It is the biggest cliché of Indian politics – whoever wins Uttar Pradesh wins India. And this cliché is the inconvertible truth of Indian politics – the only way to rule Delhi is via Lucknow.
Narendra Modi won a majority after 30 years because he and his doppelgänger Amit Shah managed the record-breaking feat of winning 73 out of 80 seats in 2014.
And now, erstwhile arch-enemies, the regional heavyweights, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, and Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party, have sunk their differences and decided on a seat share alliance in Uttar Pradesh.
Mayawati, a hard bargainer, has settled for 38 seats, while the Samajwadi Party will contest 37 seats. The third partner in the alliance, the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal, has been allotted three seats. The Congress party figures nowhere in the alliance with the partners happy to only concede it Amethi (Rahul Gandhi’s seat) and Raebareli (Sonia Gandhi’s seat). The historic alliance is expected to be announced on January 15, Mayawati’s birthday.
Mayawati confidante and Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament, Satish Mishra, has officially denied the frenzied speculation, which will turn the entire Uttar Pradesh game upside down.
Uttar Pradesh tops the charts when it comes to the ultimate political office. Out of 14 Indian prime ministers, eight have been from the state, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee.
The state of play currently in Uttar Pradesh is giving Modi and Shah sleepless nights.
They reckon, and rightly so, that they will not be able to repeat 2014, especially under current Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who has possibly run the worst administration in Uttar Pradesh in its history. And, bear in mind that the state has always been shabbily governed with primitive levels of basics such as “bijli, sadak, pani” (electricity, roads, water).
Yogi has run what is popularly called a “Thakur raj” where even after 16 days, a police inspector, who was killed while trying to stop “cow terrorists”, has not seen his murderers being caught. An Apple executive Vivek Tiwari was gunned down in Lucknow in September. Now a Special Investigation Team of the Uttar Pradesh Police says: “Vivek Tiwari was intentionally murdered by UP Police constable Prashant Choudhary.”
This is law and order – Yogi style.
Privately, many Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh no longer want to contest on BJP tickets.
The Mayawati and Samajwadi alliance has also come into being from the bottom up pressure of party workers plus Dalits, Muslims and members of the Other Backward Class who fear for their lives under Yogi raj.
The perception that the BJP, with its tilt towards Thakurs and upper castes, has made lower castes across Uttar Pradesh sink their historic attrition.
So what of the Congress?
It has just won itself three important heartland states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which together account for 65 Lok Sabha seats.
Is it game over for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh where it has been out of power for two decades?
Not quite because heartland politics is even more complex than chess.
The plan, apparently, is that the Congress will fight alone and be a “vote katua”, (vote cutter) a classic heartland term, against the BJP, among both the BJP and Congress common upper caste vote bank. The Congress party, despite its depleted stature, still has some vote share among upper classes, who have been its traditional voters.
Some sort of understanding to this effect has been worked out, say top leaders. Even BJP leaders mutter mutinously about this “secret alliance”. The twists and turns of the Byzantine Uttar Pradesh politics is such that the truth is always multi-layered.
But the “mini gatbandhan” (tie-up) between the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party is clearly giving the BJP nightmares. There is one popular slogan “Gujarati ko ghar bhejo” (send the Gujarati home) a reference to Modi, who is a Member of Parliament from Varanasi.
Since Modi and Shah cannot do very much in the four months that remain till the general elections and Yogi is proving to be the biggest bug bear, Uttar Pradesh will as usual decide who rules India.
Swati Chaturvedi is an award-winning journalist and author of 'I am a troll:Inside the secret world of the BJP digital army'. Her twitter handle is @bainjal.