But Yogi demonstrably doesn’t care about such hoodoo. For example, he brushed aside the ‘Noida jinx’, which kept Akhilesh Yadav away when he was CM, to visit the city that brings big investment to UP several times in the last five years, flagging off metro lines, launching the new airport and even personally chairing Covid management reviews.
What he would be acutely mindful of is how much rests on him as BJP goes battle after the 2019 general elections. Five years ago, when Yogi – then the Gorakhpur MP and chief priest of Gorakhnath Temple – was named chief minister, the decision took many by surprise, even within the party. Today, he is the obvious choice as BJP’s chief ministerial candidate and election is like a referendum on his performance.
With that is the challenge of emulating the 2017 show when BJP (with allies Apna Dal-S and SBSP) won 325 of the 403 seats in the state assembly. It is looking for a similar performance this time for a clear psychological and numerical advantage before it launches its campaign for a third successive term at the Centre in 2024.
Be it PM Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah, minister and UP in-charge BJP president JP Nadda, the BJP brass is campaigning extensively in the state, mostly projecting the “good work” of the Yogi government during the last five years. The speculation about UP’s leadership in the wake of the second Covid wave last April and May has gradually cooled off and Yogi’s biggest endorsement came from Modi himself when he recently coined the slogan, “UP plus Yogi, bahut hai UPYogi” (Uttar Pradesh plus Yogi has great utility). watchers, the CM draws his currency from the execution of schemes at the ground level, crackdown on mafia and criminals, even if controversially with ‘encounters’, and his own squeaky-clean image. The CM faces no charges of nepotism, though at times he is accused of promoting upper caste Thakurs (Kshatriyas). However, the allegations don’t hold water as top officials in the government, including the chief secretary and additional chief secretary (home), are Brahmins
while the DGP comes from Vaishya community.
The central leadership also believes that Yogi’s performance has been exemplary in the execution of central schemes like construction of houses, toilets, distribution of free ration and Covid-19 vaccination. Besides, the CM’s regular emphasis on developing places of religious importance, like Varanasi, Mathura and Ayodhya, has earned him praise from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) too. remains a popular figure among the BJP cadre. And it’s not confined to UP. BJP workers from almost every state have sought his presence in campaigns for assembly and Lok Sabha elections. His stance against crime and land mafia and his directive to display photographs of those involved in damaging public property during protests established his image as a tough leader, and one who consistently upheld the saffron agenda while meeting development goals (the Noida airport and the bouquet of expressways, for example).
Yogi’s main challenger is the man BJP trounced in 2017 – Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who also has a point to prove. That he has fully emerged from the shadow of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and come into his own after three electoral setbacks on the trot. After his failed experiment to ally with big parties – Congress in 2017 and BSP in 2019 – he has taken along smaller caste outfits this time to build a winning formula on the foundations of his loyal MuslimYadav vote bank. polls, when BJP and its allies under 40%, SP sank to 47 seats BSP (19 seats) and Congress (7) clocked their worst electoral performance in UP.
This time, Akhilesh is trying to break the caste equation that has been giving formidable victories to BJP. SP has the support of SBSP, led by Om Prakash Rajbhar, in the east, and RLD, in the west, besides a faction of Kurmi-dominated Apna Dal to expand its appeal among non-Yadav has mended fences with his uncle Shivpal Yadav to iron out rough edges on his party’s home turf.
Out of power for nearly 32 years, Congress is striving to remain relevant in UP. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, long considered the Congress trump card, is now in total control of its UP affairs. With her ‘Pink Manifesto’, she is trying to explore a winning formula through women voters. If Congress improves its tally substantially, Priyanka would establish herself as the spearhead of the party. Otherwise, the go- ing would be tough for Congress come the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
The fortunes of Mayawati’s BSP have been on the decline since 2012. Of the 19 MLAs it had after the 2017 been sacked or have left the party. Most of them have switched over to SP. While the party general secretary, Satish Chandra Mishra, is trying to reignite the old caste formula of Dalit-Brah- min camaraderie, Mayawati has been surprisingly quiet.
The Aam Aadmi Party, after initial efforts to tie up with SP, has decided to go solo. With its free power and employment promises, it is likely to impress a section of urban voters, but it is too early for it to become a major political force in UP. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has announced to contest 100 seats. However, the party is unlikely to attract huge Muslim support as the community is desperate to end its ‘irrelevance’ Muslims might support the most formidable challenger to BJP across the state.
With the poll campaign centred around the Hindutva pitch and Modi-Yogi as its torchbearers, BJP would try to cover up anti-incumbency with emotional issues and construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and the Kashi Dham Corridor in Varanasi. To tackle micro-level anti-incumbency, the party is likely to replace a large number of sitting MLAs.
Whichever way the wind blows, the battle for India’s largest state will, like always, be an absorbing one.