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UP Elections 2017: PM Modi uses Indira's 'Garibi Hatao' card to attack rivals – will it work?

Fresh from announcing sops for the marginalised on New Year’s Eve, PM Modi addressed a massive rally in Lucknow on Monday, one which he claimed was the ‘biggest rally he had ever seen’. While opposition is trying to pin him down over demonetization, PM played the ‘saviour of the masses’ card to the hilt in this rally. Dismissing all the UP rivals, PM Modi borrowed a leaf from Indira Gandhi. Attacking all the opposition parties, he said: “There is one party with minimal presence in UP, that is trying for 15 years to establish their leader (Rahul Gandhi) but with little success. There is another party trying to save money (BSP) and there is one more party trying to save their own family (Samajwadi Party).”

Recently, the Prime Minister had hit out at Indira Gandhi claiming she had avoided demonetization in 1971 to avoid electoral losses but that didn’t prevent him from almost copy-pasting one of her most popular phrases: “They say remove Indira, but I say remove poverty.”

Bracketing all those opposing demonetization as corrupt, PM Modi said: “When have you seen the SP and the BSP talking in one voice? It’s rare to happen, but on my decision to end corruption they are (suddenly) speaking in one voice. They say remove Modi I say remove black money, they say remove Modi, I say remove corruption. You decide what you want to remove”.

PM Modi’s rally was perfectly timed, as each of his opponents seem to have their chariot wheel stuck in the mud. The Samajwadi Party are amid a bitter family feud.

Meanwhile, the Congress continues in limbo where master strategist Prashant Kishor seems to have fallen out with the UP Congress. Kishore’s Khat Pe Charcha with Rahul hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, as pictures of people running away with the cots went viral. This led organisers to ask people not to take away the cots which led one disgruntled man holding a Congress flag to claim: “We were told by a party worker that we will get free cots and shirts after the meeting but we didn’t get anything.”

WATCH-Local expresses disappointment that he could’nt find Khaat to take home after Rahul Gandhi’s Sabha in Mirzapur

— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) September 14, 2016

Khat Pe Charcha was the brain child of master strategist Prashant Kishor, who earned almost a Chankaya-like status in modern Indian politics after running Modi’s 2014 Lok Sabha and Nitish-Lalu’s Bihar Election 2015 campaign.

But Kishor will need a miracle to pull it off this time and the appointment of Sheila Dixit as Congress’ UP CM face has failed to enthuse the cadres and haven’t mobilised the upper caste vote.

Kishor’s role in the campaign in recent weeks has diminished with neither him nor his team being part of UP Congress’ Dalit outreach program. Kishor’s plan to use Sonia in the state also backfired after she fell seriously ill during a road show in Varanasi.

With several high profile exits in the recent times, BSP is a much weakened force. However Mayawati remains a formidable political personality, with an extremely loyal votebank. But recovery of huge amount of cash from BSP accounts in crackdown post demonetization has badly affected party’s image. While most of the opposition leaders have vocally countered demonetization, Mayawati’s party was the only one under the scanner with the ED detecting deposits of a whopping Rs 104 crore in BSP’s account. Mayawati dubbed the move ‘anti-Dalit’ and a move to tarnish her. But there’s no doubt it will hurt her, she could benefit from the SP war and she blatantly asked for the Muslim vote asking them not to ‘waste’ their votes on the SP and reminded Dalit voters not to be naive and forget incidents like Rohith Vemula’s death or the attack on Dalits in Una, Gujarat.

UP once a Congress fiefdom became the BJP playground during the heady days of Mandal-Kamandal politics. But in the last two decades, SP and BSP buoyed by support of strong social and at times religious groups have ruled the roost in the state. The last time around, in 2012, Rahul led the Congress charge while Uma Bharati and Rajnath Singh were BJP’s faces and none of them set the barn on fire. While the Congress ended up with 28 seats, the BJP had 47. Riding on the promise of a new future with Akhilesh, the Samajwadi Party ended up with 224 seats, while Mayawati’s BSP managed 80 despite numerous corruption charges hanging over hear head. But with BJP sweeping the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the saffron party is looking to surge ahead in a polity heavily across caste, class and communal lines.

Not that it’s clear sailing for BJP. They still lack a clear CM face and it could be anyone from HM Rajnath Singh making a comeback in UP politics to a rabble-rouser like Yogi Adityanath. However, for now the campaign will depend on PM Modi and it will also be the ultimate verdict on public sentiment over demonetization. The PM can keep getting massive victories on his app or win bypolls, but ultimately it will be the people of UP who will virtually give a referendum on demonetization. The stakes are high and the price can hardly be any bigger.