Six months prior to the 2017 assembly elections the battle for power in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was seen as between Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which is presently ruling at the Centre. BJP’s chances had slightly dwindled after its state vice president Daya Shankar Singh made some inappropriate comments against the dalit leader of BSP. At this point Samajwadi Party, the party presently in power, was predicted to be out of race.

Then after a series of family melodramatic incidents Akhilesh Yadav was catapulted from the status of half chief minister to a full chief minister and the sole leader of the party. Earlier he was often taunted to be half in the four and a half chief ministers UP had, his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, uncle Shivpal Yadav, another uncle Ram Gopal Yadav and senior leader Azam Khan being the four full chief ministers. There was an impression that since Mulayam Singh was publicly taking the side of his brother Shivpal, the party cadres would remain loyal to Shivpal if it came to choosing between him and Akhilesh. However, Akhilesh proved everybody wrong and now is the undisputed claimant to the office of chief ministership on behalf of Samajwadi Party with Shivpal and even Mulayam having been marginalized. The state has witnessed a silent coup by a serving ruler who has been able to unshackle himself now.

There is a perception in the society that this was a drama masterly scripted and directed by Mulayam Singh to end all challenges to his son from within and outside the party. There is no doubt that Akhilesh has emerged as a mature leader improving upon his ‘please all’ but weak image prior to the drama. Additional gain was free publicity in terms of the space taken up by family controversy in media to compete with the hi-tech campaign of his opponents.

Akhilesh Yadav started making public pronouncements even while the controversy was on that he would be able to win over 300 seats if he were to have an alliance with Congress Party, the fourth contender for power. It is unusual for a bigger party to seek alliance with a smaller party, in terms of number of seats the two parties were expected to win. Whether it was the strategist Prashant Kishore working behind the scenes or the understanding that it would make easier for Muslims to choose between Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and their alliance, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi finally struck an alliance and immediately they were in the race for power.

Now, BJP slipped to the third place and question was who would finish first, BSP or the SP-Congress alliance? The Muslims have belied the hopes of SP-Congress and chosen BSP as an instrument to decisively defeat BJP. The uncertainty in SP till the last moment before the election made them take an early decision to support BSP this time. Mayawati has not spared any efforts to get Muslims to her side by reassuring them that she will not enter into an alliance with BJP at any cost to form the government. In the event of BSP falling short of majority by some seats it is quite likely that Congress will break its alliance with SP and offer support to it. Rahul Gandhi has already indicated that he respects Mayawati as the leader of Dalits.

UP polls
A polling officer applies indelible ink on the finger of a voter at a polling booth in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh / AP file photo

 

The reason BSP has an edge over SP-Congress is an allegation against SP that it did not do anything to prevent the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in which Muslims were clearly the losers. President of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Asduddin Owaisi has claimed that there was no difference between Gujarat in 2002 and Muzaffarnagar in 2013. About 50,000 people, mostly Muslims, were displaced from their villages, many of whom have not been able to return.

Akhilesh Yadav failed to prevent communal and criminal incidents, some of them involving his ministers, and thus rule of law did not always prevail in his regime. He was, however, forthcoming in disbursement of compensation after the incidents as a relief to the families of victims. He’ll go down in history as a ‘compensation chief minister’. He overdid the act and also gave awards to people who were openly flouting important laws like the Right to Free and Compulsory Education of Children. Bharti Gandhi, the owner of the largest commercial chain of schools in Lucknow, City Montessori School, received honours from the state after she and her husband Jagdish Gandhi refused admission to children from disadvantaged Valmiki community of sanitation workers on an official order. After 13 children from this community were admitted by a court order in 2015, Gandhis refused to again admit 58 students in 2016.

On the other hand, BJP is suffering from the setback of change of big denomination notes. UP is not like the home state of Prime Minister. In Gujarat people may not have an option and tolerate any inconvenience to them. But people in UP have been irritated by the ban on old Rs. 500 and 1000 notes because of the inconvenience it caused them. Long queues and repeated visits to banks has been a humiliating experience for many. Moreover, the purpose of the exercise doesn’t seem to have been fulfilled. Narendra Modi’s closeness with emirs of United Arab Emirates and Qatar, when he and his party and parent organization, RSS are avowedly anti-Muslim, is perplexing.

Because of listless performances of Akhilesh Yadav in UP and Narendra Modi at the centre, it appears that people are not averse to giving another chance to Mayawati, who has dealt with law and order and communal situations with a heavy hand in the past, something which goes in her favour at this point.