Uttar Pradesh (UP) is the most populous state in India, accounting for 16.4 per cent of India’s population. If Uttar Pradesh were an indepedent country, its population of 200 million would be tied for fifth place with Brazil, trailing only Indonesia, the United States, India itself, and China.
And this poverty-stricken melting pot of over 200 million people is the biggest prize in India's general election. There is an old saying that the road to Delhi goes through Lucknow [the capital of Uttar Pradesh]. UP has 80 parliamentary seats, the most of any state, and at the 2014 election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept up 71 of them. This helped give BJP a three-decade record of 282 seats in the 545-seat parliament to remove India's grand old Congress party, which sunk to a record low of 44, just two of them in UP.
The biggest gains made by the BJP in the 2019 elections came in rural areas, with the middle peasant castes enthralled by the Hindu majoritarian agenda of the BJP, and the rural poor coaxed with targeted welfare schemes, such as an annual subsidy for farmers. The protests remain largely confined to the Sikhs in Punjab (not a natural BJP constituency) and the dominant peasant Jat castes of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. It is unlikely, or at the very least unclear, that the protests will precipitate a significant withdrawal of support from the BJP in rural areas.
The state of Uttar Pradesh, which went to the polls in 2022, has emerged from a period of unusual political quiescence, and is witnessing renewed political mobilization in the forms of rallies and public meetings. The BJP’s usual populist tactic of smearing its political opponents as illegitimate or “anti-national” has come unstuck when facing the “son of the soil” farmers of the heartland, largely from the Hindu and Sikh communities.
India held bellwether elections in the legislative assemblies of five major states : Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Punjab, Manipur and Uttarakhand. 690 assembly constituencies went to polls that were held in 7 phases in February and March, 2022. Keenly watched was the biggest state of Uttar Pradesh, where the ruling BJP is trying to hold on to power. Main parties in the fray include Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress. In the other major state of Punjab, opposition parties are trying to oust the Congress government. Those in the contest include BJP, Aam Admi Party and Shiromani Akali Dal. Around 184 million voters, including 85.5 million women, are expected to cast ballots in this mammoth exercise. Out of these, 2.49 million are first-time voters.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who belongs to the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), declared that the state’s assembly election can be described as “80 versus 20 percent”, not so subtly hinting that he perceives the state elections as a battle between the Hindus, who make up 80 percent of the state’s population, and the 20 percent Muslim minority.
The most populous state witnessed a four-way battle between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the Congress party. The high stakes election battle in Uttar Pradesh began 10 February 2022. The first phase of the polling tooke place in 58 assembly seats spread across 11 districts in the western part of the state. or the 58 seats, including the nine reserved seats, a total of 623 candidates would be contesting, for which around 2.27 crore people would be voting in this phase.
The first phase covered the Jat community-dominated belt of the western UP from where farmers had participated actively in the protest against the Centre's three agri laws in the national capital Delhi. In 2017, the BJP bagged 53 of the 58 seats, while the Samajwadi Party and the BSP won only two seats each.
Of the five States that went to the polls, the BJP won four - Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Goa - while the Aam Aadmi Party swept Punjab. In U.P., the BJP won two-thirds of the seats and increased its vote share. The Samajwadi Party, its main rival, doubled its 2017 tally, but fell way short of a majority. The party’s attempt to mobilise Dalits and Other Backward Classes could not win against the BJP’s combination of welfarism, Hindutva discourse and expansive accommodation of OBCs and Dalits. The BJP was also supported by a large number of women in the State. BJP’s massive victory in UP has once again proved that the party’s traditional vote bank remains intact. In western UP, all the claims made by the opponents regarding the farmers’ movement and the Jat Muslim alliance were blown away.
With the win, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath emerged as the first among equals among BJP Chief Ministers but will have to wait longer to rise even higher. The 2022 victory in Uttar Pradesh gave Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath a big boost. The controversial Hindu nationalist politician had emerged as a key BJP leader in the past few years, with some people now seeing him as Modi's successor. Adityanath's remarkable election campaign secured his party over 260 seats in the 403-member state assembly.
It was the charisma of Modi and Yogi that after 37 years, a political party has returned to power for the second time in a row. This is the first time in 37 years that a Chief Minister has again raised the flag of victory after being in power for 5 years. This victory of BJP in UP is going to strengthen ‘Brand Yogi’ and with this strength BJP has got that tonic which will prove to be the most helpful in the race for PM’s chair of 2024.
The regional Samajwadi Party, which has an alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, put up a stiff fight against the BJP though, trying to capitalize on the ruling party's "mistreatment of minorities" in Uttar Pradesh. But, that was not enough to oust the BJP. Adityanath has a good record on fighting crimes and restoring law and order in the state. Development precedes religion, which is why people voted for him.
In the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the Hyderabad-based political party All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen lost deposits in most of the 100 seats it ran for. Though it received more votes than it did in 2017, the Asaduddin Owaisi-led party has failed miserably to deliver in the manner it promised, particularly in Muslim-majority areas, and has not won a single seat in the state. According to poll trends released on 10 Mmarch 2022, the majority of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen's candidates failed to reach the 5,000-vote threshold in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. According to the Election Commission website, the Asaddudin Owaisi-led party received about 0.43 percent of the total votes cast across the state's 403 assembly seats.
UP, which has given India nine prime ministers, lies at the center of the country's vast northern Hindi-speaking belt, home to around a third of India's 1.3-billion population and which in 2014 formed the core of the BJP's support. The landlocked region, home to the iconic Taj Mahal and roughly the size of Britain, is also a cauldron of religions and castes.
