By Adarsh Sharma
With a population greater than that of a continent and as vivid and diverse as our universe itself, UP (Uttar Pradesh) is well worthy of being classified as a marvel, if not the 8th wonder.
The state with the highest number of Assembly seats, 403 in total, and Lok Sabha seats, 80 to be precise, has over the years played a pivotal, if not conclusive, role in deciding the fate of any prime ministerial candidate. The state has already given us 9 prime ministers and one president besides a plethora of chatpati cuisines and controversies alike. From Ayodhya Ram Mandir to police encounters, there is no dearth of issues and controversies emerging out of the state, often much faster and quicker than content across social media and OTT platforms these days. From coalition governments to chieftains of regional parties to now an elected leader of a national party the state has been ruled by different ideologies and exposed to absolutism for over the years.
With hardly any time left for UP elections, the chieftains of all the major regional and national parties are expected to UP the ante of their social (media) welfare communications and political mud-slinging. While the incumbent government was pretty optimistic, if not certain, of bettering their 2017 numbers with ease till February this year, the arrival of the second wave of the contagion and its toll on human lives has certainly made them re-think and re-align their election narrative. The images of dead bodies floating in the river Ganga and the pictures of unceasing emergence of black smoke covering crammed crematoriums on the cover pages of both national and international political journals have certainly cast aspersions on the government’s handling of the pandemic. People expect or look up to the governments and their elected leaders to extricate them out of their sufferings instantaneously notwithstanding the magnitude or severity of the medical quandary. It is indeed in times like these that the electorate puts its leadership to the cliched litmus test theory and forms an opinion.
The recently concluded UP panchayat polls with BJP losing its grip in its areas of dominance, including Ayodhya (Ram Mandir City), Varanasi (PM’s constituency) and Gorakhpur (CM’s constituency) probably reflected that opinion. Interestingly while the over-promoted West Bengal elections happened while the pandemic was still peaking, the UP elections will measure people’s sentiments in post third/fourth wave aura. It is not as if BJP is oblivious to this phenomenon, in fact, the ever so ready BJP election machinery has already taken cognizance of the same and has swung into action with UP party chief and national secretary outlining new initiatives like Sewa hi Sangathan and har booth par vaccination. Huddles between senior party leaders and RSS indicate the ever readiness of the BJP for any elections and the efforts it puts into the preparedness of the same.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who just turned 49, is not only seen as the Hindu poster boy and star pracharak for the BJP but someone who is hell-bent on cleaning the organised crime melee. His open endorsements of the criminal encounters were seen as his zero tolerance towards disruption of the law of order in the state. Initiatives like the Love Jihad act and Romeo Squad policing had further amplified his dyed-in-the-wool Hindutva approach. Like a watertight script, all this was pointing towards a great climax but corona’s callous entry, just before the climax, ruined all the equations and has probably turned the Hero into a villain.
“ye sach hai ki haalat bahot kharab the aur hain lekin sirf BJP ya Yogi Ji ko hi kyun badnaam karna baaki sab partiyon ne bhi to kuch nahi kiya sivay aarop pratyarop ke (why only blame BJP and Yogi Ji for whatever is happening the other parties didn’t do anything either except playing the blame game)” says Amitabh Tripathi, a banker by profession based out of Lucknow.
“hum kya bolein sirji inki khud ki party ke log inse khush nahi hai inke khud ki party ke log shikayat kar rahe hai, jab apni party ke MLA ko nahi bacha sake to hum aam aadmi kis khet ki mooli hain (what do I say when their own party MLAs are dissatisfied and agitated, they couldn’t even save their own MLAs than what chances do we have of surviving) cries Archana Sharma, who lost her brother-in-law recently.
“jiske ghar ka jaata hai sirf use pata chalta hai sahab” is the common sentiment shared by one and all who have lost their loved ones in this second wave. People running around for oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, medicines, besides battling black marketing and acute shortage of life-saving apparatus found no substance behind CM’s video messages, tweets and sandesh. The alleged misreporting of the total number of death figures and other statistics also did not go down well with the people.
The battle is evenly poised this time around in comparison to 2017, when internal rifts and quest for party leadership resulted in a much-weakened performance by SP in 2017, the BSP too will look to reclaim its lost dalit voter base. Having said that, both SP and BSP will have to apply every bit of their election intelligence to counter the BJP narrative which as of now looks to be woven around Ayodhya Ram Mandir and Hindutva politics. To hope is human but to live under presumptions can at times prove to be fatal, in absence of any strong counter-narrative from the opposition parties yet, it seems they are heavily banking upon the consequences of the recent developments. Believing that the people will vote BJP out of power by default is simply believing in the fallacy of assumptions.
With the fate of 11 Rajya Sabha seats hanging on the outcome of 2022 polls and the entry of other political parties like AAP into the UP arena, 2022 UP elections will test the best of the narratives, temperaments, talents, strategies, and strategists alike. It is time to UP the ante!
(The author is an advertising and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in offering customised media solutions to brands and political parties. Views expressed are personal)