Wednesday, August 3, 2016

UP & Punjab Elections: harbingers of change?

A resurgent BSP in UP, with the AAP a dark horse in Punjab, does not augur well for the current regimes in the two states. The situation appears to be ripe for seismic changes in the region’s political scenario.

Punjab may well prove to be a harbinger of change in the country’s political scenario. For too long the Indian National Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal have been taking turns to rule the state. This has given rise to unhealthy attitudes among the bureaucrats while creating an unholy nexus among politicians from the two rival parties. Crime, corruption and cant have become the salient features of Punjab’s political-administrative thought, speech and action. So, when the Congress Tweedledum is gracing the seat of power the Akali Tweedledee plays out a cantata of protests and self-righteous indignation aka hurt sentiments over the INC’s past misdeeds. Now that the SAD is ruling (the BJP is merely the monkey on its back) the Congress trots out parochial verbiage involving SYL and, of course, the perennial plaints against increasing crime and corruption in the state – with widespread dope addiction being the latest stick acquired to beat the Akalis with.

People of Punjab are fed up with the blatant doublespeak indulged in by the two rival political outfits. They are looking for an alternative. Apparently, the peasantry, which forms the bedrock of Akali support, too is not averse to transferring its affections to a more deserving dispensation. Arvind Kejriwal & Co. has sensed this desperation among the state’s masses. For quite a while the AAP volunteers have been working in Punjab’s towns and villages, listening to their grievances and, wherever possible, getting them redressed. No wonder, the AAP is getting accepted as a ‘clean’ party. This has elicited a hostile reaction from the ruling dispensation. Intimidation of the worst sort is being resorted to. But this had not worked in Delhi, nor is it going to work in Punjab. Instead, it might gain more sympathy vote for the AAP.

So, will the AAP repeat its Delhi success in Punjab? Only time will tell. But, presently, it is a dark horse that is sending shivers down the spines of both the main rival parties. One thing is apparent. Kejriwal is making his moves wisely. If his party does well in Punjab its visibility on the nation’s political landscape will soar. More immediately, it may even enter the UP arena as a spoiler for its bĂȘte noir – Narendra Modi.

With the Lucknow Ramp Show and the Varanasi Road Show declared successful, the media speculates on the chances of a Congress comeback in Uttar Pradesh. But that’s like counting upon a corpse coming to life. Whatever movement – markedly spasmodic – we see in the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit is more the aftereffect of rigor mortis than any come-back-to-life phenomenon. If one just takes a look at the persons leading the current campaign one would get the idea. Sheila Dixit is an import from Delhi and is almost a spent force. Her age does not inspire any confidence among the party workers, let alone the voters. Raj Babbar was a hot neta once upon a time in Lucknow, whose political fortunes are now on an irreversible decline. Rahul Gandhi doesn’t exactly send the Ganga-Yamuna on a churn in Uttar Pradesh. He is even going to find it increasingly difficult to retain Amethi in future elections if he continues with his present attitude, which is akin to an absentee landlord. Politics is a fulltime grind, not a part-time hobby for personal amusement. Priyanka is a now-on-now-off phenomenon, whose name still attracts huge popular attention. But if the Congress leadership continues to misuse her name in its unadvised move to create confusion in the rival parties, she might well become irrelevant to the state’s politics sooner than later. That leaves out Sonia Gandhi. She evokes popular adoration in the state, but she is no Indira Gandhi – something she may not be unaware of. With a tired old leadership, a bemused cadre and an indifferent voter the Congress will really have to come up with something out of the box – something that’s beyond its present capabilities.

Does this mean that BJP is going to romp home in the 2017 elections in UP? Fat chance! The BJP is a divided house in the state. The debilitating rivalry between Rajnath Singh and Kalyan Singh had done a great harm to the BJP’s image as a disciplined outfit with a clean image in the past. Now, its main support base the upper castes, especially the Brahmins, are not much enthused about supporting the party. They are eyeing the olive branch offered by the BSP supremo, who is a past master in using ‘social engineering’ for political gains.

Moreover, people have not forgotten that Modi had promised development, employment and better days to the people of India during his General Elections campaign. Now, suddenly, they are finding virulent caste and Hindutva agenda being rammed down the nation’s throat. Modi does not even refer to the Gujarat Model nowadays. He should realize that people in UP, nay the country, do not easily forget and forgive such a letdown. They wait for their chance during the elections – no matter what tricks are employed to polarize the society.  

BJP’s plans to reach out to the state’s Dalits have been thwarted by the fanatical elements within whose caste-and-cow politics is going to boomerang badly. The Una case and the demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan in Dadar (a Mumbai suburb) have definitely hardened the Dalit attitudes. They will support the BSP more rigorously this time.

However, one thing is clear. The BSP rule of yore has begun to evoke wistful nostalgia among people who are fed up with the present SP regime under which corruption and crime are rampant. The Yadav-Muslim combine may not prove an effective ballast this time for the Samajwadi Party. Muslims may well get divided between SP and BSP this time, to the latter’s advantage. But the question remains: Will Mayawati be able to regain the confidence of Rajputs and Brahmins?

For the answer, these are early days yet. The AAP factor has yet to begin its play in the state.

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