The stakes are high for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh after its stupendous performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls where it won 73 of the 80 seats with its ally the Apna Dal, registering leads in about 337 of the 403 Assembly segments. The ruling party at the Centre is targeting 265-plus seats in the Assembly polls. But it seems like an uphill task when one looks at the BJP’s performance in the 2012 Assembly outing where it won just 47 seats and registered 15% of the votes.
This means that the party has to win 218 more seats and double its votes vis-à-vis the 2012 polls. Also, after the debacles in Delhi (2014) and Bihar (2015) Assembly polls soon after the 2014 victory, the BJP must be desperate to win Uttar Pradesh to be in good shape, at least psychologically, to face the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. The big question is, how can the BJP achieve this goal? How can it counter the SP-Congress political coalition and social coalition of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with the Muslims?
The SP-Congress coalition is based on two premises: first, the allies votes in 2012 add up to 40% and even if there is attrition of about 10%, the alliance may romp home with 30% votes; two, the alliance partners can transfer their votes to each other.
But then, both premises can be slippery. While vagaries of electoral politics may upset vote-share arithmetic, the Congress and the SP may also fail in transferring votes to each other. The Brahmin and Dalit voters of the Congress, and the Yadav and Thakur voters of the SP could move to other parties or vote for rebel candidates, blowing up the coalition premises.
Mayawati’s Dalit-Muslim alliance may be a greater worry for the SP-Congress than competition from BJP. Our empirical studies indicate lack of enthusiasm among Muslims about Mayawati’s overtures of allocating 97 tickets to them. With the end of family feud and emergence of Akhilesh Yadav as the undisputed leader in the SP and the government, the confusion among Muslims is over.
Our studies show that the Muslim support for the BSP declined from 18% in 2014 to 14% in 2016 despite Mayawati’s efforts, while it has gone up for the SP from 58% to 64% in the last two years. So, the Muslim voters are likely to go with the SP-Congress alliance to defeat the BJP.
If Muslims shift to the SP-Congress alliance and Mayawati’s Dalit-Muslim coalition becomes ineffective, then Dalits would vote for the BJP to stop the SP from coming to power again. So, a failure of Mayawati’s new social engineering could ensure two things: one, Dalits could shift to the BJP; two, Muslims may vote en bloc for the SP-Congress alliance to counter Hindu polarisation in favour of the BJP.
We have seen how communal polarisation impacted results in western Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 polls in favour of the BJP. For the first time, Asadudin Owaisi of the MIM is entering the fray and is likely to contest in a Muslim-dominant area, which can further exacerbate the situation for the SP-Congress alliance by splitting Muslim votes.
The ‘3D’ effect
The BJP, however, is confronted with the ‘3D’ effect: demonetisation, defection and dispirited campaigns. Though it has overcome demonetisation pangs after banks and ATMs resumed normal operations, our studies reported a strong undercurrent for Modi and the BJP in December 2016 post demonetisation which has taken a U-turn in favour of Akhilesh in January 2017 as he emerged stronger after his bout with father Mulayam Singh Yadav. The BJP is also facing a spate of defections and revolt among the rank and file for denying tickets to long-time loyalists and for accommodating several turncoats. But most parties face this situation on the eve of polls.
What is most surprising is the party’s dispirited election campaign after the initial lead post demonetisation. As Akhilesh and his party got free media publicity during the family feud, they marginalised Modi and demonetisation discourse and captured the entire public space. Also, Modi’s exclusive election rallies in the state have made several local leaders lethargic about taking campaign initiatives in their respective constituencies.
The BJP is also on a weak wicket by not giving ticket to a single Muslim candidate. However, the party counters that it is working for the good of Muslims and is also trying to woo them slowly. The saffron outfit is also on the defensive by not declaring the chief ministerial face. People know Akhilesh and Mayawati as the faces of the SP and the BSP, respectively, but the BJP has to unnecessarily explain why it has no chief ministerial face and who would be its CM if it comes to power. That may adversely impact its electoral fortunes.
However, the BJP is very focussed on development and social engineering. It wants to capture the more-backwards and most-backwards among the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) which constitute 41% of the population in Uttar Pradesh. For that, the party went into an alliance with the Apna Dal that represents the more-backwards, inducted its leader Anupriya Patel into the Union ministry and made Keshav Prasad Maurya from the most-backwards community its state president.
The party also inducted Swami Prasad Maurya, who was expelled from the BSP. In addition, the BJP has formed an alliance with the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) of Rajbhars who belong to the most-backward castes.
This strategy is discernible in ticket allocation too. The BJP has allocated 130 of the 370 tickets declared to non-Yadav OBCs and 33 seats would largely go to its alliance partners Apna Dal and the SBSP whose core support base is the more-backwards and the most-backwards, respectively. Thus, tickets to OBCs in the NDA kitty could be about 163 of the 403 - 40% equivalent to their share in population.
So, with a robust OBC support, probable Dalit shift and massive upper-caste support, the BJP is on a strong electoral turf. A wrong move by Akhilesh or Mayawati could greatly benefit the BJP.
(The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur)