With assembly elections coming up in five states, the spotlight is almost wholly on Uttar Pradesh, and naturally so. Not only is it the countryís largest state, but also the outcome there will have a much bigger bearing on national politics. A hung assembly may well see a coalition emerge with the Congress featuring in it. This will mean one more ally for that party at the Centre, thus making the Congress less dependent on the Trinamul Congress which, these days, is proving to be more of a headache than a comfort.
The main issue is governance; will the people of the state tell Mayavati that merely playing the Dalit card is not enough? Or will Mayavati pull a rabbit out of the hat by forging a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which represents her bÍte noire ó the upper castes? The possibility of the Samajwadi Party and the BJP coming together cannot be ruled out either. If Nitish Kumar can co-habit with the saffron flag and not lose minority support in Bihar, then why cannot Mulayam Singh Yadav do the same in his state?
Imponderables all. Right now, the only thing that can be said for certain is that the post- election scene in Lucknow will show how foolish it is to have the last word about Indian political parties. The state had earlier seen various combinations. So much so that the people, who were getting tired of the musical chairs, gave Mayavati a clear majority. Unfortunately, the lady thought the mandate meant she could do as she pleased. She frittered away the opportunity of showing the world that a Dalit could do things better than the others. Today, she is unsure of repeating her 2007 performance.
Like the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress also has problems of its own making. The party is holding backroom parleys with the SP after keeping it at armís length at the Centre. Even after Mulayam Singh Yadav had given the first United Progressive Alliance crucial support during the voting on the no-confidence resolution in the Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi had not budged from her position. If a situation arises in which, to have a piece of the laddoo in the state, she decides to join the Yadav leader, her image will take a beating.
Far away from UP, Manipur presents a far more clear picture. It is the Congress and allies that are seeking to retain office there. Till now, the scenario does not offer much scope for speculation regarding post-poll combinations. The big issues five years ago were corruption and the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, and they remain relevant even today. These are issues that the civil society in Imphal considers valid. The election results five years ago had caused considerable surprise. This time, the demand for the withdrawal of the AFSPA has become more strident with the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir speaking in the same voice in his own state. The Centre is unwilling to oblige because of security reasons. It remains to be seen whether the peopleís response remains the same as well.
As for corruption, it has become such an integral part of life in Manipur that it will be surprising if it remains a major concern when the Manipuris case their votes. On the other hand, the concern being shown by the Centre may make things a little more favourable for the Congress. Unlike in UP, regional forces do not exactly call the shots in the Northeast. The latest evidence of this is the drubbing the Asom Gana Parishad received in Assam last year. And as for the Naga undergroundís demand for a Greater Nagaland, comprising parts of Manipur and Assam, the opposition is so great that no party can take advantage of it by being more vocal than others. In a nutshell, the small state in the Northeast presents a transparent political picture than that of UP, which is supposed to represent mainstream India.