UP is nearing the halfway mark with three phases of polling over, two days to go for the fourth, February 23, and three more phases thereafter. Much is at stake for the big gamers in the contest -- Narendra Modi-Amit Shah, Akhilesh Yadav-Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati. They may lose much more than just the election, if they do not win. Hence, verbal volleys are flying. And such is the confusion over which way the voters are swinging -- they are gathering in all rallies in great numbers.
Well, on Monday no milk of human kindness was flowing from Akhilesh at Milkipur or from Mayawati in Sultanpur, or the Prime Minister in Bundelkhand or Rahul Gandhi in Rae Bareli. Ugly sparring was at its height with each declaring the other a loser. The temperatures are rising so high it seems to be driving the winter from the northern plains.
Akhilesh took a rather below-the-belt snipe at film icon Amitabh Bachchan for his Gujarat tourism ad (the target obviously was Modi-Shah) and Union information and broadcasting minister Venkaiah Naidu thought it fit to lambast the UP CM at a special briefing.
Akhilesh had said, “Ek gadhe ka vigyapan aata hai, main is sadi ke sabse bade mahanayak se kahunga ke ab aap Gujarat ke gadhon ka prachar mat kariye (the advertisement of Gujarat features donkeys; I would like to tell the superstar --that's Bachchan, the brand ambassador of Gujarat tourism -- not to advertise the donkeys of Gujarat).”
Akhilesh also gave it back to Modi for alleging a communal bias by his government in power distribution during the festival season. He urged the PM to take a pledge on the Ganga and clarify if his constituency, Varanasi, gets 24-hour electricity, whether it is Ramzan or Diwali or Christmas.
The PM had said at a Sunday rally: ''Gaon mein qabristan banta hai to shmashan bhi banna chahiye; Ramzan mein bijli aati hai to Diwali mein bhi aani chahiye.... Bhed bhav nahin hona chahiye (If a graveyard is built in a village, a cremation ground should also be constructed; if electricity is supplied during Ramzan, it should also be given in Diwali. There should be no discrimination).''
But the Gujarat ''ass'' jibe was so potent it seemed to overshadow the sparring over power supply. And, therein lay the reason why Congress leaders withdrew their plans of knocking on the Election Commission's doors with a complaint against the Prime Minister's remarks.
''The commission should take suo motu notice. Why should the Congress have to draw (the EC's) attention,'' asked Anand Sharma. The Congress, it seems, felt a trip to Nirvachan Sadan would give the PM and the issue extra mileage, help ''communalise the polls'', and thus indirectly help BJP consolidate Hindu votes in a still open contest.
Prompted by the same logic, Akhilesh tried turning the allegation on 'religious' discrimination in power supply into a development issue, and carried on into his even more audacious dig on Gujarat tourism.
Meanwhile, the PM shifted gear and trained guns on Mayawati in Bundelkhand, making it seem like a BJP vs BSP battle. As if the SP-Congress combine has already crashed out.
As Modi renamed the Bahujan Samaj Party as Behenji Sampatti Party; Mayawati was ready with a quick retort, calling Modi 'Negative Dalit Man'. For, those who may find it difficult to fathom, Behenji told them it means he's anti-Dalit and alleged that demonetisation was done to ensure the 'Dalit ki beti' did not have funds to campaign in a 'hawai jahaj' (helicopter).
Rahul, who made a harangue against 'notebandi' his single target point, said the voters better beware so as not to get divided to help anyone win an election.