Can Modi magic blunt public anger against Yogi govt?

Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav banks on the caste math to trip BJP even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi swings into fully charged election mode by addressing nine big rallies in eastern UP during last 10 weeks. A report by Mudit Mathur

Will new year 2022 reshape the political dynamics of the nation in view of growing public discontentment over unprecedented price rise, growing unemployment, peasants’ distress over remunerative support prices, horrific and inhuman experiences of Covid mismanagement causing thousands of deaths due to non-availability of oxygen in the hospitals and unaccounted miseries inflicted upon them who lost their lone bread earners, loss of jobs due to industrial closures, migration or privatisation? Will public anger result in votes against Yogi Adityanath-led BJP rule or will Modi magic prevail? Will PM Modi with the help of mammoth state machinery and with his unique rhetoric packaging of historic, religious and sentimental issues be able to conquer anti-incumbency factors by polarising voters on the plank of Hindutva and nationalism?

The answers from the electorate to these questions will sketch out the destiny of polity of India as the assembly elections of 2022 in Uttar Pradesh are being considered as semi-final to 2024 parliamentary elections and future of brand Modi style of governance in the country. Though the voters maintain studious silence when told to answer such issues but their replies are hidden in the hearts of millions of electorate who are gradually maturing to ground reality to conquest over dilemma of their choice. But caste combinations continue to haunt all the political combinations compelling them to forge alliances with caste-based regional smaller groups.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already swung into fully charged election mode and has addressed nine big rallies in eastern UP during last 10 weeks. Modi has beguiled people with his religiously overtoned poll campaign from his constituency Varanasi (Kashi) while showcasing his biggest achievement of restoring acclaimed ancient glory of Kashi Vishwanath corridor –– connecting Ganga river banks directly to the historic temple with many facilities developed enroute for the pilgrims including escalators. He inaugurated the Rs 800-crore Mega project with extraordinary pomp and show branding it “the bridge between the past and future.” The occasion was symbolised with the much-tutored theme of cultural nationalism with an identity of religious pride by transforming Kashi into a cultural capital of the country.

The majestic mega project enlarging Kashi Vishwanath temple was originally conceived and partly executed by the former chairman of Kashi Vishwanath Trust (KVT) Swami Harihar Kripalu Tripathi who had during his tenure purchased seven buildings surrounding this ancient temple and enlarged the courtyard area of temple premises demolishing those buildings by 2012. He shared his visionary concept to Modi and his idea clicked –– owned up and enlarged by Prime Minister Modi who took up the reins of the country winning parliamentary elections from Varanasi in 2014. However, Modi failed to show large-heartedness and conveniently forgot mentioning Swami Harihar Kripalu Tripathi’s contribution for this cause during his long speech, while inaugurating corridor project though he was conferred upon Padma Shri award for his scholarly contribution in Sanskrit studies in 2017.

Kashi Vishwanath Dham, a mega project to be developed in 5,000 hectares with a whopping cost of Rs 800 crore to state exchequer. The stretches of 330 metre long connects the temple complex to the Ganga’s Lalita Ghat.The project refurbished golden dome and flanking tops, stands in the newly built sandstone courtyard. The arches of the viewing gallery and shopping arcade. With the inauguration of the corridor in the run-up to the 2022 assembly election in UP, Modi started amplifying it for political gains as pilgrims from all over the world come here to see ancient centre of cultural heritage.

In his inaugural address, Modi said, “Vishwanath Dham is an acknowledgement to India’s culture and ancient history. It is a testament to how our ancient values are guiding us towards our future.” “When you come here, you will not only see faith. You will also feel the glory of your past here. You will see how pracheenta (ancient) and naveenta (modern) come alive together.” The Idols of Bharat Mata, Queen Ahilyabai, Kartikeya and Adi Shankaracharya are to be installed on temple premises of Kashi Vishwanath Dham.

During the two-day visit, the PM attended a conclave of Chief Ministers of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, along with Deputy Chief Ministers from Bihar and Nagaland. The conclave basically was used as a platform to project Modi as brand ambassador with pan India outreach.

Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world and considered a sacred place to die according to Hindu mythology. It is the place to achieve salvation (Moksha) –– “If one attains Moksha, one is set free from the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth,” mentions holy book the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita. Modi again visited Varanasi on December 23, just 10 days after he inaugurated the Kashi Vishwanath Dham project for dedicating 13 ready projects of Rs 853 crore and laid foundation of other projects worth Rs 681 crore at a public meeting in Karkhiyao area on Varanasi-Jaunpur border. During the last two months, Modi has specially focussed on Uttar Pradesh addressing rallies at Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Sultanpur, Varanasi, Jhansi, Greater Noida and Balrampur to unveil projects. He will inaugurate Metro services in Kanpur later this month.

