Home » Uttar Pradesh Election » UP polls phase 4: laggard BJP hopes for Modi magic after war of words

UP polls phase 4: laggard BJP hopes for Modi magic after war of words

Atul Chandra | Updated on: 21 February 2017, 20:55 IST
(AFP photo)

In the first three phases of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, voters in 38 of the state's 75 districts have already had the chance to exercise their franchise. The verdict for 209 of the state's 403 Assembly seats lies sealed in electronic voting machines, which will be opened on result day – 11 March.

The fourth phase on 23 February will see 12 districts go to the polls – Pratapgarh, Kaushambi, Allahabad, Jalaun, Jhansi, Lalitpur, Mahoba, Hamirpur, Banda, Chitrakoot, Fatehpur and Rae Bareli. Some 1.84 crore voters will elect 53 legislators from among a field of 680 candidates, 116 of whom have criminal cases against them.

Modi-Akhilesh war of words

As polling day drew near, the campaign turned ugly, with top leaders making it a no-holds-barred affair.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the campaign a touch of communalism by saying that the UP government had spent crores on the maintenance of graveyards but had done nothing for the improvement of cremation grounds. He also charged that the government had ensured uninterrupted power supply during Ramzan, while no such facility was extended on Diwali. He said there should be no discrimination.

The PM's Bharatiya Janata Party had placed fourth in this region in the 2012 polls, winning just five seats. This is why his words are being seen as a desperate attempt to polarise voters and dislodge the ruling Samajwadi Party, which had 24 MLAs from the region in the outgoing house. Even the Congress, considered dead in the water in UP, was better placed than the BJP, with six MLAs, while the Bahujan Samaj Party, with 15 MLAs, was the biggest challenger for the SP.

Others had won three seats, including Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya, the alleged strongman from Kunda in Pratapgarh.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav retorted to PM's remark by asking Bollywood titan Amitabh Bachchan not to promote Gujarat's 'donkeys'. The reference was to Bachchan promoting a Gujarat Tourism video on wild asses in the Rann of Kutch.

The Mayawati factor

Seven of the 12 districts are part of the Bundelkhand region, which has been ravaged by drought and poverty over the years. People of Bundelkhand, victims of political apathy, have seen a Congress-led UPA government at the Centre and a Mayawati-led government in UP spar over the utilisation/non-utilisation of the Rs 8,000-crore package announced for the region before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Mayawati has been the biggest advocate of a separate state of Bundelkhand, a demand which had more to do with attracting votes than the development of the region.

Mayawati's demand for statehood for Bundelkhand paid off in 2012 when her party won seven of the 19 seats at stake in Banda, Jhansi, Jalaun, Lalitpur, Mahoba, Hamirpur and Chitrakoot. The SP was a close second with five seats. Of the remaining seven seats, four went to Congress and three to the BJP.

With Uma Bharti, the Union Minister for Water Resources, representing Jhansi in Parliament, the BJP would be banking on her, besides the PM and Amit Shah, for a change of fortunes here.

Given the BSP’s sizeable presence in these districts, Mayawati is striving to retain the seats won by her in 2012.

Aware of BSP’s popularity here, the Prime Minister has been attacking Mayawati where it hurts the most – on the question of amassing wealth. At an election rally in Orai, he labelled the BSP as 'Behenji Sampatti Party'. Mayawati retaliated by saying Narendra Damodardas Modi stands for 'Negative Dalit Man'.

For the BJP, the challenge is to significantly improve upon its 2012 tally, and for that, Modi's magic, as seen in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, must work once again.

The curious case of Rae Bareli

The showpiece of this phase is the VIP constituency of Rae Bareli, where Priyanka Gandhi and Dimple Yadav were expected to campaign in a show of unity, but did not show up until the end of campaigning on Tuesday, 21 February.

What has queered the pitch here is that the allies have fielded candidates against one another in Unchahar, Rae Bareli and Sareni.

It remains to be seen whether the two parties have friendly fights on these seats, or undermine one another.

First published: 21 February 2017, 20:55 IST