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UP polls: A referendum on Modi's three years in office
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 09 - 03 - 2017

As India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh completed its final round of polling for the state assembly Wednesday. Political analysts as well as those sitting in the upper echelon of the political parties' hierarchy firmly believe that the election is not just an exercise to elect a new assembly but also a referendum on the endorsement or rejection of Narendra Modi's policies during his nearly three years of rule. Undoubtedly, apart from UP, the results of the other four states that have gone to the polls, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur, will redefine and reset the policies of Modi's BJP, with an eye on the 2019 Parliamentary elections.
Uttar Pradesh with an electorate of more than 140 million voters has always played a decisive role in Indian politics. It was UP that wrote the final script of unprecedented victory of Premier Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last Parliamentary election returning 70 MPs as compared to 10 in 2009. Realizing the pivotal role of UP in national politics, Modi himself came out of his citadel Gujarat and adopted and nursed UP's spiritual city Varanasi, maintaining the tradition of the state producing prime minister after prime minister from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Damodardas Modi.
BJP rivals and other actors in the theater, incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP) along with alliance partner Congress and main Opposition in the current assembly Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati, are using all possible means to prevent BJP from repeating its 2014 performance.
Just two months ago, it was beyond imagination that Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav would share the dais at election rallies and would join each other in road shows in the state capital Lucknow and elsewhere. Actually in preparation for the elections, Congress prepared several anti-SP posters. One of them: "27 saal UP Behaal" (27 years and UP in a bad state) was pasted all over the state capital in the first week of January. Overnight these posters were replaced by "UP ko yeh saath pasand hai" (UP likes this association), thus, confirming the adage that politics produces strange bedfellows.
The fourth actor in the fray, Mayawati with her BSP, decided to go it alone and at a very early stage had pledged that "come what may happen," she will never support any alliance with Modi's BJP. But her infamous alliance with BJP in which she betrayed the agreement is still fresh in people's memory. And despite her vehement disapproval of an alliance with BJP, people still do not trust her and believe that she would not mind sharing power with BJP.
UP elections unlike other states are not won or lost just on issues and agendas and manifestos. Elections in UP are pure arithmetic of the caste formations in the state and the caste affiliation of its candidates. Minorities, mainly Muslims, have been considered to be a balancing factor in UP politics since the 1952 elections. But it was the sheer brilliance of Modi and his protégé Amit Shah who turned casteism and minority vote bank politics into an absolutely ineffective tool for the secularist Congress and Samajwadi Party and Mayawati Dalit power base. The duo with the aid of their parent organization Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) applied their Gujarat formula of reverse polarization in UP. Overnight nationalism and patriotism became synonyms for Hinduism. The polarization of the majority community on a religious plank turned the table of secularism and liberalism.
Modi and his brigade were so sure of their reverse polarization that they took the risk of demonetization just three months before the polls in five states. Many political commentators and analysts termed the action a major gamble, but Modi and Shah knew that they were on safe ground. They have their hand on the pulse of the people. People standing in mile-long queues at ATM machines and banks thought that they were proving their loyalty to the nation. Overnight Modi was India and India was Modi. Late D.K Barooah's "Indira is India and India is Indira" was considered the height of sycophancy. But for Modi, people truly started believing in it. Despite all kinds of suffering, there was hardly any protestation against demonetization and those against it were scared to speak fearing the tag of desh drohi (traitor).
Akhilesh Yadav on his part took a gamble and revolted against his father to maintain and exploit his image of Mr. Clean. There is no denying the fact that he is respected, even by his rivals, for his politeness and clean image. In five years, he has not faced any scam. He revolted against his father to prevent tickets to criminals. No doubt his revolt against his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, supremo of the Samajwadi Party, was a bold move and it did yield results for him. But not to the extent that he will retain his present figure of 229 seats. His alliance partner Congress is as ineffective as it was in 2012. In the present assembly, it has 28 seats. It can improve its seats by a thin margin.
BJP on its part was also a little nervous in the last two phases. In Varanasi, Prime Minister Modi held three road shows and addressed four public meetings to muster support for four BJP MLAs. Never before has a PM involved himself to this extent in state polls. Irrespective of contradicting opinion polls, the fact remains that BJP will emerge the clear winner even if it fails to win a majority. In the current assembly, it has 40 MLAs and in a worst-case scenario, the party will bag more than 100 seats.
In the final rundown, the BSP is likely to stand third, but even with 50 seats Mayawati could very well become kingmaker. It would not be surprising if she supports her oldest rivals, the Samajwadi Party, purely because SP is minus her sworn enemy Mulayam Singh. Akhilesh might be counting on Rahul to bring in Mayawati if he needs support of 50 odd MLAs. Doesn't politics create strange bedfellows!
Tragically no political party has proposed any concrete program to eradicate poverty and improve law and order, health and education. Instead, they have all been involved in polemics. It is more a fight for electricity in Ramadan and Diwali and land for cemeteries or crematoriums. It is still the politics of hate and destruction.

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