olling officials check election material after collecting from a distribution centre, a day before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, in Noida, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (PTI Photo)
New Delhi: Armed with promises of "free electricity" for farmers and a "stricter love jihad law", the BJP is all set to step into the Jat-dominated terrain of western Uttar Pradesh. Of the 403 Assembly seats in the state, 58 seats in western UP will go to the polls in the first phase on Thursday. The first two phases (February 10 and February 14) are expected to set the tone for the remaining five phases.
Following the 13-month-long farmers’ unrest, the BJP just might find it difficult to repeat its performance in the 2017 Assembly polls, when it won 53 seats in the region. Besides the farmers’ unrest, the other issues hurting the BJP are the price rise and unemployment. The BJP has tried to soothe frayed nerves by promising jobs or self-employment for one member of each family in the state.
Even though it is a multi-cornered contest, the main fight is likely to be between the ruling BJP and the Samajwadi Party-RLD combine. For UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, his challengers are nothing but "old stuff in a new package". For him, once again "do ladke" (two boys) were trying to challenge the "might" of the BJP. "But yet again the people will show that they are not worthy enough," he said, referring to the 2017 Akhilesh Yadav-Rahul Gandhi alliance. This time Akhilesh Yadav has paired with RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary to take on the BJP. While the main contest is between the BJP and the SP, the Congress, led by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and the BSP by Mayawati are also working to extract their pound of flesh.
Ms Vadra, leading the charge for the Congress, played the soft Hindutva card as she wooed the western UP electorate. She wrapped up her campaign for the first phase on Tuesday by performing a Yamuna Puja amid the chanting of Vedic hymns at Mathura’s Vishram Ghat. While her roadshows have drawn crowds, it remains to be seen how the party performs under her leadership in the state.
Amid the chaos and cacophony of electioneering, BSP leader, Mayawati has been working silently. Some reports have indicated that the BSP was "hoping for a hung Assembly to reap the harvest". In certain pockets in western UP, particularly the Agra-Mathura belt, the BSP could damage the SP-RLD combine by eating into their vote bank, sources said.
It may be recalled that by bagging nearly 50 per cent of the Jat votes, the BJP had swept the region, winning 91 of 113 seats in the 2017 Assembly polls. The SP had lagged far behind, with only 17 seats. The Jats, who comprise only two per cent of the state’s population, however, account for 18 per cent in western UP. The Muslim population in this region is a little over 25 per cent.
While the SP-RLD combine is trying to bring the Jat-Muslims-OBC on one platform, the BJP has been attempting to blur the caste lines by playing the polarising card, reviving images of the Muzaffarnagar riots and the alleged exodus of Hindus from Kairana and Shamli. Promises of a "stricter law on love jihad", a "Ramayana University", and the pledge to develop the Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura are but a few indications of the BJP’s attempts to flex its Hindutva muscle.
As the campaign ended Tuesday evening, political heavyweights ranging from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah, UP chief minister Yogi Adtyanath, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary to Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and BSP chief Mayawati thronged the region with their virtual rallies.
The 11 districts in the 58 constituencies going to the polls on Thursday are Shamli, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Hapur, Mathura, Agra, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahar and Aligarh. While the BJP has fielded 17 candidates from the Jat community, the RLD has fielded 12 and the SP six.
The first phase will decide the fate of at least nine ministers in the Yogi Adityanath government. This includes Shrikant Sharma, Suresh Raina, Atul Garg, Sandeep Singh, Anil Sharma, Dinesh Kartik, Kapil Dev Aggarwal, G.S. Dharmesh and Chaudhury Laxmi Narain.