Around the same time as Indian teenaged chess prodigy Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa was representing India at the World Cup 2023 in Azerbaijan earlier this month, a political chessboard set in faraway Uttar Pradesh was witnessing equally rapid moves by constituents of the I.N.D.I.A. bloc.
Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, which is bracing up for the crucial Mumbai meet on Aug 31 and Sep 1, is likely to exude renewed vigour following the restoration of Lok Sabha membership of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Since UP accounts for the maximum 80 Lok Sabha seats even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi also represents the Varanasi constituency, the rainbow coalition of opposition parties, INDIA, is investing generously to upend the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.
The saffron party has attained rather unassailable dominance in federal polity after maximising its seats in UP post 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Therefore, the INDIA framework assumed greater significance in the country’s most populous province.
The three prime partners in the INDIA alliance from UP comprise Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has thus far remained non-aligned and critical to both the formations.
Taking the fight to Modi’s ground zero, Varanasi, the Congress recently anointed former BJP legislator and turncoat Ajay Rai as the present of UP Congress Committee (UPCC). Rai, who till recently was the Kashi region chief of UPCC, hails from the formidable bhumihar (farm landlord) community and is reckoned for his tough image and oratory skills.
Although Rai unsuccessfully contested against Modi from Varanasi in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, his proximity with the top Congress leadership, read Gandhi family, tilted the scales in his favour ahead of the proposed Mumbai meet.
After his appointment, Rai asserted that people wanted Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to contest the LS polls from UP. Although, his anointment was seen from the prism of balancing caste and region dynamics in the state, Rai maintained his appointment was on the basis of merit not caste.
By picking a bhumihar as the UPCC president and juxtaposed to Congress national president Mallikarjun Kharge, a dalit, the grand old party is seeking to revive its fortunes and end its lingering political wilderness in UP which extends beyond 30 years now.
Ever since, SP president Akhilesh Yadav coined PDA (Pichre, Dalit, Alpsankhyak) catchphrase in run up to the LS polls, the socialist party is on an overdrive to register the first mover advantage vis-à-vis BJP and other INDIA constituents.
While the party commands near dominance over Yadav community votes in UP, the SP is vigorously wooing non-Yadav other backward castes (OBC) sections to consolidate its vote bank in run up to the 2024 parliamentary elections.
Recently, it organised a big conclave dedicated to the Maurya community pantheons such as Chandragupta Murya, Ashoka etc.
The party is working on a two-pronged strategy to not only counter the rollicking electioneering machinery of BJP going forward, but gain heft among the INDIA constituents also so as to bargain from a position of strength during seat sharing negotiations in the coming months.
The party has planned to organise similar political conclaves to celebrate prominent personalities of the OBCs and recall their contribution to Indian society and also highlight their successive marginalisation.
Moreover, SP is also harping on a caste census in UP on the lines of Bihar. “SP demands a caste census so that people benefit from the developmental schemes according to their ratio in total population…but, the Centre is not in favour of a caste census,” Yadav claimed.
Among the three major INDIA constituents, RLD is perceptibly the most unpredictable of its future course of action. RLD president Jayant Chaudhary did not attend the maiden INDIA meet in Patna on June 23, although he partook at the Bengaluru leg last month.
Yet, the RLD chief keeps rumour mills buzzing with his occasional cryptic social media posts and relaying mixed signals over his allegiance to the INDIA umbrella.
Besides, the absence of Jayant Chaudhary from the Rajya Sabha during the debate and voting on the contentious Delhi services Bill earlier this month fueled a flurry of speculations. Although, anthe RLD later made light of the development citing the health issue of his wife as the reason behind his absence from the Upper House, the speculations refuse to die down.
Adding to the realm of rumours, the UP unit of the BJP stated that the doors of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) were open for the RLD were it to decide so.
RLD has a considerable hold in Western UP districts especially the farming Jat community in the sugarcane rich belts.
Mayawati has remained non-committal and is publically critical of both INDIA and NDA.
Addressing the party’s Lok Sabha preparatory meeting in Lucknow on Aug 23, she asserted that alliances had always been a losing proposition for the BSP in the past. While the BSP votes get transferred to the alliance partner, the vice versa does not occur for the party, she underscored.
At the same time, she trained guns equally on BJP and Congress, thus attempting to give an unambiguous message to BSP rank and file to brace up for the coming elections singlehandedly.
The party is banking on the BSP’s core constituency of dalits and other marginalised sections of society including the poor belonging to different castes and communities.
Nonetheless, the hazy picture would start getting clearer as days and weeks advance towards the next Lok Sabha battle in the first half of calendar 2024.