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Constituency-level issues

Young Bites. Dated: 3/12/2019 11:32:35 AM

and national meta-narratives hold the key in U.P.
The Election Commission announced the Lok Sabha poll schedule on Sunday, and there is little doubt that the final outcome will be determined in great part by the vote in Uttar Pradesh. By including 11 candidates for U.P. in its first list last week, the Congress has reiterated its inclination to contest alone in the critical State in the absence of a deal with the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Though the Congress decision does not entirely shut the doors on a joint front of anti-BJP parties in U.P., the chances of such a formation are turning bleaker. There is no way of discerning the likely impact of a multi-cornered contest in the State, but in 2014 the scattering of the anti-BJP vote in the State helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi get 71 of the 80 seats, vital to gaining an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. An equally sweeping victory for the BJP in the 2017 Assembly election initially appeared to reinforce Mr. Modi’s aura of invincibility, but this soon turned out to be the trigger for a series of developments that cumulatively pose a challenge to his bid for a second term at the Centre. Facing irrelevance, regional parties such as the SP, the BSP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal felt compelled to bury the hatchet and form a front against the Hindutva challenge. This reconfiguration appeared to make an emphatic turn in the State’s politics, and the BJP lost all the three Lok Sabha by-elections that followed. It is in this landscape that the Congress is trying to resolve its indecisiveness about going it alone.
Yet, there is uncertainty at the granular level. Aspirants are being shunned by each party, resulting in a pool of disgruntled local actors now scurrying for shelter in other parties. The SP and the BSP will be contesting less than half their usual number of seats; the BJP is certain to replace a large number of its sitting MPs to reduce anti-incumbency at the constituency level. The Congress, though without an organisational base in the State, has the claim to be the national challenger to Mr. Modi. It might be tempted to rope in some of these dissidents from other parties, while remaining open to the possibility of an alliance. The shifting loyalties of individual leaders will have an impact on the caste coalitions that all parties factor into their calculations. An overarching social coalition of Dalits, backwards and Muslims in U.P. blocking the Hindutva advancement in 2019 is a possibility, but only one of several. Mr. Modi’s strategy in the midst of this realignment of social groups in the State will be to pull his own campaign above local factors, and make it into a Hindu nationalist meta-narrative. The ongoing tensions with Pakistan and the debate on Ayodhya provide him with enough rhetorical tools. The terrain of U.P. has been fertile for this kind of politics too, a politics that makes nonsense of the accretion of vote banks through seat adjustments.

 

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