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Two-horse race in UP?

If one is to go by media analysis on what’s happening in
UP, it would seem that the electoral battle is between the two regional outfits, BSP and SP. The SP is being seen to have the edge in harvesting the anti-incumbency against Mayawati. According to the analysts, nobody will get anywhere near a majority in the Assembly. The Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi is expected to increase the number of its seats and support the SP in forming a government (with or without ally RLD). This increase in seats would, in the eyes of political pundits, validate Rahul’s leadership qualities, to be considered an endorsement for his claim to Prime Ministership. The BJP, too, is likely to gain seats but remain marginalised in the power game.
Of course, if this is clear to the pundits, then it should be just as evident to the voter. Is the UP voter then glad to have the prospects of an SP plus Congress government in the state? If the increase in Congress votes comes from those who have left the others’ fold, primarily the BSP, then why would they not choose to go with the ultimate winner, Mulayam? Does it make sense to bring in an SP government by voting for the Congress, particularly when Rahul is not a chief ministerial candidate? This is particularly so in the case of the minority voter, who everybody is so assiduously trying to woo.
Under the circumstances, popularity of the local candidate would be the only reason the Congress would be preferred over the SP. Voters are smart enough to make bold decisions when required. They delivered a resounding mandate for the BSP in the last elections when faced by the prospects of a four-way split in the Assembly. A similar mandate was given, it may be recalled, during the Lok Sabha elections in Uttarakhand. Realising that the BJP did not have a chance of forming the government, the vote swung just enough to provide the Congress a clean sweep.
Is there a possibility, then, of voters taking a similar call in UP, making it a two-horse race between the defendant and the main challenger? In the cases of the SP and BSP, the people of UP have a clear idea of whom they would have to deal with, while neither the Congress nor the BJP have anything like a leader to project. Perhaps, there is still time for Rahul Gandhi to throw his hat into the ring, promising to take up the reins if his party is given the mandate! It could swing the deal. Like Omar Abdullah, he could cut his teeth at the state level and hone his leadership and administrative skills. His presence in the hot seat could also provide the much ignored UP unprecedented clout with the Centre. He could provide the people of the country a preview of what to expect if he takes on the Prime Ministership. There would be no confusion then about Manmohan Singh leading the party into the next General Elections, even as Rahul’s promotion from Lucknow to New Delhi would seem completely natural.
Very likely, Rahul’s advisors would be chary of such a scenario for the simple reason that UP is very hard to administer. The attraction of having a ‘youthful’ Prime Minister could disappear very fast if he were to fall into the many pits that litter the political landscape of that state.
Short of Rahul as CM, though, it makes little sense for the voter to plump for the Congress. As the days roll by, it might become an even more two-horse race, irrespective of Priyanka’s charismatic guest appearances and pro-sibling statements, or her husband’s openness to entering politics. (India has had ‘bahu raj’, will it get to see a Zardari-like ‘damaad raj’?)