The first round of voting in the world’s largest election will take place in just over two weeks. Indian politics is far too big and complex to cover on a national level, so I thought I’d start doing posts on the election in individual Indian states, starting with the largest state of Uttar Pradesh.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s largest state, covering a large stretch of northern India. The state borders Nepal to the north, and reaches the outskirts of Delhi in the east. Uttar Pradesh is home to 190 million people. Only five countries, including India, have a larger population.
Uttar Pradesh will elect 80 members of the Lok Sabha in single-member constituencies at the upcoming election. 16 constituencies vote in the first round of voting on April 16, with roughly a fifth of constituencies voting in each of the five rounds of voting.
The political environment in Uttar Pradesh reflects the decline of the major parties in Indian politics. At the 2004 election, only 19 seats were won by the Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party.
Uttar Pradesh politics is dominated by two socialist parties: the Samajwadi Party, which is now allied with the Indian National Congress, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, one of the leading parties in the Third Front of left-wing and regional parties. Both parties are almost entirely based in Uttar Pradesh, with practically no federal representation in other states.
The 2004 election saw the Samajwadi Party win 35 seats and the BSP 19. At the 2007 state election in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi minority government was defeated, with a BSP majority government elected, headed by former Chief Minister Mayawati. She led the first majority government in Uttar Pradesh in over a decade.
Since the launch of the new leftist Third Front, Mayawati has emerged as the party’s unofficial leader, and has ambitions to be the next Prime Minister, and will likely be a key powerbroker if neither major parties manages to achieve a dominant position in the election.
The other prominent figure in Uttar Pradesh to appear in the election is Varun Gandhi, the 29-year-old grandson of Indira Gandhi. While the Indian National Congress includes amongst its leaders the wife and son of the slain PM Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira, another branch of the family is aligned with the BJP.
In 1980, Indira Gandhi’s eldest son Sanjay was killed in a plane crash. After his death, his wife Maneka became involved in politics, and fell out with Indira Gandhi. Following Indira Gandhi’s death she formed a new party and ran against Rajiv Gandhi in his constituency. She served as minister in a number of non-Congress governments in the 1990s and ended up joining the BJP.
Her son Varun is running for the BJP for the first time in 2009, and his campaign has become a national issue with his own “macaca moment”, when he was recorded making derogatory comments about Muslims. The case saw the Electoral Commission recommend he be barred from standing (a recommendation the BJP has rejected) and, on Suunday, he was charged and jailed by the Uttar Pradesh state authorities under the harsh National Security Act for his alleged hate speech, with many drawing links between the charge and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s attempts to appeal to the Muslim community.