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Mayawati might not have it in her anymore to challenge Akhilesh Yadav in the 2017 Assembly polls

Would you believe ‘Bad’ is a town in Uttar Pradesh? It is a census town, actually, in Mathura district, with a population of around 20,000… So UP has a bad name, anyway. Communal riots and corruption have only gone on to add real meaning to the name over the years…

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Samajwadi Party’s crown prince, Akhilesh Yadav, is heading the Government since March, 2012. His term, though, is nearing its end. The 2017 Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh is just over a year away and the hustling has begun… strategies are being framed and knives sharpened.

Will Akhilesh’s Samajwadi Party regain power, or will it give way to Mayawati’s BSP? But is she relevant anymore in UP’s politics? Will the BJP be able to repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha performance? From SP to BSP, BJP to Congress, every party has declared its decision to fight the polls alone. The alliances can come later, of course.

But if UP gives clear mandate to a single party, like it did in the previous edition, the State could be better served. Politically-motivated coalitions to form Governments are always fragile and often fail to provide stability, costing dearly.

So who could that party be?

Consigned to the dust bowl of UP politics, ‘Behenji’ Mayawati would need a miraculous change in public opinion if she were to be elected again. BSP won a majority in 2007, but left behind a legacy of corruption. Multiple charges, based on strong evidence, has shadowed her ever since. Whether it’s the Taj Corridor case, disproportionate assets case, selling MLA tickets for 40 million, or lavish birthday celebrations, she has failed to rinse herself of even one allegation. Behenji hardly reflects characteristics of a Dalit, yet, millions of them revere her as an icon.

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She was verbally pounded by a raging Smriti Irani in a Lok Sabha debate recently, where she appeared to have lost her sting and conviction…

Her diminishing presence in the State, post her 2012 defeat, was reflected in the 2014 LS elections, where her losses were severe. She failed to capture even a single seat, and her vote share was reduced from25.5% in 2012 to 19.6% in 2014 – a massive loss of 5.9% votes. Interestingly, a substantial chunk of Dalit voters moved away from the BSP to the BJP. But some feel writing her off just yet would be premature because of her huge Dalit base, although having support is one thing, conversion into votes entirely another.

The electoral politics in UP is complex because of multi-corner contests and the role of the caste factor. However, some parties have made new moves by attempting to go the social media way, shifting the public discourse from caste to class, or running electoral campaign primarily on development. Akhilesh Yadav, despite existing allegations on his party, is apparently banking on these planks.

His agenda spanned nine departments — energy, industry, finance, agriculture, human resources development, medical, social, rural development and urban development. If there were charges against his ministers, there was growth too. In early February, he presented a Rs. 3, 46,935-crore budget for 2016-17, reeling off a string of populist measures. The budget showed an increase of 14.6 per cent over the last year’s allocation.

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It is very difficult to root out corruption from the state. It is deeply entrenched in the system and even if a CM wanted to flush it out, it would be enormously challenging. But if development and growth is taking place on a parallel track, UP would be a little more tolerable.

Can he give the people of Uttar Pradesh hope that the lingering sense of decline of their state, and injustice, would end? If elected, will he succeed in ensuring that charges of corruption against some of his party’s men would be probed? Does he deserve a second chance?

Meanwhile, BJP is expected to announce an upper caste leader as its chief ministerial candidate for the state, a clean break from its strategy in most recent state elections of not naming a chief minister candidate, a ploy which didn’t serve the party well. To take on the regional giants Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, the BJP will look at getting its caste balance right and with that in mind is determined to have backward class state party chief.

A source close to Congress party has reportedly revealed that Rahul Gandhi recently discussed, in Lucknow, the option of forming an alliance for the assembly elections on the pattern of Bihar, where the party put up a good show as part of grand alliance in the assembly polls, winning 27 of 41 seats contested. Despite being the home state of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for five generations, Congress does not stand a chance. Only through alliance can the party hope to claim some influence in the Government. But with whom will they tie the knot?

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Major factors in UP politics and elections have for a long time been Caste and Religion. It is up to the people now. Will they defy caste affiliations and vote for a party that has the ability to deliver, or will they fall prey to the false promises of certain parties and individuals? They have a whole year to make informed decision.