated by adopting convoluted strategies. Secondly, it needs to be aware of the fact that merely having the support of the majority of voters may not guarantee winning the election. In recent period an amalgam of anti-democratic forces and sections of media have been found trying to manipulate the election process in various manners and at various stages to influence the polls results. These are external to the party. Let us elaborate each of the two. 

Deja vu! 

The first case first. For the first time since 1952, the Yogi government was able to extricate the UP elections from the vicious cobwebs of caste equations, at least to a large extent. Predominant expectations of common voters from BJP in the state became that their new representatives in the assembly would carry forward the present trend of development and good governance. Unfortunately some sections of media started working overtime to reinstall the ‘caste’ issue at the centre stage.  

It is baffling why instead of ignoring the media mischief the top leadership fell back into the trap of caste politics and started to induct defectors from other parties. Taking turncoats from the rival parties  proved a badly failed strategy in West Bengal polls last year. There was general demoralization inside the party, while several of the new comers tried to wreck it from within. The party stumbled on its face in the polls.

There is no good reason to conclude the outcome of this strategy would be very different in UP. In spite of loads of evidence if the party keeps to this policy, that could be either due to its incorrigible penchant for making simple things complicated or claiming credits in the event of victory in the polls. In both cases, however, this strategy may prove to be counterproductive.

Hopefully, the phase of ‘defections’ is over. Going forward, the party must ensure that the fall out of the new induction do not negatively impact the remaining phase of the election process.  

The second area of concern involves threats to the process of election posed from outside of the party. These may happen till results are declared on March 10 and take various forms like false propaganda, threat, intimidation, violence, abuse of official machineries, exploitation of bureaucratic bias for political gain and so on for the purpose of influencing the voting process unfairly. These evil practices, once attributed to few regional parties in the north and left parties in the east were thought to have been put to rest permanently by an assertive EC. But they seem to be resurfacing more vigorously under the mentorship of professional election strategist companies in some parts of the country. BJP should have learnt bitter lesson from the West Bengal polls last year.  

Khela Hobe – the augury of an ominous trend in electoral politics  

BJP was the challenger party in West Bengal, confident of winning 200+ seats in a 294 seat assembly. However, the ruling party TMC, despite heavy anti-incumbency baggage managed to pull a stunning win of 213 seats while BJP’s tally stopped at only 77.   

An ominous trend made a debut in the country in that election. The regional party ruling the state had openly declared ‘khela hobe’ implying that a game will be played in course of the elections. Prima facie, it was a challenge that ‘voting’ or the most sanctified democratic process would be converted into a plaything. The ruling party having been assisted and advised by a professional firm aggravated the underlying danger. If media, especially social media reports are any indicator that election indeed betrayed the imprint of the ‘play’ at nearly every stage – starting from electoral roll to counting of votes. Threat, intimidation, fear mongering, violence, and subversion of various poll processes at various stages allegedly dotted the 7 phase voting.  

Despite its pious intentions the EC could do precious little on ground. At the end there was a widely held perception that the voters’ choice was not justly reflected in the poll verdict.  

Why are lessons from West Bengal relevant for UP Polls? 

In the caseof UP, the BJP is the ruling party. However, it is important to note that the opposition parties too can try the ‘Khela Hobe’ genre of strategy against an unsuspecting ruling party if they have support from sections of bureaucracy and media.  The party needs to remain scrupulously alert so that it does not once again turn victim in a reverse way in UP. There are four reasons which give rise to such apprehension: 

First, the opposition parties, have a single point agenda of removing Yogi led NDA from power. It will not be surprising if all major parties coalesce at the final stage and agree for vote transfers in favour of the strongest candidate amongst them against BJP. There are early indications they will go to any extent to achieve that goal. For example, taking cue from TMC’s ‘khela hobe’ in West Bengal, the supremo of SP, the main opposition party, has given a slogan ‘khadeda hoibe’. It implies a threat of driving the BJP out in somewhat similar fashion.  

Second, the state is presently under the EC and Yogi ministry has restricted power over law and order. During this period the opposition may try to leverage dissatisfaction in some sections of the bureaucracy against the very tough work culture imposed by Yogi government. Though UP bureaucracy and police have been fast emerging as a role model for other states over last 5 years, yet the opposition can still try to leverage sections of them to act in partisan manner during the election time. The hopes of the opposition parties  that they can attract loyalty from some sections may stem from the fact that some of them like SP, BSP and Congress had ruled the state for decades. 

Third, the opposition has full backing of Lutyens media which helped themfrom time to timeby creating false narratives against Yogi. In the present times it seems to be spreading the perception of an impending change in the state. For example, one leading channel has been, for a couple of months, over-enthusiastic in carrying out weekly opinion polls that keep suggesting steady decline in the BJP seats in the forthcoming elections.  

