The Battle for 2019 Begins in UP: BJP Sounds the Bugle
Development for now, rest later
80 Lok Sabha seats are sufficient to ensure that any differences that might exist between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath are blown away, at least until after the general elections. Those hoping to see differences widen between the two are disappointed, with both leaders now on the same page insofar as consolidating the BJP voters in the face of new found unity between the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, is concerned.
Defeat in recent byelections, in particular Kairana and Phulpur has acted as an alarm for the BJP that is now clearly worried about the unity between all the Opposition parties. In what has become a major struggle for survival, arch rivals like the BSP and the SP came together, along with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. Since then the architect of this unity Akhilesh Yadav has announced that the opposition coalition will jointly contest the Lok Sabha polls as well.
Aware of the challenge Adityanath is busy setting up a control room that the local media describes as a ‘mini secretariat’ in his home constituency Gorakhpur, even as PM Modi prepares to land in Lucknow later this month to launch projects worth Rs 800 billion with crony capitalists like Gautam Adani, Mukesh Ambani in tow.
The effort on a mega scale is to cut into the Oppositions ‘no development’ criticism with the BJP and the government showcasing their trump card, that is PM Modi. An expressway for Purvanchal that will cut through districts considered SP bastions will be announced during the PM’s visit later this month.
The state government has already announced a hike in the minimum price for paddy although this has not mitigated the anger of the Jat farmers in western UP who recently ensured the defeat of the BJP in Kairana. However, PM Modi will be addressing a public meeting at Shahjahanpur in what is the worst of an offensive being planned to woo the farmers back to the BJP fold. In 2014 the Jats had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, with Kairana now registering a sort of comeback for the Rashtriya Lok Dal in what used to be its vote bank.
Adityanath had held an investors summit earlier this year, and the investors including Adani, Ambani will now be travelling back with the Prime Minister to take forward promised investments. For the centre, UP will showcase the PM’s commitment to development as it were, with this remaining a major theme along with the communal card in at least the BJP campaign in UP.
Modi remains the trump card, and the bypoll defeat is said to have chastened Adityanath into working with both the Prime Minister and Amit Shah unlike his earlier effort to go it alone. And prove himself to be the undisputed leader of UP. Shah has had meetings with him, and reports from the state suggest that a working relationship has been established. It might be recalled that Adityanath was appointed in what was widely perceived as a RSS choice, with Modi and Shah taken by surprise as they were backing others for the CMs post. Since then relations between the two sides have been at best, frosty.
The BJP swept the state in the parliamentary elections 2014 after the Muzaffarnagar violence that successfully polarised communities in western UP, with the advantage flowing to the BJP. Division between the Opposition parties contributed to their abysmal defeat at the hustings, with the new unity being projected as a major achievement. Adityanath has played the Hindutva card to the hilt, helping keep the Ram mandir issue alive. The Muslims, Dalits and Yadavs are being targeted by the state police in what is Adityanath’s encounter raj, with sections of the upper castes clearly empowered. Dalit leaders like Chandrashekhar capable of leading a movement remain in jail. However, sources claimed that Adityanath has been asked to go slow on these issues for now and focus on sending the message of development and Brand Modi out at this point in the campaign. The rest, as the sources said, will be the backbone of the BJP campaign for the polls and will be picked up later.
So for now the card is development, with the BJP top brass coming together this month to sound the bugle for Lok Sabha polls 2019. Unless of course, it becomes Lok Sabha polls 2018 as several political leaders are predicting.