Life in Uttar Pradesh is short and uncertain. Females expect to live less than 55 years and the under-five mortality rate is as high as 141 per thousand. In these respects Uttar Pradesh resembles Sub-Saharan Africa with 53 years of life expectancy and 160 under five mortality rate. Further, the demographic transition of U.P. has been slow. Among all the major Indian states, Uttar Pradesh has the highest birth rate and the highest fertility rate.
As the fifth largest and the most populous state of the country, Uttar Pradesh (UP) contributes the major share in the total Lok Sabha seats. UP is always considered as the political hub in India, as it has given as many as five Prime Ministers to the country. Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of members in the Indian parliament and so the election results in UP often decides the fate of the government at the center. Uttar Pradesh has a history of violent riots between Hindu and Muslims.
The BJP victory in the state in 2017 increased Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and BJP’s chances of winning a second term in the national elections in 2019. Firebrand Hindu politician Yogi Adityanath, pre-eminent Hindu Hriday Samrat (king of hearts of Hindus), was appointed to the position of chief minister in India's most populous state on 17 March 2017. Adityanath's ascent has prompted widespread questions about India's secular status, and whether Modi, himself a product of a nationalist Hindu upbringing, intends to pursue more religious policies as he pursues economic reforms.
Critics saw the elevation of Adityanath, a shaven-headed, saffron-robed Hindu monk, as a move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards redefining the world's largest democracy as a Hindu nation. Adityanath had a history of agitation against minority Muslims in India. Adityanath is saffron-robed Hindu priest, a five-term member of India's Parliament and has more than a dozen criminal cases pending against him, including an attempted murder charge.
Akhilesh Yadav made a concerted effort to distance himself from the lathi-wielding Yadav musclemen who had been the backbone of the Samajwadi Party. Critics said the party’s cadres had let loose a reign of terror in the past five years that the Samajwadi Party had been in power. It was said that Yadavs "start indulging in goondagardi and grab our property, even our wives and daughters are not safe.”
Goondagardi (goonadaism - hooliganism) includes physical threats, fights and violence. Right-wing mobs are allowed to attack their opponents without fear of legal action. On the campaign trail in Uttar Pradesh, in February 2017 Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah complained about goondagardi or mob rule in the state, and referred to his political opponents as Kasab – Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, an acronym that is reference to the name of the terrorist who was caught in the Mumbai attacks. Yet, his own government is unable to prevent violence from an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed outfit affiliated to his party.
Adityanath is supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), that provides the ideological base and recruitment pool to the Bharatiya Janata Party and other extremist Hindu groups. The RSS supports "Hindutva" or Hindu-ness as the cultural identity of India and promotes the message of Hindu supremacy in a nation that is constitutionally secular. Critics said the RSS and its hardline Hindu philosophy hardens divisions in society in order to unify Hindu opinion and votes.
The temple issue is no longer the election-cry of even the BJP which, in the 1990s, rose to national prominence on the temple promise. Whether the Ram temple will be built is a matter of speculation - but with Yogi as CM of a BJP government with a massive majority, the clamor for the temple was only going to increase. The dispute flared up in 1992 after a Hindu mob destroyed the mosque and nearly 2,000 were killed in rioting between Hindus and Muslims across the country. As an ascetic of the Kanphata yogis (pierced ears) or the Nath tradition of Gorakshapeeth, Gorakhpur, Adityanath’s association with the dispute in Ayodhya is not just individual, it’s institutional. His own guru Avaidyanath, who died in 2014, was an important leader of the Ramajanambhoomi movement.
Much like Modi, Adityanath tempered his tone since the March 2017 elections: Ever since he became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, Adityanath has sounded like more of a statesman than a rabble-rouser. Gone is the fiery anti-Muslim rhetoric and promotion of Hindu supremacy for which the 44-year-old is known, and in its place is a message of social inclusion more akin to Modi's language since sweeping to power in 2014. On the other hand, Adityanath's devotees at the Gorakhnath temple still say their main mission is to fight against creeping encroachment by Uttar Pradesh's Muslim community.
Adityanath's fanbase is diverse: Despite his anti-Islam rhetoric, some Muslims living in his constituency and near the Gorakhnath temple praise the priest saying he takes care of everyone and provides protection regardless of caste and creed. Even though, apart from his rhetorical statements, there is no past precedent that clearly indicate Adityanath’s administrative record.Those defending him say he should be given a chance. They also believe that the appointment will be a better platform for Adityanath, and that all the decisions he makes will be somewhat accounted for because he will now be under closer scrutiny.
The UP city of Varanasi, where Hindus are cremated on the banks of the holy Ganges 24 hours a day, is where Modi stood for eleciton in 2019, and the 68-year-old's popularity there is unparalleled. He won the seat with a huge majority in 2014, telling voters that he wasn't an outsider - he hails not from UP but from Gujurat - Varanasi's "son of the soil". Locals praise him for his efforts to develop the city dotted with temples and thronging with pilgrims and tourists in a state that is a byword for chronic underdevelopment.
An unlikely anti-Modi alliance was formed in 2019. One part of it is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), headed by Mayawati, the formidable "Dalit Queen" whose championing of India's former untouchables helped her become UP's chief minister four times. She has partnered with her former sworn foes, the Samajwadi Party (SP), led by another former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, and the smaller Rashtriya Lok Dal party (RLD). Absent from the tie-up though is Congress.
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