Monday - 24 June 2024 - 6:48 AM

Ear to the Ground : Perceptions matter, but reality decides the winner

Ambikanand Sahay

With the state assembly elections hardly nine months away, battleground Uttar Pradesh is currently witnessing a fascinating battle between perception and reality. Little wonder then that connoisseurs of politics are having a field day!

Yes, perception wise, the ruling BJP appears to be under tremendous pressure for three relevant reasons: First, most people who have been at the receiving end of the Corona pandemic in both urban and rural areas are almost completely disenchanted with the administration. They saw for themselves the sorry state affairs that prevailed almost everywhere from hospitals to cremation grounds. You just can’t find fault with the masses cutting across caste and religious lines if they are all feeling embittered. Both the central and state governments had failed largely to come to the aid of the people. This failure of the state machinery was there for all to see.

Second, chief minister Yogi Adityanath has himself been feeling the heat from two corners – form the powers that be in New Delhi end as well as from within the state unit of his own legislature party. It’s in everybody’s knowledge that the chief minister managed to come out of this otherwise messy situation with the help of the RSS. Quite honourably!

The national mainstream media might not have given importance to the politics behind the A. K. Sharma story for obvious reasons, but political observers who follow UP politics know it for certain why and how the bureaucrat turned politician was made to lie low as a mere vice-president of the state unit of the BJP. Thus far, it had been unimaginable that a BJP chief minister could refuse to give ample elbow room to a High Command protégée.

Yes, that’s the perception at the ground-level here in Lucknow. And as far as the reality is concerned, nobody knows the truth. How can anybody discern truth for sure when neither the chief minister nor the High Command utters a word about the episode?

Third, what has perhaps further reinforced the overall negative perception about the Yogi government is that the ruling BJP performed poorly in the recently held panchayat elections. In fact, the performance of its arch rival in UP politics, Samajwadi Party, looked much better.

But does it mean that the BJP is all set to lose the assembly elections too?  Can we rely only on the existing perception to come to a definitive conclusion?

Perhaps, no. Why?

To answer these otherwise uneasy questions, let’s do a SWOT analysis of the four major parties dispassionately. And, side by side, we should also try to find a response to two relevant queries: First, can “religious divide” once again undo the “caste calculus” of the anti BJP forces? And second, to what extent would a divided opposition help the BJP?

Let’s first assess the strength of 136-year-old Congress party. It’s lying in a more or less morbid condition. It’s not even a pale shadow of its glorious past. It needs fresh oxygen every time an election comes. What has added poignancy it its problems this time around is that it is struggling alone in isolation. Both SP and BSP have made it clear that they would fight the elections on their own strength. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Congress fails to field suitable candidates for all the 403 seats. Even when it had aligned with the SP in 2017, it could win only 7 seats. In all probability, this party would once again be relegated to a poor fourth position.

Mayawati’s BSP too has been sliding down the hill since 2012. The larger umbrella of EBCs and Dalits that was painstakingly spread out by Kashiram is nowhere to be seen. Even in Western UP, the Dalit vote bank has suffered splits. Now, only a chunk of Jatavs remain glued to the BSP. In all probability, chances are that Mayawati’s party would end up being in the third spot.

But there is room for a caveat in favour of Mayawati: Should there be a hung house, nobody should be surprised if she once again decides to support the BJP. She could very well be a kingmaker in that eventuality.

It’s time to reassess the current positioning of the main challenger – the Samajwadi Party? Riding on a ‘monsoon of discontent’ caused by anti-incumbency, price-rise, unemployment, farmers’ struggle and, last but not the least, Corona pandemic, Akhilesh Yadav is already flexing his muscles. He says he would win 351 of the 403 seats this time. Maybe, he is getting over-ambitious.

Akhilesh Yadav has already managed to create a perception that the 2022 UP assembly elections will be, for all practical purposes, a bipolar affair, the two poles being the SP and the BJP. This perception has already stuck in peoples’ minds. And it’s getting sharper by the day.

The existence of such a perception ensures two things in favour of the Samajwadi party for: First, it ensures that the entire Muslim vote-bank lends its support to the SP unwaveringly. And second, the anti-BJP people among Hindus would be left with no option other than making a beeline behind the SP. It’s significant that Mayawati is being seen as an indirect ally of the BJP. Already.

Let’s now focus on BJP affairs. Despite continuing intra-party rivalry and in spite of all round problems caused by the pandemic and anti-incumbency, one thing is absolutely clear: You may love or hate his politics, but Yogi is known as an honest man. This tag of individual honesty matters a lot in public life, even more so in elections.

All this apart, the BJP is busy burning midnight oil to see to it that it remains in the electoral fray as a united house. The RSS has jumped in to ensure that it’s Yogi – and none else – who would lead the party into elections and, perhaps, thereafter too.

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No doubt, the image of the BJP led governments has suffered of late both in UP and nationally. But there is no denying the fact that even a weaker Narendra Modi continues to be the tallest leader in India with about 60% approval rating. Modi’s image will also matter quite a lot in UP elections.

Meanwhile, let’s continue watching the ongoing tug of war between perception and reality. It’s your choice: Stay with perception or be rooted in reality!

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