Monday, February 20, 2017

UP: Past The Halfway Mark

 Pankaj Sharma |  2017-02-19  |  New Delhi

The Bharatiya Janata Party's dreams of forming the government in Uttar Pradesh are fading fast. Although elections in the country's most populous state are spread over seven phases, the third phase marks the mid-point of the current polls, with voting complete in 209 of the 403 seats on Sunday.  The party was banking on a repeat of its performance in the 2014 general elections. However, after the third phase, voting patterns indicate that a different fate awaits the party this time. In the remaining 194 constituencies that are yet to vote, the social dynamics traditionally do not favour BJP. 

In the first phase, 73 constituencies went to the polls. Samajwadi Party had won 24 out of these 73 seats last time when the Assembly elections were held in 2012. Bahujan Samaj Party had won only 80 seats in the whole state, but of those, it had won 23 in the area which went to polls in first phase this time. During 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BSP was the main contender against BJP in this area. Though BJP had won only 12 seats in this area in 2012, if one were to extrapolate its 2014 performance, it makes BJP a winner in nearly every constituency. But, this is not the situation this time with SP-Congress alliance having the highest strike rate and BSP also leaving the BJP far behind. 

It is the Jats who are most important in this region, affecting about 50 of 73 seats. In 2012, Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal won only nine seats in UP. In 2014, communal polarisation shifted Jat votes en masse to BJP. The BJP's vote share in this region was over 50 per cent, as compared to the state-wide average of 44 per cent. Jat voters have found the RLD, a  viable choice again, are angry with BJP. Despite BJP President Amit Shah's last minute efforts, Jats have refused to repose their faith in BJP.

In 67 constituencies that went to polls in the second phase, SP had won 34 seats in previous Assembly elections. BSP had won 18 and BJP 10. But this time, the ground realities changed because of demonetisation, lack of faith in Narendra Modi's style of governance, the only face of BJP in these elections and the consolidation of minority votes have given the SP-Congress alliance an edge. 

The areas that went to polls in the third phase have traditionally been with Akhilesh Yadav. Samajwadi Party had won 55 of these 69 seats in 2012. BJP had won only five seats, and even BSP could not get more than six seats. Most of the constituencies of the third phase have shown the similar trend for SP this time, too, giving a clear lead to Rahul-Akhilesh alliance. Like in first and second phase, the third phase also witnessed heavy polling which indicates anger against the economic slowdown, increasing unemployment, the plight of farmers, and serious dent to small level business activities in the past three months.

There is overconfidence within BJP's ranks, after gaining leads in 328 Assembly segments out of 403 during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, the party was leading in 81 per cent of the Assembly segments of UP. The last time any political party won 80 per cent of the total constituencies in the state was in 1977 when there was the Janata Party wave. Unlike in 2014, there is no wave for BJP this time. If there is any undercurrent, it seems to be going against the Central government's recent policies and steps.

While calculating UP's scenario, BJP should have recognised that even during its strongest wave in 2014, SP had secured more than 30 per cent vote share in 85 Assembly segments and Congress in 20. Both of them together now play a formidable roadblock to BJP. In 224 segments, SP got 20 to 30 per cent vote share and similar was the space Congress occupied in 15 Assembly constituencies. The SP-Congress combine, therefore, has the potential to confine the BJP within double digits now. The scale of BJP victory's in UP just three years ago cannot ideally mean the same in 2017 as public opinion has changed a lot during this period.

Electoral history tells us that in the absence of a high wave, UP voters always take their voting decision primarily from caste combinations. The BJPs vote bank is the upper caste Hindus--Brahmins, Rajputs, and Vaishyas. These collectively are about 18-20 per cent. BJP has also got the support of a small section of OBCs. That means BJP's vote share is hanging around 25-26 per cent in this election. People, especially the youth, voted for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections because they hoped for the creation of employment opportunities. But with GDP growth falling as a result of demonetisation, BJP is bound to lose the votes of disillusioned youth. Thus, the actual average of vote share for BJP in UP Assembly could be around 22 per cent. One typically needs 30 per cent votes to be victorious.

BJP first ignored SP and Congress as its competitors in UP. It began laughing at them when both joined hands. Then, with the end of the second phase,  Modi-Shah duo started leaving no stone unturned to fight the alliance, and it was evident from the contents of the speeches they delivered in their public rallies. After the third phase, the BJP has realised that it is no cake walk in UP. But this is no time to be overconfident for anyone as the votes are still to be counted. SP-Congress alliance seems to be leading the fray in UP, but it also has to try very hard not to be overconfident in remaining four phases.

(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India. Views expressed are strictly personal.)

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