Fuel tax cuts, extension of free ration: BJP gearing up for 2022 UP elections after mixed bypoll results

With the Uttar Pradesh elections in 2022 weighing heavily on its minds post the crushing defeat in West Bengal, the ruling BJP seems to be taking urgent measures. Besides the Centre’s decision to reduce the excise duty on petrol and diesel, the state government has announced additional cuts in fuel prices and extended the free ration scheme in the state till Holi, which falls in March.

The fuel tax reduction, announced by the Centre on Wednesday, followed by the BJP-ruled states’ decision to reduce the tax further, would give the ruling party a high moral ground ahead of Parliament’s winter session as well as the upcoming state elections early next year.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath attending BJP organized lodhi sammelan in Lucknow on October 26, 2021. (Express Photo)

The mixed bypoll results – the party faced a humiliating defeat in Himachal Pradesh while it made considerable gains in the BJP-ruled Assam and Madhya Pradesh – seemed to have prompted the party to go ahead with more measures in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, sources said.

On Wednesday, addressing a gathering in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that the state government was extending the Centre’s free ration scheme, announced during the Covid-19 pandemic, till Holi. Although the announcement was overshadowed by the fuel price cut, party sources admitted that it was a “calculated move” and was part of its strategies for the state elections.

“The scheme of free ration will be extended till Holi. Fifteen crore people will have its benefits every month – every Antyodaya cardholder will get not only get 35 kg of rice/wheat but also pulses, oil and salt with it on their card. They will also get sugar every month,” the chief minister announced.

The announcement that has effectively extended free ration benefits till the next election – Uttar Pradesh is expected to go to polls by March – was keeping the elections in mind, said a party leader. Senior BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was in Lucknow last week to launch BJP’s membership campaign, has linked BJP’s return to power in Lucknow to the party’s re-election at the Centre in 2024.

“Modi ji ke netratva mein agla joh Lok Sabha ka chunav jeetna hai 24 (2024) mein, uski neenv daalne ka kaam Uttar Pradesh ka 22 (2022) ka Vidhan Sabha karne waala hai. Yeh main UP ki janata ko batane aaya hoon ki Modi ji ko phir se ek baar 24 mein pradhan mantri banana hai, toh 22 mein phir ek baar Yogi ji ko mukhyamantri banana padega. Tab jaakar ye desh ka vikas aage badh sakta hai (The 2024 Lok Sabha elections that we have to win under Modi ji’s leadership, its foundation will be laid by the Uttar Pradesh 2022 Assembly polls. I want to tell the people of UP that if you want Modi ji to return as Prime Minister in 2024, you have to make Yogi ji CM again in 2022. Only then can the country progress).”

Sources in the BJP, which has been attacked by the opposition for the ongoing farmers’ agitation and the increasing prices of the fuel, however, have rejected the criticism that the increasing fuel prices had attributed to its not-so-impressive performance in the October 30 byelections. “If the fuel prices were the reason for the people to vote against the BJP, we would not have made significant gains in Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. BJP’s defeat in three assemblies and in the Mandi Lok Sabha seat and the poor performance in Rajasthan as well as the Hanagal Assembly seat in Karnataka have several other reasons. The party has to look into it,” said a senior party leader.

A day after the byelection results were out, the central government on Wednesday announced a cut in the excise duty on petrol by Rs 5 and diesel by Rs 10. The BJP ruled Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka, Manipur, Tripura, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have announced additional cuts.

However, party leaders admitted that they were not looking at the elections in Uttar Pradesh as a “cakewalk” for the BJP. “The unpleasant scenario in the western parts of the state – following the farmers’ agitation and the Lakhimpur Kheri incident – could trigger dangerous social combinations. Party is conscious of it and we have to focus on the theme that the BJP provides better governance for the state while keeping the community combinations comfortable,” said a leader.

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