As the seven-phased Uttar Pradesh Assembly election heads for the penultimate round, the narrative of all political parties has witnessed a sea change.
The echo of "development" has made way for crass rhetoric, giving the campaign a clear cut communal turn - thereby paving the way for the politics of religious polarisation.
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi went off the tangent to raise issues like "kabristan (graveyard)" and "shamshan (crematoria)", "Eid" and Diwali, UP chief minister and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav stooped lower by dismissing his adversaries as "gadhas (donkeys)", while Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati did not mince words when throwing the religious bait, as she repeatedly declared in her speeches that she had given tickets to nearly 100 Muslim candidates.
What followed made the campaigns murkier: perhaps, realisation dawned on political bigwigs in the BJP that taking the communal line was no longer Modi's cup of tea even though it became his USP in 2014, when he guided BJP to a record win of 73 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats.
This prompted party chief Amit Shah to change the track from "Hindu-Muslim" to terrorism - apparently in the hope of evoking patriotic sentiments.
|Akhilesh Yadav stooped low by dismissing his adversaries as 'donkeys'. Photo: Reuters
But the manner in which he chose to do so was quite weird. It began with the twisted acronym of Kasab - read as Congress ('K' for Congress), Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party.
However, it failed to gel with the voters. Even though Modi was quick to initially take it forward by terming the two recent rail accidents in Kanpur as "acts of terror" , it was not very long when he realised that his accusation was far-fetched.
After all both the state police and NIA had found nothing to even remotely suggest sabotage, and the railway administration's preliminary reports had attributed the mishaps to "poor maintenance" and the "neglect" of railway tracks and the rolling stock.
No wonder then that after raking the issue at a huge rally in Eastern UP's Gonda, he decided to go silent on the terror charge. What followed was yet another turn in a different direction - once again steered by none other than PM Modi.
Even though it was an accusation that the SP and the BSP were trying to push for a hung Assembly, one did not expect an otherwise overconfident Modi to pursue it.
So, everyone was taken by surprise when Modi told a rally in Mau on February 27, "Shortly after the third phase of polling, both SP and BSP have understood that they must give up dreams of winning; so they have got down to playing a new game and adopting a new technique .
And what they were now trying to do was that even as they had conceded defeat, they do not want anyone to get a majority."
Raising an emotional pitch, he said: "I want to tell the top leaders of SP and BSP to do whatever they can to defeat the BJP; we have no problem with it. But please do not play with the future of Uttar Pradesh, which has suffered in the past on account of a fractured verdict in several elections."
As if addressing both SP and BSP, he went on to add, "You might think in case of a hung Assembly, you will try to strike bargains, but let me remind you that the people of UP have shown you in the Lok Sabha polls how they gave a clear verdict in favour of the BJP. And in these elections too, they will once again ensure that the BJP wins with a huge majority."
That Modi was not his usual self had become evident when he cut off the communalising supply of electricity - indirectly accusing Akhilesh Yadav of giving preferential treatment to Muslims on Eid as compared to Hindus on Diwali.
His claims were promptly proved false by Akhilesh, who came out with records of the power generated and distributed during both festivals.
The official data established that more power was made available on Diwali. This false premise also took the steam off Modi's other dig at the SP government regarding the construction of "kabristans (graveyards)", even though there was some truth in the statement.
What Akhilesh did was make budgetary allocation for the construction of boundary walls around graveyards. But with the power supply allegation falling flat, Modi's graveyard attack wasn't taken seriously.
In any case, the "Eid-Diwali" rhetoric was much like typical RSS canards, spread systematically as a part of its hate-mongering.
But coming from Modi, who had shunned communally-inclined utterances throughout 2014, it left everyone stunned. What was most counfounding, however, was his reference to the hung House.
What was the desperation? Wasn't Modi really confident it would be smooth sailing this election?
Has he begun to see that his hyped "development" promise was not able to match Akhilesh's visible accomplishments?
Was the hung House his own apprehension - based on his intelligence inputs that had prompted him to speak in those terms?
Or, has it dawned on the PM that politics of polarisation may not give dividends in an inclusive UP?
Above all, if Modi were actually on a winning spree, why should he be speaking the language of desperation?