UP Elections 2022: Clash of poll models inevitable as Akhilesh Yadav takes cue from Mamata's Bengal formula

UP Elections 2022: Clash of poll models inevitable as Akhilesh Yadav takes cue from Mamata's Bengal formula

UP Elections 2022: Clash of poll models inevitable as Akhilesh Yadav takes cue from Mamata's Bengal formula

The massive and sweeping victory of 2014 by the BJP led to the “Gujarat Model” becoming almost a talismanic reference and primer to winning elections. Seven years later, in a limited but very significant battle, West Bengal was retained by Mamata Banerjee for the third term, defying odds and the massive might of the BJP. Her strategy was so successful that soon enough the “Mamata model” was being dissected across political parties. Cut to February 2022 where another regional satrap is not just trying to stage a comeback but also take on a very well-entrenched and organised incumbent.

Some election watchers say the Bengal Model is now being adopted and adapted by Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav to take on the Yogi Adityanath Sarkar.

On the face of it, there is perceptible warmth between “Didi” Mamata and “Babua” Akhilesh. She has publicly pledged support. Initial trends reflect well on him but whether that results in a groundswell of support for Akhilesh s too early to call. Also, the BJP’s massive political juggernaut trundles through UP relentlessly as the voting day looms in February 2022.

So, what was the Mamata model and to what extent can it be replicated by Akhilesh? Mamata's Trinamool Congress won a third term in Bengal with a two-thirds majority. Besides a strong focus on personality factor, regional pride and consolidation of Muslim votes, this model primarily concentrated on twin factors: Reduce polarisation through the politics of gender and welfare.

The element of regional pride was very important as the focus became defending Bengali identity and pride. The BJP was portrayed as an outsider trying to impose its own cultural ethos and identity. It worked for her. Will it work for Akhilesh Yadav?

Between Uttar Pradesh and Bengal, there are different state level dynamics. Regional pride, for instance, had a different flavour in Bengal but in Uttar Pradesh, which is seen as a powerful base of the BJP, it cannot be played in the same way and neither would it be that effective. Welfare schemes work more for the party in the saddle rather than the challenger. Hence, Priyanka Gandhi announcing a slew of schemes for women has to face the question: Who is going to fund it? Obviously, hardly anyone expects the Congress to do well in Uttar Pradesh.

At the state level, incumbent governments are better placed to push women-oriented welfare schemes, like Arvind Kejriwal has done in Delhi and promising cash to women on a monthly basis in Uttarakhand in case of a win.

Mamata worked the Muslim votes well, which were roughly 27 percent of West Bengal’s population. Reports say she could have garnered over 80 percent of these votes, so about 40-45 percent Hindu votes were enough to win Bengal. In the Hindi heartland of UP, a much larger chunk of Hindu votes would be needed by Akhilesh.

With new allies — RLD (Jayant Chaudhary) and SBSP (Om Prakash Rajbhar), Apna Dal (Anupriya Patel) and Keshav Dev Maurya's Mahan Dal — Akhilesh would look to solidify performance in Western Uttar Pradesh and hope the farmers pivot towards him and his alliance. The BJP did repeal farm laws but Akhilesh and the alliance would be hoping that it is a case of too little too late. SP would also try to scrape the vote base of Mayawati as she remains surprisingly quiet in this campaign. The challenge would be how many Dalit and Muslim voters can SP break from the BSP.

Akhilesh is also trying to widen the SP political base, seen largely representing OBC (35 percent in Uttar Pradesh’s caste equation) political aspirations, primarily the Yadavs (11.42 percent) so far. He has connected with Mauryas, Kurmis and Kushwahas to widen his OBC base.  With decent enough numbers are Kurmis (4.42 percent), Kaachhi (2.46 percent), Lodh (2.64%), and Kumhar (1.77 percent) among others.

Not to forget, the SP would be looking to consolidate its Muslim (18.5 percent) base. Above all, they are said to be wooing Hindu voters on the premise that all “Modi voters” (applicable largely in a Lok Sabha election) are not necessarily BJP voters. Whether that holds good here remains to be seen.

Akhilesh is also banking on the way the second wave of the pandemic was handled by the Yogi government. They allege there is massive anger in the way hospitals failed to cope, lack of oxygen cylinders (denied by Yogi) and photos of bodies dumped into the Ganga as also lack data on the number of those who perished.

In the latest move, Akhilesh formed an alliance with the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) after meeting with his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav in Lucknow. He drove to his estranged uncle’s residence for a meeting. Shivpal Yadav's party has an influence on just a few seats in Etawah, but his inputs are likely to help the Samajwadi Party strategy sessions. Shivpal was ready for a "merger" if Akhilesh Yadav agreed to field Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party's winning candidates in the Assembly polls.

Coming back to Mamata and Akhilesh the only point remaining is the personality factor. In Bengal, there was a direct clash between Modi and Mamata. No other leader was in the line of fire. In Uttar Pradesh, the fight seems to be a two-way contest between a current and former chief minister - in almost 350 seats. A listless Congress and a very quiet Mayawati (BSP) do not seem to matter. This would help Akhilesh, in some ways, as it avoids vote splitting.

When it comes to temperament and persona, Mamata took on the BJP head-on and she had to. Whether it was “Khela Hobe” (Game On) to sitting on a wheelchair or matching her rivals word for word, the campaign was bitterly fought. In her speech, those strands still resonate even as she campaigns in Goa.

Sample this extract: Mamata said she did not need a “character certificate” from the BJP. “We don’t go to the banks of Ganga for puja only when it’s time for voting. Modiji takes a dip in the Ganga, when it’s time to vote. He goes to a temple in Uttarakhand for tapasya (penance). When it’s time for polls he becomes a purohit (priest) himself. Let him be, he has the freedom to do that. But where is he the rest of the year? Jis desh mein Ganga behti hai, the Uttar Pradesh government throws Covid dead bodies in the river. They made mother Ganga impure. They have no (data on) number of people who died due to Covid. We call Ganga our mother and BJP people have thrown Covid dead bodies in the Ganga. We don’t like this,” she said in Assonora, Goa.

Akhilesh responded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at which he jumped on the BJP's catchphrase for this election - 'fark saaf hai', or 'the difference is clear' - to hit back. Modi had an earlier dig at him saying whenever a project is completed there are people who claim credit for launching them. "The BJP is about to complete five years in power... but they have not even had time to look at their 'sankalp patra' (manifesto). They are spending more in ads, banners, hoardings... They talk of employment and investment... how many MoUs have translated into something on ground," he began.

His dig about employment came after shocking videos of police in Lucknow using lathis to break a candlelight protest against alleged irregularities in a 2019 competitive exam.

In 2017, the BJP, as part of its election manifesto, had promised a massive 70 lakh jobs. Since then, they've reportedly only created about 4.5 lakh - something Akhilesh has been quick to highlight.

As the campaign picks up steam, more like the final lap of a 4x400m Olympic relay race, the charisma of the chief ministerial aspirant will count for a lot in UP as it did in Bengal. Akhilesh is no firebrand but he will definitely have to rev up the trebuchet to tip the scales.

The author is CEO, nnis. Views expressed are personal.

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