From Modi’s Blitz to a ‘Missing’ MSY: Why UP Polls Were Historic

From big names tacking the backseat to a terrorist’s killing, UP elections 2017 saw many memorable firsts.

The long, staggered Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, whose results are to be announced on 11 March, would be remembered for innumerable reasons. While, like most similar electoral battles, this one too had its share of the avoidable incidents.

Be it use of words like ‘KaSaB’, gadha (ass) or other below-the-belt jibes against political opponents, there were many firsts in the seven-phase polls that were spread over a month of voting.

It was for the first time since 1999 that Congress President Sonia Gandhi did not campaign in Uttar Pradesh, from where she and her son Rahul Gandhi are members of the Lok Sabha.

Citing poor health and doctors' advice, especially after the near-fatal bout of asthma she suffered in Varanasi during a roadshow last year, she thought it best to avoid the hurly-burly of campaigning.

Mulayam Takes a Backseat after 50 Years

Samajwadi Party (SP) mentor and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav too largely skipped the campaign and only canvassed for daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav, who is contesting from Lucknow Cantt on an SP ticket, brother Shivpal Singh Yadav in Jaswantnagar and old aide Parasnath Yadav in Ghazipur.

This is the first time since he started practising active politics in the 1960s that the Yadav chieftain largely missed a campaign.

Completely sidelined this time by his son and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who edged him out as President of the SP, Mulayam had addressed some 100 rallies in the 2012 Assembly polls.

Shivpal Yadav, who until not long ago was the number two in the party, had no work this time around. He was neither invited nor did he go anywhere to campaign for party workers.

The other first from the first family of Uttar Pradesh were the public statements by Mulayam's second wife Sadhna Gupta.

Just hours before the last round in Poorvanchal, gave an hour-long interview to a TV news agency, alleging slight and saying that Akhilesh should not have humiliated ‘Neta-ji’ (Mulayam).

Largely in the background over the past two decades, this was Sadhna’s first outing in public.

It was also for the first time that the Yadav clan stepped out of Saifai to contest state elections. While most members of the Mulayam clan are from in and around the Saifai belt, this time nephew Anurag Yadav was fielded from Sarojininagar and, of course, Aparna Yadav from Lucknow Cantt.

The state polls also had a first in the fact that Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra figured in the list of all phases as a star campaigner, though she obliged with just one rally in Raebareli, her mother’s Lok Sabha constituency.

Sheila Dixit, the former Delhi Chief Minister, who was pitched as the "UP bahu" and the presumptive Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister before the Congress struck an alliance with the SP, was also nowhere to be seen during the campaign.

PM Modi’s Unprecedented Role in UP Campaign

It was also the first time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or for that matter any Prime Minister, spent so much time and energy on a state assembly election.

At the end of the seven-phase polls, Modi had addressed 23 mega rallies and had done two roadshows. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah also entered the list of firsts by addressing 210 rallies.

It was, incidentally, also the first time that BJP veterans L.K. Advani and Kanpur MP Murli Manohar Joshi did not hit the campaign trail. Once the faces of all BJP campaigns, they were a complete washout in the Uttar Pradesh polls this time.

Record Seizures of Booze and Cash

For the state police, there were many firsts too. Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Daljit Chowdhary said there were "highest seizures of unaccounted money, illicit liquor and illegal vehicles" during the campaign. The state police seized almost Rs 40 crore of the total Rs 119.42 crores of illegal cash caught during the elections.

A staggering 2.23 million bulk litres of liquor, costing a whopping Rs 64.17 crore, were seized and 3.62 million people were booked under various sections of the IPC. Of the warrants issued against 22,400 people, 21,653 were served. Police also undertook a mammoth task of depositing 870,000 licensed weapons.

"The experience of conducting smooth elections is satisfying," a senior official said, while pointing out that despite a huge influx of VVIPs, there was no untoward incident.

Intelligence officials concede that the roadshows undertaken by Modi in an open SUV in Varanasi and another SPG protectee, Rahul Gandhi, in Meerut, Agra, Allahabad, Varanasi and Lucknow were “security nightmares”. 

But now that all has ended well, they have heaved a sigh of relief.

Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Singh, said said there were many firsts for the poll panel too during the Uttar Pradesh elections. "Many first-time initiatives were undertaken by the state CEO -- like the launch of many mobile applications for helping voters and a grievance redressal portal," he said.

Incidentally, it was for the first time that a suspected terrorist was killed in a gun battle on the day of polling – the last phase in Poorvanchal – on March 8

(Published in an arrangement with IANS)