A spate of ‘defections’ make UP elections keener than ever before

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
While closer home in Manipur not many surprises are expected as the State appears ready to bless the ruling dispensation in the forthcoming Assembly elections, it is the mother of all battles expected in the country’s biggest State of Uttar Pradesh located some 1800 km away. Why Uttar Pradesh becomes important to watch is that the route to power in Delhi is said to go via Lucknow, the capital city of the State, or in other words who controls the State has a greater chance at ruling at the Centre, going by the electoral history of the country.
Almost every time, barring the odd occasion, Uttar Pradesh has been providing Prime Ministers from Independence, other than the three times when persons hailing from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, or Punjab became the head of the Government. It is only during these occasions that Uttar Pradesh’s contribution to the ruling party fell, shifting the centre of gravity of power in the country a bit. But not for long, as subsequent political developments have shown.
During the 2014 general elections, Uttar Pradesh contributed immensely to the stupendous victory of the BJP led NDA coalition, on the back of an aggressive campaign by the senior BJP leader and Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Since then, Prime Minister Modi, led the NDA coalition to an even bigger victory, with BJP itself gaining an absolute majority on its own, and this time sweeping UP winning all but 10 of the total 80 seats the State has to offer.
The 2019 general elections only reflected the victory of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections two years earlier, where the party stumped even its own leaders and supporters by winning over 300 out of the total 403 seats the State has on offer for the Assembly.
Cut to today, Uttar Pradesh with a double engine Government in office at the Centre and in the State, not much trouble was expected even a month or two ago for the incumbent Chief Minister of the BJP–Yogi Adityanath. An already confident BJP felt it got a booster dose with the SC verdict paving the way for the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
But, completely against the run of play, as it were, the BJP is finding the going tough days after the Election Commission announced the election schedules. It is the badly fragmented Opposition that seems to have gained the upper hand, all of a sudden, with the strongest of them, the Samajwadi Party appearing to successfully build a perception of being in a winning position. With a significant section of the backward community and caste leaders suddenly ditching the ruling dispensation in Lucknow, the Samajwadi Party has managed to drive scare into the BJP’s State unit, even as the Central party unit in Delhi is devising ways and means to counter this attack.
As if waiting for the declaration of the election schedule, several OBC MLAs and leaders from the BJP began a mini-revolt of sorts by resigning and indicating their preference to join the Samajwadi Party and take on the BJP in the elections.
Coming as a shock to the BJP high command even as it was holding discussions on ticket distribution, the resignation of the MLAs and Ministers, with the scary prospects of few more leaving as per the claims of those who have already left, the move can upset its carefully crafted social engineering base and force it to scurry for support from elsewhere. Or risk a much closer and tighter race that would heighten the electoral suspense and drama element.
In itself, these election-eve desertions may not account for much, going by the recent experience of the BJP itself is any indication. It had poached many leaders from the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, but all these turncoats could not help the BJP put it past Mamata Bannerjee in the State where the BJP thought it had a chance. At least that was the perception of an upset victory that kept the National media hooked to the West Bengal Assembly elections, till it became clear after four hours of counting that it was all over for the BJP. True, the BJP emerged as the principal Opposition party, going from 03 to 77 seats (later reduced as BJP MLAs went back to TMC in a homecoming), and there is perhaps some benefit in poaching. But clearly not enough for it to win the elections.
Though we cannot compare apples and oranges, broadly, poll eve defections may not be enough for the Opposition SP to mount a campaign strong enough to blow away a strong political force in the State and the country.
But, the reasons for the resignations of the BJP MLAs and Ministers are what could be a source of worry for the BJP. Clearly, the resignations are enabling the SP to brand the BJP as an anti-OBC party, which would hurt the BJP electorally given the presence of these castes and their spread across the State.
All those leaving the BJP are charging it with ignoring the cause of the Dalits and the downtrodden and cite what they call all-round misgovernance of the Yogi Government that made them take the decision.
This is not to say that things have totally gone out of control of the BJP, which is facing some amount of anti-incumbency on account of several developments in the State–and also the huge farmers stir against the controversial Farm Laws.
It is clear that most of those leaders and MLAs now leaving the BJP are leveling blame at the leadership in the State for ignoring the elected representatives and riding roughshod over them. Some are laying the blame on Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his style of functioning for the current situation that the BJP finds itself in.
True, it is perhaps the biggest electoral change that the BJP leadership is facing in a long time, with a smarter Opposition now cornering the State Government on many issues. Yes, the temple issue could lead to benefit for the ruling BJP, but observers wonder about the efficacy of the issue that has been milked to the maximum already.
It is easy to see why people are unhappy with the Government–almost every section of the society, government workers, teachers, students, and others are holding protests expressing their anger and resentment against the Government. Also, the farming community is only waiting to ‘punish’ the BJP for what it calls faulty and wrong and anti-Farm Laws.
The Government did finally relent and withdrew the controversial Farm Bills, but by then the farming community seems to have firmed up its mind to “teach the Government a lesson.” Will the move give any benefit to the BJP, now seemingly on a back foot as far as perception goes, is to be seen in the context of the farmers unions and leaders making it very clear that they will work to the best of their ability to defeat the BJP at the elections ?
Although other States are also important, it is the size, scale, and nature of dominance of the State in National politics that make Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections very significant. The outcome here could have a bearing on the outcome of the 2024 general elections to the Lok Sabha as well.
Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on [email protected] and Twitter handle @kvlakshman