The elections in Uttar Pradesh, key to the fortunes of all involved

Very rarely have the state elections in a specific state been so critical for the fortunes of everybody involved. Uttar Pradesh, being the most populous state of the country has always been critical for the political fortunes of the Government at the center. There was a time when it was said that nobody could come to power unless they had power in Uttar Pradesh, but that particular piece of logic has been consigned to the dustbin for more than the past 10 years now. Both, the previous NDA Government and the Current 2 runs of the UPA Government have not held any kind of dominant position in the state, and yet managed to run fairly stable Governments at the center.
In the past, both the Congress and the BJP have held huge political leadership in the state, but first the rise of the BJP as a party that played the Mandir-Masjid card managed to galvanize more power towards itself; but this was a short phenomenon, since the rise of parties representing the backwards has damaged the poll prospects of both the leading national parties (the Congress and the BJP). You had the emergence of 2 more parties that sought to claim the leadership of the backward communities, including the OBC, the Dalits, and the Muslims. Both these parties, namely the Samajwadi Party and the BSP have had power in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

And now we have a situation where everybody is significantly involved. For the Congress, the alliance with demanding allies remains a problem; the haughty nature of the Grand Old Party of Indian politics means that it cannot easily stomach the insults ladled out by its allies (and the allies have had no hesitation in cutting off the nose of the Congress when they feel like it). The Congress needs to show that it is coming back to power, and regaining its old vote banks of the backwards and the Muslims, and Uttar Pradesh is the place where this combination is most important. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the Congress got more seats than they would have expected, and as a result, they at the minimum have to surpass that total (atleast win assembly elections from the seats from where they got the Lok sabha seats). Further, their future leader, Rahul Gandhi has staked a huge amount of personal reputation in the contest, and with the Bihar elections letting him down, a failure to notch up a significant number of seats could lead to inconvenient questions being asked about the vote getting powers of Rahul Gandhi. Towards this end, the Congress has been wooing its traditional vote bank, the Muslims, by announcing some amount of reservations for them (even though this has the prospect of alienating the other backwards, since the reservation quota has been cut of the quota for backwards). They do not have a strong party machinery in Uttar Pradesh, so this is a problem.
The Samajwadi Party leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, has the most to lose. He has been without any power either in the state or center for many years now, and you need to have some power in order to give benefits to your people and your party members, else you start losing them. In addition, he remains saddled with 2 main problems – he has the reputation of being the worst Chief Minister in terms of law and order, as well as his decision last time to take in Kalyan Singh (which alienated his vote bank of Muslims, and all of them have not forgotten the move, since they see that move as an opportunistic move, which means that he really does not care for the Muslims out of a real sense of caring). Further, the move by the Congress to sub-divide the backward quota to benefit the Muslims places him in an uncomfortable position, since he is wooing both groups. If he does not gain anything significant much, his muted voice over the past some years will go down even more.
The BJP at one time used to be king of Uttar Pradesh, with the support of the forward community and a section of the backwards, through the Hindutva politics. It would have been great for the BJP if the Babri Masjid had never been demolished, since that would have given them a running issue, instead of a dead issue. The BJP is in a semi-comatose situation nationally, not being an effective opposition to the Congress in terms of public perception, and with the mess in Karnataka having ruined their image in terms of corruption. Further, they are just not able to raise any wave in favor of the BJP, since they need such a wave to attract allies, and except for the JD(U) and the Akali Dal, they really do not have any allies. Their most effective mass leader will remain unacceptable to everybody else because of the taint of the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. Only if they make a strong showing (although there is no wave for the same) will they really start to make a move towards the next general elections.
The BSP seems in the best position, but is slightly shaky. In the last elections, Mayawati had managed to stitch together a most unlikely combination of the Brahmins and the backward castes, but this mixture is a very volatile mixture, and the fact that she has had to make efforts to placate Brahmins means that she has realized that this caste alliance is not cemented right now. Further, she is struggling with some of the taint of corruption that her administration has on it, and the strokes of removing corrupt ministers may not really work, since it may lead to focus on the corruption in her administration. However, there are no clear alternatives to her among the others that can really shake her position.
What can change things ? Voters are starting to get more aware of development and governance related issues, and demanding more concrete measures rather than just symbolism, and if this gains ground, then the caste based politics may slowly be on its way out. May not be in this cycle, but we should start to see some small indicators of this.

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