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Why UP opposition parties are jittery after Owaisi performance in Bihar

Given the nature of Hindi heartland politics, a lot of what applies to Bihar is relevant to Uttar Pradesh as well.

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Lucknow: The election results in Bihar, in which the ruling JD(U)-BJP combine just about managed to retain power, has now thrown up several new challenges for all parties in Uttar Pradesh who have started planning their campaigns for the 2022 assembly polls. 

Given the nature of Hindi heartland politics, a lot of what applies to Bihar is relevant to Uttar Pradesh as well. There are at least three major takeaways for UP leaders from the Bihar elections results, and one of them is the Asaduddin Owaisi factor. His success in Bihar is giving nightmares to the Samajwadi Party and the Congress in UP.     

The Owaisi factor & chances of 3rd front

The Asaduddin Owaisi–led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) won five of the 20 seats it contested in the Bihar assembly elections. The party bagged all its seats in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal area of the state.  

While the AIMIM did not affect the vote share of the secular RJD-Congress-Left combine, it is still giving jitters to the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress, both of which rely on the Muslim vote in UP. 

And buoyed by its success in Bihar, the AIMIM has set its sights on UP. The AIMIM’s Uttar Pradesh unit president Shaukat Ali told ThePrint that the party plans to contest on 25 per cent of the seats in the state. Muslims make up 19.26 per cent of UP’s population.   

“We are preparing the list of probable candidates by identifying seats in as many as 56 districts,” Ali said. “In order to stop the BJP, we wish for formation of a secular alliance here too.” 

According to sources associated with the party, it is preparing to field candidates on Muslim and Dalit majority seats of Western and Eastern UP. 

This could spell disaster for parties such as the BSP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in Western UP, while it will affect the prospects of the SP in Eastern UP. Opposition party leaders also feel that Muslims with them could end up joining the AIMIM. 

There are also murmurs in UP about the formation of a new alliance, along the lines of the Grand Democratic Secular Front led by Upendra Kushwaha in Bihar. 

Apart from Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), the front was made up of the the BSP, AIMIM and Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP), which had allied with the BJP in the 2017 UP elections.   

There are now rumours that BSP, AIMIM and SBSP may come together in Uttar Pradesh. In such a case, the SP and the Congress, which also rely on Dalit and Muslim votes, will have their task cut out. 

Also in the mix is Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad’s Azad Samaj Party (Kanshi Ram). In the recently held byelections, the party finished third in Bulandshahr but secured more votes than the Congress and the RLD-SP combine. Azad’s party had, however, drawn a blank in the Bihar polls, which it fought with Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party. 

Also read: RJD says Rahul Gandhi was on picnic during Bihar polls, Congress blames ‘caste politics’

The Congress conundrum & a lesson for Akhilesh

For the Congress, the Bihar defeat is yet another poll debacle. The party won just 19 of the 70 seats it contested, drawing charges that it seeks more seats than it deserves and then pulls down its allies in the state.  

The ripples are already being felt in UP. Soon after the Bihar results, SP president Akhilesh Yadav announced that his party would not form any alliance with any of the major parties. This appeared to be directed at the Congress. 

Party morale is also not high in UP. Of the seven seats in the state that went to bypolls on 3 November, the Congress failed to win any of the six it contested. It even lost its deposit on four. The BJP won six while the SP won one — Malhani.

Congress MLC Deepak Singh, however, told ThePrint that political equations of Bihar and UP are different. “In UP, the Congress party will contest elections under the strong leadership of Priyanka Gandhi,” he said. “BJP might field leaders like Owaisi or any leader and party to split Congress’s votes but the general public will support us. Be it the issue of the Hathras Rape case or the atrocities against the tribals in Sonbhadra, the Congress party has always fought hard for the people. In such a situation, we expect that the masses will also support the Congress in 2022.”

Meanwhile, the manner in which the Tejashwi Yadav-led RJD lost in a close fight despite exit polls predicting its victory, may provide several important lessons for Akhilesh Yadav. 

According to Professor Kaviraj, a noted political commentator and professor at Lucknow University, Tejashwi had intensified his election campaign only in the last two to three months.

“If BJP is to be challenged successfully in UP, then the hard work on the ground should start right now,” Kaviraj said. “During the Bihar elections, unemployment was a major issue. Tejashwi also managed to get proper leverage from this issue, but he could not attract voters from other age groups. All these lessons are applicable for Akhilesh in UP too.” 

SP MLC Udayveer Singh admitted that there are lessons for the party from the Bihar elections. “We have to remain extra cautious about the BJP’s bag of conspiracies,” he said. “In order to damage the chances of SP, they might enlist assistance from other parties. But now we know all about this and we are fully prepared for it too. 

Also read: BJP wins states by overriding local issues with ideological. Bihar is latest example

Unemployment to be a massive issue in UP too

Tejashwi’s campaign in Bihar that had rattled the ruling JD(U)-BJP combine centred around one massive poll promise — jobs. 

The RJD leader’s promise to provide 10 lakh government jobs had turned the election narrative and nearly earned him power. It also provided a new challenge for the BJP, which has been sweeping elections. 

Unemployment could also be a major factor in Uttar Pradesh. 

In February this year, the UP government admitted that in just the last two years 12.5 lakh youths were unemployed.

Labour Minister Swami Prasad Maurya, in a written reply in the state assembly, also stated that as on 7 February this year, 33.93 lakh people had registered for jobs on the online employment portal run by the labour department. 

The UP government appears to have realised this. Right after the Bihar elections results, it has intensified efforts to launch its Mission Rozgar, an ambitious scheme to provide employment to 50 lakh youth by March 2021. An official spokesperson made the announcement on 10 November, the day of the Bihar election results. 

Under the mission, jobs are to be provided in the government as well as the private sector.    

The opposition also believes that jobs will be a vital issue in the elections. “We believe that unemployment could be a major issue in UP assembly elections too just like it happened in Bihar,” SP MLC Udayveer Singh.

Also read: Another debacle for UP Congress, but Priyanka Gandhi hasn’t visited Lucknow HQ in 11 months


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