Battle lines clear in UP
By Bhaskar Roy
The Times of India News Service
NEW DELHI: With all the three major contenders in Uttar Pradesh ruling out alignments, the prospects of yet another hung assembly looms large.
The ruling BJP and its two major rivals - BSP and SP - have begun gearing up for the electoral battle in UP amidst a scenario that neither favours a strong swing for any of the three parties nor points to a complete marginalisation of any of them.
However, Mayawati's BSP and Mulayam Singh's SP have registered significant gains in the recent byelections in the state. Though the BJP has to bear the burden of incumbency and the adverse impact of certain policies of its government at the Centre, it seeks to partly counter that with a string of populist measures taken by the Rajnath Singh government.
Apart from wooing the farmers, the CM has announced withdrawal of gunmen and security cover to a large number so-called VIPs. This, according to an estimate, would save the state exchequer Rs. 150 crore. By another order, he has put a cap on his minister's `pocket money', thus saving another Rs 20 crore. Though such steps are largely symbolic, they are likely to go down well with the people.
However, if the recent byelections are any indication, the BJP has already lost much ground. In the present assembly the party has a strength of 165 MLAs, the SP 98 and BSP 50. After the bifurcation of the state the strength of the House has come down to 403 and a party or combine will have to muster a simple majority of 202 to form the government.
The multicornered contests for almost every seat are sure to make it difficult for one single party or grouping to get past that magic number. Apart from the three major contenders, there are smaller but important players like the Congress and a number of parties with pockets of influence.
Since caste is a determining factor in UP politics, a strong swing in favour of one single party appears unlikely. ``The reason Laloo Yadav manages to hold on to power is the fact that Yadavs are evenly spread over Bihar, and the reason Mulayam Singh does not have much of a base in western UP is the absence of the community there,'' remarked a political observer.
With a PIL in the Allahabad High Court challenging the contention that the elections be held in March 2002 counting the five-year assembly term from the day the House was constituted, polls towards the end of this year appear to be a distinct possibility.
Even the BJP does not seem to have any reason to cling on to power by deferring the elections with some of its allies having threatened to quit the coalition. The Loktantrik Congress Party, a breakaway Congress faction and now an alliance partner, is reportedly weighing options of teaming up with the SP.