In UP’s poll season, it’s Modi’s (D) vs Akhilesh’s (D)

Ghazipur: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses during "Parivartan rally" in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh.

Lucknow, Dec 16 As Uttar Pradesh braces for the forthcoming assembly polls, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘D’ (demonetisation) versus Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s ‘D’ (development).

And so, while the saffron camp is in a huddle to decide its strategy to hard-sell demonetisation and try to comfort people reeling under an acute shortage of cash, the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) is trying to trump it up with a string of development projects that it has presided over in its four-and-a-half years’ rule in India’s most populous state.

It’s no wonder hence that in the past one month or so, Akhilesh Yadav’s schedule has been packed with ribbon-cutting ceremonies and foundation stone-laying events.

Officials told that in this period, the Chief Minister has dedicated to the people of the state projects worth several crores of rupees. These include riverfront projects on the Gomti in Lucknow, inauguration of the fancy, hi-tech and sprawling Chief Minister’s Secretariat, the trial run of a small stretch of the Lucknow Metro Rail, and the 302-km long Agra-Lucknow Expressway which cuts the travel time between the Taj city and the state capital by nearly half. Many projects are also lined up for Jhansi.

In a tenure riddled by poor law and order, nepotism, internal bickering, family feuds and communal flare-ups, close aides of Yadav admit that “development was the tagline the ruling party was pitching hard” to the people of the state, who for now seemingly are undecided on who their next ruler would be. While ‘vikas’ (development) was the line mandarins in the state government were asked to toe after SP’s disastrous showing at the hustings when its tally slumped to a mere four in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The campaign has gained momentum in the month after demonetisation, avers a senior official in charge of the government’s publicity in the election year.

“The Chief Minister is aware of the perils of demonetisation and it is a smart move to magnify it to the people and juxtapose it with the work we have initiated in our regime,” a senior minister said. Harvard professor Steve Jardinge and his team, who are looking after UP’s election campaign too, are learnt to have asked the 43-year-old to “play it up” and ice it with his development agenda.

On Wednesday, Akhilesh Yadav inaugurated through a remote control several projects in Noida and Greater Noida, the neighbouring suburbs of New Delhi, trying to strike a cord with the urban elite and middle class, which particularly is reeling under the demonetisation blues.

“Prime Minister Modi has hugely erred in demonetisation and, through the ill-planned move, has made people stand out on roads in long, never-ending queues, I am sure the people will give him a befitting reply through the ballot in the forthcoming state assembly polls,” Yadav said. He also pointed to the “gigantic strides” Uttar Pradesh has taken under his watch in strengthening the power sector, the re-laying and expansion of roads, improved and free healthcare and better education system, among other “achievements”.

Sources say that before the Election Commission announces the poll schedule, the electorate is being fed with material in the form of booklets, books, posters, TV commercials and radio jingles of the “unprecedented development” in the state.

The politics of demonetisation versus the development campaign is already being handled by the party through the hush hush and low decibel campaigns by SP cadres in the countryside and its known faces in the urban areas.

The opposition, including Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is predictably not amused. While the saffron camp is taken aback by Yadav’s frontal charge against demonetisation, it is sharpening its knives to take on the note ban, which, till not long ago, was said to be their ace as they go to the electorate early next year.

However, the fact that the attacks on demonetisation by SP leaders have begun to hurt them appear true as state BJP leaders are learnt to have briefed Modi during his brief stopover at Amausi airport recently. The angst was reflected in the cellphone address by the Prime Minister to the people in Bahraich. where he named the SP for the first time as being “most troubled by his drive against black money and demonetisation”.

BJP leaders promise a “befitting response” in the “coming days”. “They have half-baked development schemes and are playing politics. The people are smart enough to see through this,” said state BJP general secretary Vijay Bahadur Pathak.

The party has so far unleashed its union ministers, front-rung leaders and Lok Sabha members in its ‘Parivartan Yatras’ criss-crossing the state to let people know the benefits of demonetisation and expose the state government. Soon “kamal khilao” — let the lotus (BJP’s symbol) bloom — campaigns will be set rolling to garner support.

Arch rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) too echoes similar sentiments. “Akhilesh is rushing through incomplete projects as he has nothing to show in his report card, people are going to teach him and Modi a lesson while siding with us in the coming elections,” claims Mayawati. The jury is, however, out on the rival claims, and the people of the electorally-crucial state will speak their minds in 2017.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at mohit.d@ians.in)

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