Varanasi Divisional Commissioner Deepak Agrawal, who monitors all the dream projects of prime minister and also hold the charge of chairman of the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Special Area Development Board, explained further in a conversation with “Tehelka,” “The 330-metre distance between Lalita Ghat and the temple has been redeveloped as a direct corridor between the Ganga and Kashi Vishwanath temple under the Phase 1 of the project.”

“The first phase had a massive expansion of the temple complex — from 3,500 sq ft to 5 lakh sq ft. We rehabilitated around 1400 families whose houses or shops were acquired for the project. On either side of the central courtyard, called the Mandir Chowk consisting of public conveniences, handicraft and souvenir shops. The larger Kashi Vishwanath Dham complex also has a rest house for pilgrims, a gallery featuring the “spiritual traditions” of India, museums, a food court, a ‘spiritual book shop’, a bookshop and a hospice. Besides, there are sightseeing galleries with panoramic glimpses of the city and the river,” he added.

Assuming full command of BJP poll campaign for the state assembly as a super star, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took offensive jibe on its potential rival Samajwadi Party cautioning the people to beware of  ‘Laal Topi Wale’ being red alert for law and order of the state. “The ‘red caps’ want power – for scams and for filling their coffers, for illegal encroachments, for providing freedom to mafia,” PM Modi said while inaugurating three mega projects including an AIIMS and a major fertiliser plant in Gorakhpur. He hailed the Yogi Adityanath government as ‘double engine’ for eliminating mafia gangs and promoting infrastructural development of the state.

mudiThe strategy seems to have been devised to counter anti-incumbency sentiments resulting from non-performance of government machinery during Covid crisis and subsequent price rise and at the same time silencing detractors of Yogi Adityanath within BJP cadres who feel politically neglected and feel dissatisfied with his rule. A galaxy of BJP stalwarts right from Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Dharmendra Pradhan to Party president J.P. Nadda besides many others have been roped in for the poll campaign. Union Home Minister Amit Shah will extensively tour the state in the coming days and will cover more than 140 constituencies keeping in mind caste combinations with focus on OBCs. He was given credit for forging alliances with non-OBC Yadav and non-Jatav Dalits paving the way of Modi’s victory in 2014 but his efforts were nullified during Yogi’s rule mainly due to ego clashes.

The Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav knows that his success lies in uniting all the other backward classes and bringing them under his umbrella. Akhilesh is being seen increasingly coming for public exposures aligning with smaller regional players and breakaway splinter groups from BJP fold who were suffocated with dominance of chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Om Prakash Rajbhar of Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) — a BJP ally in the 2017 polls –– is the most vocal partner in the scene who hold sizable pockets in eastern belt, that proved auspicious gate for the entry of BJP to national and state governance in the elections of 2014, 2017 and 2019. In the 2017 election, the BJP recorded  substantial gains in Purvanchal as it won 106 seats from this region. Then, the BJP was contesting the election in alliance with Rajbhar’s SBSP but the situation has reversed now.

The SP has already sealed an alliance with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) — a BJP ally in the 2017 polls. Along with SBSP, the Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha, a grouping of smaller parties headed by Rajbhar, will be part of the SP-led alliance.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Chaudhary Jayant Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) announced their alliance for Uttar Pradesh elections 2022 at a joint rally in Meerut district recently. Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Singh who arrived for the rally in the same helicopter, dubbed it as ‘Parivartan Sandesh’ held in Dabathua area of Meerut district. From the dais, Akhilesh attacked the ruling BJP over “unfulfilled” election promises and alleged that it practises the politics of polarisation. “The BJP sold all public sector units to private sector, and hence sold them the jobs too. The PM said people in slippers will travel in planes, but with the cost of petrol and diesel so high, people cannot even travel in cars and bikes. We Samajwadis want to create a bouquet of all colours whereas the BJP represents only one colour. They cannot bring peace,” Akhilesh observed.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also had talks with the Samajwadi Party ahead of the 2022 Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, indicating that the two may be looking at a possible alliance in the state. AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh made the announcement after meeting SP chief Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow. The Samajwadi Party appeared to hint at the same. “A meeting for change,” Yadav wrote on Twitter with a picture with Sanjay Singh and senior AAP leader Dilip Pandey.

“Our primary goal is to defeat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh which is suffering under the misrule of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Akhilesh Yadav is in talks with many parties and our meeting with him is also a step in that direction,” added Sanjay Singh, a Rajya Sabha member and incharge of UP elections saying that opposition unity is the need of the hour.

