With the success of Nitish Kumar in neighbouring Bihar fresh on their minds, major political parties may announce their chief ministerial candidates ahead of the assembly election polls in Uttar Pradesh.
Incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party is all set to be his party’s chief ministerial face in the polls, while BSP supremo Mayawati, a Rajya Sabha member, will look to steer her party to a comeback in the key Hindi heartland state and rule it for the fifth time.
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There is talk in BJP and Congress about naming a chief ministerial candidate.
Union Minister Smriti Irani, who took on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi in the Lok Sabha polls, is being talked about as one of the probables. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who helmed the state between 2000 and 2002, and commands considerable influence in the party, is another.
In poll-bound Assam, BJP has nominated Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal as its chief ministerial candidate following the party’s debacle in Bihar where it had not projected any leader for the hot seat.
UP had played a stellar role in Narendra Modi’s hugely successful prime ministerial campaign in 2014, with BJP clinching 73 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats. Modi himself represents Varanasi in Parliament.
Some Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, say it would not be a surprise if the party announces a CM candidate in the next six months. If it does, it would be probably for the first time for the party in the politically crucial state.
The name of Priyanka Gandhi is being suggested by many in the party who feel she alone has the charisma to pull the Congress out of the morass it finds itself in the state. However, another section is dismissive about such a possibility, saying Priyanka has a pan-India appeal and should not be pitchforked into an electoral contest in UP.
Election strategist Prashant Kishor, who has been roped in by the Congress for the UP polls, has sought a candid response from the state leaders on the issue.
At a meeting convened by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi earlier this month, Kishor discussed whether declaring a chief ministerial candidate would make or mar the prospects of the party in the cowbelt state.
Significantly, Shiela Dikshit, who was the Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years and Digvijay Singh, who ruled Madhya Pradesh for a decade, were invited for the meet. While Dikshit hails from Uttar Pradesh, Singh has been General Secretary in charge of UP for several years.
Congress is in political wilderness in the state since 1989 following Mandalisation of the state’s politics and the Ram temple issue. The emergence of BSP and consolidation of Dalit voters, for years a Congress vote bank, behind Mayawati’s party, reduced it to being a marginal player in the state.
BJP too has become a laggard in the state politics in the past 15 years and the political landscape in UP has been dominated by the Samajwadi Party and the BSP.
A senior Congress leader, who declined to be identified, said the party’s allies in the state would have to accept its chief ministerial candidate. The talk of an alliance with JD(U) and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal has been doing rounds in political circles.
Central leaders of Congress insist that after Bihar, where the party joined hands with JD(U) and Lalu Prasad’s RJD to stall the BJP juggernaut, it is keen on thwarting the saffron party’s bid to wrest the state to queer the pitch for Modi in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
In Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s projection as chief minister had done the trick for the secular alliance, resulting in consolidation of anti-BJP votes. Kishor, who had earlier managed Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial campaign, also assiduously devised Nitish Kumar’s poll strategy.
However, BJP’s last minute projection of Kiran Bedi as chief ministerial contender in Delhi went horribly wrong as it left the party divided. AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal won a resounding victory clinching 63 of the city’s 70 seats.