February 13, 2017

India: 2017 UP assembly elections - calculations over majority-minority (Edit, Times of India)

The Times of India - February 13, 2017

Battle for Lucknow: In western UP much political calculation is still about majority-minority mobilisation

February 13, 2017,  TOI Editorials | Edit Page 
Votes are already in from 15 western UP districts where 73 assembly seats went to polls on Saturday and voters in another 11 districts will cast their ballots for 67 seats this Wednesday. A crucial factor is the Muslim vote in the region (nearly 26%), higher than the 19% average across the state. If the community votes strategically, then it could significantly influence the outcome.
SP under chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has adopted a different political approach in western UP this time. Rather than relying heavily on endorsements by prominent Muslim clerics – like his father Mulayam – Akhilesh has been consciously portraying himself as a leader of the aspirational class to transcend the traditional SP political straitjacket limited to Muslim-Yadav consolidation. At the heart of this strategy is a realisation that a communally charged atmosphere would also lead to Hindu mobilisation in BJP’s favour and give it the upper hand, as in 2014.
It is Mayawati now who has got more than a dozen Muslim clerics to advocate her party’s cause. BSP has given out 99 tickets to Muslim candidates compared to 56 by SP. Mayawati is hoping that a Hindu-Muslim polarisation would benefit her (and incidentally BJP) rather than SP. Supporters praise her past terms in power for an iron grip over administration and maintenance of law and order. But she undermined her own cause by giving tickets to candidates with criminal background, the most recent example being the induction of mafia don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari and his family in eastern UP.
BJP has been relying heavily on the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but not projecting any chief ministerial candidate is a handicap. UP powered the Modi wave of 2014. BJP needs to win UP as a reverse here, after Bihar, will weaken it in the Hindi belt and give the national opposition a fillip. With Modi personally fronting BJP’s political offensive, Mayawati fighting for political survival, Rahul Gandhi looking to stem his party’s decline by allying with SP and Akhilesh looking to create a new future for his party from his family legacy, stakes are high for every player in the fight for Lucknow. But in western UP, Ajit Singh’s RLD could queer the pitch for this three-cornered contest by capturing the majority of the Jat vote.