Significantly the opposition leaders are taking cue and speaking in sync with such narratives. MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi had, for example, warned the police in the state with dire consequences once Yogi and Modi are out of power. Other opposition leaders are also leveraging the ‘MCC period’ and growing media hypeto create fear in the public mind about the impending change in regime and consequences the BJP supporters would have to face thereafter. This reminds one of similar threats to BJP supporters by the ruling party in West Bengal polls.

Fourth, considering theparty’s experience in West Bengal, the chances of some newcomers from other parties colluding with the opposition at critical junctures to prevent Yogi’s return cannot be ruled out.  

How real are the threats? 

UP is a large, communally and caste sensitive province holding elections over seven phases from 10th February to 7th March 2022. It can be intuitively realized that the circumstances listed above can potentially impede a free and fair election in the state. The entire opposition stand to reap political dividend by creating unrest and discrediting theYogi regime while the Lutyens media seems ever ready to supplying issues and creating narratives.  

During the MCC period, Yogi government can do precious little to comprehensively address these ill-motivated challenges. Though EC is in command, its success depends much on willingness of all political parties to act fairly. Recent experiences rule out that possibility. The opposition parties seem hell bent upon grabbing the power through this election.  

To add to that if even sections of bureaucracy acts with bias, media takes sidesand spreads misinformation, it would become really tough for the EC to control law and order and provide an environment for free and fair voting. Worse, sometimes it draws flak from the judiciary as well, when the proverbial last straw is put on the camel’s back. Things today are at such a pass that the central Law Minister had to advise various sections of society including the judges to be mindful of languages they use for the EC.  

As a matter of fact, the EC does not have adequate resources of its own, be it manpower or other infrastructure, to handle kinds of extraordinary challenges as are emerging these days. In West Bengal polls it did not acquit itself well. The election process was marked by scattered instances of violence at various stages during the MCC period. Also despite presence of large number of central forces extensive violence broke out within hours of declaration of election results on May 2, 2021. 

According to NHRC report SIT continued for days and eventually necessitated intervention of the Calcutta High Court which appointed CBI and SIT to investigate into 1934 complaints of violence involving murder, rape, sexual assault, loot and arson filed with police between May 2 and June 20, 2021. The EC was in control till May 5 when the new government took over and clearly it was out of depth how to deal with law and order challenges. West Bengal polls clearly exposed severe limitations of the EC to control law and order and provide conditions for a fear-free environment to the voters.

Bad omens sighted in UP- failures of West Bengal must not be repeated 

In UP the challenges can be far bigger. Polls have not yet begun and already there are some bad omens- attempts at creating chaos and spreading fear have started.Only a few days ago there was destruction of railway property on the issue of Railway Recruitment Board examination in Bihar and attempts were made to spread the agitation in border areas of UP. There is also the disturbing news of shooting down the proposer of BJP candidate for Mathura assembly constituency. Reports of some opposition leaders threatening journalists of all India status like Aman Chopra and Ashok Shrivastav portend a design to spread an ambience of fear in the state.

In the light of the unpleasant experience in West Bengal polls, the EC must act proactively and ensure that it has iron grip over the law and order situation all across the state over the next few weeks. That is the basic condition to ensure that voters can cast their votes freely and without fear. The centre must seriously study the situation ahead of time and render every possible help that the EC asks for. 

Campaigning vs. Administration- Need for strategic direction  

Selecting Yogi as the head of UP state government in 2017 has been one of the visionary steps on the part of both PM Modi and HM Amit Shah (then BJP president). Continuing his blessings, Amit Shah has also been taking great personal interest in holding rallies in UP. However, it needs to be understood that such efforts have little utility as the vast majority of common people are already committed to supporting Yogi. ‘Preaching to the converts’ is sheer wastage of time. It will make a lot of sense for the central leadership to leave local strategies e.g., campaigning, candidate selections etc to Yogi and his team and give help only in a ‘need based’ manner.

On the other hand, the HM’s precious time and energy would be better utilized by helping the EC with intelligence and resources so that voters across the state can turn up in large numbers and cast their votes freely. Without any doubt HM Shah can help the poll process much better in his capacity as a key central minister and administrator than as a campaigner. 

Centrality of Yogi’s win for 2024 

Finally, it needs to be mentioned, even at the cost of repetition, that winning theUP election may prove to be more challenging than it seems. It is of course not only about the natural choice of the masses. The opposition, nay, the entire left-liberal nexus including Lutyens media are working hard to throw challenges, one after another at BJP. The party can certainly expect to face newer, and unexpected challenges supported by the power of mischievous media narratives in  the next few weeks aiming at creating disturbances and unrest in the state. Memories of Hathras, Covid-19 deaths, Lakhimpur Kheri, TET test leakage still linger around. In the circumstances, the party’s leadership at centre and the state must rely upon each other’s strength, use them in complementary ways rather than by way of overlapping. Both central and state leaders should realize that if Modi has to return at the head of central government in 2024, Yogi must return with a convincing margin in March 2022.  

Incidentally, Modi too would realize the value of assistance of a very important province by his side when his regime enters the lame-duck phase in the final months of his present term.

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