UP polls 2022: A ballad of east and west

UP polls 2022: A ballad of east and west

An inquiry into whether BJP does well when elections begin in western UP and travel linearly to the state's eastern boundary

Voters display their credentials ahead of the 2019 polls. Credit: PTI File Photo

"East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet" - The Ballad of East and West by Rudyard Kipling.

In a demographically diverse state like Uttar Pradesh, elections are held in half a dozen or more phases extended over a month. The scheduling of the polls, thus, is increasingly a discernible variable for political parties while firming up their strategy for the last lap.

Whether elections start in the east and travel west or vice versa is now increasingly factored in by key contestants. Parties prefer to begin on a sure footing on a home pitch. In a digitally connected polity, words travel around. And a solid opening partnership can impart the right momentum, or 'hawa', to buffet a vulnerable middle-order or a wagging tail.

Here we analyse the scheduling of the last six elections in Uttar Pradesh — three Lok Sabha and three Vidhan Sabha — to see if there indeed is any correlation between the scheduling of multi-phased polls and the results.

2004 Lok Sabha polls

The Election Commission of India conducted the 2004 Lok Sabha polls in four phases. In UP, however, voting for its 80 Lok Sabha seats was held in three phases between April 20 and May 10, 2004. The elections travelled from east to west. The first phase covered constituencies in the far-eastern districts bordering Bihar. In the last phase, voting was held in 18 constituencies in western UP, including the Meerut division bordering Delhi and Haryana.

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When votes were counted on May 13, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 's tally in UP had crashed to 10 seats. The Samajwadi Party (SP), and its ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), mopped up the lion's share. The Congress, however, emerged as the single largest party in the 14th Lok Sabha. It formed the government at the Centre with the support of the Left Front and some regional parties.

2007 UP Assembly polls

The 2007 Assembly polls were a watershed election in UP's politics. After two decades of political fragmentation, a party finally won an absolute majority. It was also the first and until now, the last time, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) formed a single-party government in any Indian state since its formation in the mid-1980s.

The 2007 elections were held in seven phases spread over a month, between March 13 and April 13. The first phase was conducted in the assembly segments that fall in parts of central UP, Agra division and Bundelkhand, which were considered BSP strongholds. The elections then travelled west to the Meerut division in districts bordering Delhi. The third phase onwards, elections moved west to east, with the last two phases held in Varanasi and Gorakhpur divisions.

The BSP won an absolute majority in these elections. The SP got less than a hundred seats (98), while the BJP's tally plummeted to 51 seats.

2009 Lok Sabha polls

The 2009 Lok Sabha polls were held in the backdrop of the Left parties withdrawing their support to the Congress-led UPA government and Mayawati's aggressive bid to topple the government in the trust vote that the Manmohan Singh government faced, but survived.

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Elections in UP were held in five phases. The polls, on this occasion, travelled from east to west. The first phase was conducted in the Gorakhpur division and the last one in the Meerut division.

The Congress emerged as the biggest gainer, winning 22 seats. The SP and BSP won 22 and 20 seats, respectively. The BJP was reduced to 10 seats of the 80.

2012 Assembly polls

The 2012 Assembly elections were held in seven phases. The first phase was conducted in Agra and Rohilkhand divisions, and then the polls moved east. The districts in and around Bareilly, with a high concentration of minority population, have traditionally been considered SP strongholds. The polling in these elections took a circuitous route to travel further east and then ended in the far west, in the Meerut division. The SP won the elections by a majority. Mayawati lost power while BJP's tally remained close to 50 seats.

2014 Lok Sabha polls

The 2014 polls were held in nine phases in the country. UP polls were conducted in six phases. The first phase of polling was held in the Meerut division, considered a BJP stronghold. A spate of communal flare-ups there had completely polarised the polity in districts in and around Muzaffarnagar. The elections then moved east and ended in Varanasi and Gorakhpur divisions. The BJP registered an emphatic victory winning almost 90 per cent of the 80 seats in the state.

2017 Assembly polls

Elections again moved west to east, beginning in the Meerut division with the last phase in the far east in the Varanasi division. The BJP registered a three-fourths majority.

2019 Lok Sabha polls

The polling for 80 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls was held in seven phases. The scheduling was similar to the last Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in the state, with elections travelling west to east. Despite the SP, BSP and RLD tie-up, the BJP managed to win more than 60 of the 80-seats.

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The outcome of the last six elections in UP notwithstanding, it would be too simplistic to assume that merely the election schedule alone can make or mar the prospects of political parties. The results are invariably a cumulative product of a complex and competing socio-economic and political churn in a population.

But it seems from the data analysed above that the BJP does well when elections begin in the far west in the Meerut division and travel linearly to the eastern frontiers. Others are better off if the first phase of polling is held in their respective strongholds. For example, the Rohilkhand and Agra divisions with a high concentration of Muslim and Yadav votes suits the SP. Similarly, non-BJP parties perform better if the start is made far east in districts where polarisation on caste lines far outweighs communal faultlines in the polity.

(The writer is a journalist)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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