The SP-RLD alliance is going to be biggest nightmare for BJP in western Uttar Pradesh where farmers’ agitation has already buried long running hatred among Jats and Muslims. Last elections turned into a boon for BJP due to communal divide following Muzaffarnagar riots but this time it would be very tough for BJP to stand in the farmers belt because its policies had ruined them economically. Union Minister Anupriya Patel’s mother Krishna Patel has also tied up with the Samajwadi Party for Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2022. Patel is the president of the Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), while her daughter heads the Apna Dal (S) faction.

Finally loud and clear massage of unity within Samajwadi family was given by Akhilesh Yadav recently announcing his much-awaited patch up with his estranged uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav who is known to be the backbone of Samajwadi Party, being one of its founders.

Soon after selective raids of Income Tax on his supporter and financers including its spokesperson Rajiv Rai, Manoj Yadav of RCL Group and his former OSD Jainendra Yadav Neetu allegedly recovering huge cash and tax evasion through money laundering using bogus shell entities, Akhilesh Yadava while ddressing a press conference in Lucknow at Samajwadi Party headquarters alleged, “All the calls of the Samajwadi Party are being heard every day. Also all the landline phones of the party office are being tapped. My phone along with phones of other SP leaders are being tapped and I have come to know that CM himself is listening to our calls every evening.”

Hitting out at Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Akhilesh accused him of snooping on the phone conversations of his party leaders. Hr attracted huge crowds during his Samajwadi Vijay Rath Yatra in Mainpuri after nine phased Yatras and rallies in eastern, western and central UP including historic turn out in Meerut, Mau, Kushinagar, Hardoi, Lalitpur and Jhansi. On the issue of raids, Akhilesh commented in Mainpuri, “When I took along my uncle with me, they started enquiries. That’s how they sent officers from Delhi. It appears that BJP has sensed its defeat in coming elections.”

Commenting on the IT raids on Samajwadi party leaders, film actress Jaya Bachchan said in Rajya Sabha, “The BJP is feeling ‘jittery’ ahead of UP polls, I scoff at the government’s claim that the central agencies work independently.” Her remarks come a day after her daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was quizzed by the ED in connection with recently divulged ‘Panama Papers’ leak.

Asked to comment on pre-election raids on political opponents by the government agencies and allegations of illegal phone surveillance by Akhilesh Yadav, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra went one step further accusing the government of preying on her children on social media. “They are even hacking my children’s Instagram accounts, leave aside phone tapping. Does the government have no other work?” she responded. “What is the duty of the government? To work for the people. They are tapping phones instead. Instead of doing your job, you are listening to phones of the Opposition,” she added.

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi in her ‘Pratigya’ rally at Moradabad slammed both SP and BSP. “Parties like SP and BSP never fight on public issues. In UP, the Congress has fought the people’s issues. The hooliganism under the SP rule and the loot done under the BSP rule cannot be forgotten. If BJP does politics of religion, then they want to come to power with the help of caste politics.” The Congress party has been fighting a lone battle on its principles and targeted women voters to its fold by promising them a better deal in terms of their empowerment both politically and socially. The strategy to involve women breaking the caste and communal barriers could bring constructive and qualitative change in the governing system.

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra threatened her political opponents with her gamechanger move to attract more and more women to her fold offering them 40 percent party tickets in upcoming state assembly elections in 2022. Women constitute almost half of the total electorate. When other political parties are busy in forging caste and communal combinations to dethrone the ruling BJP, the smart move of Priyanka Gandhi may bring back the traditional support of women voters over which her grandmother Indira Gandhi had good dominance.

The opposition is facing the same offensive strategy from ruling BJP that had been witnessed and failed in West Bengal assembly polls. Instead of giving account of its poll promises, Central government has been acting to demoralise opposition camp with arm twisting exercise ahead of UP polls through its agencies like Enforcement Directorate (ED), Income Tax (IT) and other agencies to target its opponents and their supporters particularly to choke flow of finances to them for electioneering. It backfired in West Bengal due to timing of such action. BJP fought last elections of state assembly alleging large scale of corruption in the construction of infrastructural development projects but it failed to nail any bigwigs during its tenure which is coming to end.

The major crisis will emerge soon with the finalisation of tickets nominating the candidates for various constituencies which may witness large-scale defections in almost all the political parties, but political analysts anticipate bigger fallout in BJP as it has an ambitious plan of major reshuffle among its sitting MLAs which could be risky or beneficial –– that time will decide. BJP insiders are keeping their finger crossed over the possibilities of denial of tickets to majority of supporters of chief minister. Yogi Adityanath, whose growing persona and big ambitions are giving sleepless nights to central leadership. Many sitting and former MLAs and political leaders have already started switching sides for brighter political fortunes and convenience.