Elections for Uttar Pradesh state assembly are slated to take place next year in what is expected to be the toughest state election that UP has seen in a long time. In the last assembly elections, BJP received an overwhelming majority and Yogi Adityanath was appointed as the Chief Minister of India’s largest state. It was after long time that BJP had once again captured power in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The last Chief Minister of BJP in Uttar Pradesh was Kalyan Singh in 1990s.
The last assembly elections in UP took place in 2017, three years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi captured power in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The personal charisma and popularity of PM Modi had dynamic impact in UP elections and BJP emerged victorious with a massive 312 assembly seats and Yogi Aditya Nath was appointed as the CM of Uttar Pradesh. But things have changed drastically in last five years as many new developments have since then posed a serious challenge to the re-election of both BJP and Yogi Adityanath.
Uttar Pradesh is a very large state with a population of nearly 24 crores, and broadly speaking politics of western part of UP differs from eastern part of UP. Western UP is home to large Muslim community as well as dominant castes like Jats, Gujjars, Yadavs and Jatav Dalits. This is a region, which touches Delhi and Haryana and is home to Jat dominated political party Rastriya Lok Dal (RLD) of Jayant Chaudhary, son of former Jat leader Chaudhary Ajit Singh. Eastern Uttar Pradesh on the other hand is a very large region close to Bihar. It also has large Muslim community in addition to Yadavs, and many other caste groups like Kurmis, Pasis, Mauryas and Nishads. There are many smaller sub-regional caste-based parties in this region including Anupriya Patel’s Apana Dal, Sanjya Kumar Nishad’s Nishad Party and OP Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party.
UP is a state, where caste matters a lot. This is also the state which has large population of Yadavs, Jatavs, Brahmins and Muslims. Samajwadi Party (SP), established by Mulayam Singh Yadav is one of the largest UP based parties, whose core supporting voters come primarily from Dominant OBC community of Yadav & Muslims. Akhilesh Singh former CM of Uttar Pradesh is the current head of SP.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founded by late Kanshi Ram and led by former Chief Minister of UP, Mayawati is another large UP based sub regional party, which draws support mainly from UP’s large Dalit community, especially Jatavs of UP, from which even Mayawati also hails. Congress Party, which used to lord over UP once upon a time, is no longer a dominant political force. The BJP is of course the largest political party of the UP, which draws its support from Upper Caste Hindu communities including Brahmins, Thakurs and Baniyas. BJP also has support of dominant OBC communities like Kurmis, Nishads and Lodhs.
The development that has had the greatest impact on the politics of Uttar Pradesh, especially in western UP has been farmers' protest, which has antagonized a large section of Jat community against BJP. This has allowed opportunity for alliance between Akhilesh Yadav’s SP and Jayant Chaudhary’s RLD. This alliance will effectively combine votes of Muslim, Yadav and Jat communities.
BJP seems to be therefore focusing more on Eastern UP, where BJP won lion’s share of seats in last assembly elections. Eastern UP is also home of Yogi Adityanath’s Gorakhpur and PM Narendra Modi’s Varanasi constituencies. PM Modi & CM Yogi Adityanath have in fact unleashed, inaugurated, and announced host of development related projects including, especially those relating to infrastructure including Poorvanchal Expressway in Eastern UP. BJP is also in alliance with Kurmi OBC caste led Apana Dal and Nishad OBC caste led Nishad Party. BJP has carefully crafted an alliance of non-Yadav OBC castes and non-Jatav Dalit castes to combine it with upper caste Hindu votes.
Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav appears to be main political challenger of BJP. SP has also formed alliance with many OBC caste led parties and leaders including OP Rajbhar, Mahan Dal, Janwadi (Socialist) Party etc. It also has support of large Muslim community of Uttar Pradesh. But to give SP competition in capturing Muslim votes of UP, Asaddudin Owaisi’s AIMIM is also in fray. Owaisi is himself drawing good support from UP Muslims. Whether this support will translate into votes is yet to be seen.
Congress under Priyanka Gandhi is also making a bold attempt of fighting all seats on its own without alliance with any party. Priyanka Gandhi has made an innovative strategy of giving 40% tickets to women candidates. Whether this will improve fortunes of Congress party also remains to be seen.
BSP, which under Mayawati captured power on its own majority in 2002 appears to have stagnated and restricted to its core 20% Dalit (mainly Jatav) vote base. It has been in decline, ever since Mayawati lost power in 2007. While there has been rise of another young Jatav leader Chandra Shekhar Azad of Bhim Army and Azad Samaj Party, who is very popular among younger generation of Dalits, it is not clear if Chandrashekhar will dent BSP’s Dalit support base.
The upcoming assembly elections in UP next year are proving to be very dynamic and challenging. The main competition appears to be between BJP and SP. It is speculated that Owaisi may cut into SP’s Muslim vote bank and Chandra Shekhar Azad and Congress may dent BSP’s Dalit support, which gives an edge to BJP. But BJP is very fragile in Western UP, where farmer protests have created a general sentiment against the BJP. The alliance between SP & RLD poses a tough challenge to BJP in this part of UP.
UP assembly elections are the most important state elections before 2024 Lok Sabha elections and it will set the balls rolling, to decide who captures Delhi in next parliamentary elections. Given the tight competition and tough combination of castes and communities, this UP election is promised to be the most competitive and exciting contest.
Javed Beigh is General Secretary of People's Democratic Front.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.