It is often said ” The road to Delhi passes through Lucknow”. The Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA came to power with an absolute majority riding on its unprecedented victory in Uttar Pradesh(UP), where it won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats. Yet again, the citizens of UP will exercise their mandate to elect, albeit a government for the state legislature. As I write this article, the polling for the 2nd phase has completed, with the two phases- phase 1 and 2 recording 64% and 65.5% voter turnout respectively (higher than the average in 2012 and 2007). The counting for the 7-phase election will take place on March 11. The result on March 11 will decide the road to the final battle in 2019 for the parties in contest.
BJP, SP, Congress, BSP primarily, though Ajit Singh led RLD ( Rashtriya Lok Dal) is not an insignificant center of influence when it comes to government formation in the state post March 11. Who will win the faith of the voter and emerge victorious is a question in the mind of every Indian political pundit. The dominance of caste as a factor that affects political preferences in the state makes every political party factor in caste representation in ticket distribution. The two regional power centres (Samajwadi Party-SP, and Bahujan Samajwadi Party -BSP) have won repeated assembly elections thriving on respective vote banks; not to forget floating Muslim vote which more often than not decides the elections. We should be reminded of 2012 assembly result, where more than 10 seats were won with an extremely narrow vote lead of 1000 votes.
However, in this piece I will take the liberty of arriving at a conclusion based on extensive travel across length and breadth of the state, talking to various stakeholders, and interviewing more than 10000 citizens across different caste bracket.
The conclusion first.
1. Bjp will emerge as the single largest party
2. BSP will keep its vote bank core intact
3. BJP will gain maximum in terms of vote share (it will be the party with maximum percentage increase in vote share compared to last assembly elections of 2012)
4. Other OBC (non Yadav OBC) caste will consolidate in large numbers to vote for BJP.
5. Muslim votes will get divided primarily between BSP and SP. Owaisi led AIMIM will have marginal influence on galvanizing the Muslim votes, even though his rallies draw sizeable Muslim population of the state.
6.Shivpal Yadav will crowd in numbers to reign in support for BSP.
7.Demonetization(“notebandi”) has not been discredited by the electorate. I only expect people to consider Demonetization as a prominent factor to vote for BJP.
8. Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance will finish second.
Factor 1: Prime minister Modi and his connect with masses
The biggest factor which goes in BJP’S favour is the connect Prime Minister Modi has with the electorate, especially the Aam Aadmi. His rallies in UP are attracting massive unprecedented crowd, his communication is connecting with the people of UP, and his ability to interact not just communicate with the people in large public gatherings is ensuring more feet convert to votes on the polling day. His first rally in Lucknow saw the number surpass a lakh in audience, Meerut had voters traveling more than 100 km for his address, and Bijnor had him package the narrative in simple words to connect with the youth and the women in particular.
Emphasis of most of his speech has been on 1) jobs for youth (more than 5 crore youth migrate annually from UP in search of jobs) 2) law and order In the state 3) safety and security for women. A non-Yadav and non-Muslim OBC youth will find merit in voting for BJP than BSP , though BSP has a strong silent voter but the silent voter has a credible alternate in form of Prime Minister Modi led BJP today.
Compare this to the mass gathering of Akhilesh Yadav led Samajwadi party comprising of people belonging to Yadav caste and Muslim community ,and Mayawati led Bahujan Samajwadi Party attracting its core vote bank apart from attracting the Muslims in sizeable number.
Factor 2 : Consolidation of OBC votes and division of Muslim votes.
The BJP post demonetization has emerged as a common man’s party. My interaction with individuals belonging to different castes, and age group tell me of a massive support for the intent of the exercise. The daily wage laborers, drivers, the landless laborers reflect a resounding faith in the intent of the exercise. They see the “seth” (rich man) being hit for the first time, although temporarily. Add to it the representation given to different OBC castes like Kurmi, Rajbhar, and Maurya ( for instance the current BJP chief is Keshav Prasad Maurya) castes in ticket distribution . A cursory glance suggests at least 130 candidates (roughly over 35 per cent ) belonging to non-Yadav OBC sect. By taking steps to consolidate this vote bank, it has clearly done its homework and learnt the lesson from Bihar defeat(where it fielded less than a double candidates from Yadav community). Further, there are more than 100 constituencies where 2 Muslim candidates are fighting against each other, clearly leading to a division of Muslim votes. It will be incorrect to think Muslim community will not trust Mayawati. Infact, talking to many Muslim youth from lower income bracket at her rally in Dubagga ( near Lucknow) on 14 February 2017, an impression of support for Mayawati over Akhilesh Yadav for 1) efficient administration of Law and Order 2) enhanced security for women cannot be discounted.
Factor 3: The Shivpal Yadav factor
Apart from non-Yadav OBC and division of Muslim votes the fall of Shivpal Yadav from 2nd most important power center in Uttar Pradesh politics to a nonexistent marginal center in the Samajwadi Party has not gone down well with the powerful ” chacha “. His speech in Etawaha where he publicly challenged the Akhilesh Yadav led Samajwadi party to form the government on March 11 is not an orchestrated statement, but reflects his anger and anguish on his current position. Listening to Mayawati’s public address carefully suggests her sympathy with Shivpal Yadav , and sources close to Shivpal Yadav have conveyed to the writer about the possibility of this development post March 11. This will cut some percentage of core vote bank of Samajwadi Party. In addition giving more than 100 seats to an insignificant party in Uttar Pradesh elections 2017 has on one hand catalyzed revival of Congress , but on the other hand has not gone well with the Samajwadi party contenders. It is important to note that Samajwadi Party is not a cadre based party, and at many places you will have the old -guard working against the new guard behind the scenes; after all the exit for the old guard was not honorary. Mulayam Singh in an election rally in Lucknow even conceded to a BJP surge in UP elections 2017 .(https://www.google.co.in/amp/postcard.news/mulayam-singh-concedes-defeat-openly-admits-saffron-surge-uttar-pradesh/amp/). Had the party been united, their dominance in UP elections 2017 would not have been under threat.
Factor 4: The preference for disruptors and outsiders
Observing major elections across the world, and in India from 2014 onwards two dominating factors have emerged -1) the voter has moved away from delivering a confused mandate to a decisive mandate 2) the voter is giving preference to outsiders in the system than experienced power centres-“isko bhi try karlete haain” .Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s victory in 2014 , victory of Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Admi Party in Delhi, Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential Elections , and state elections across the country (Maharashtra, Assam, Bihar) the preference for disruptors is a dominating condition which cannot be underplayed. BJP scores on this parameter having been away from 5 Kalidas Marg( the residence of the current Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav) for more than 15 years( since 1997 to be precise). The voter has enthused the faith in Akhilesh Yadav led Samajwadi Party government, and Mayawati led Bahujan Samajwadi Party in the past. The absence of a Chief Minister candidate is a well thought out strategy of the Bhartiya Janata Party considering the difficulty to match the faith a voter will restore with Prime minister Modi leading the campaign.
Factor 5: The risk factors to the conclusion made
The foremost risk factor will be the discontent in the persistent, regular worker of the BJP for not receiving the ticket , and preference given to turn coats from other party in ticket distribution, even though the intention has been caste consolidation. In many stories aired on the digital media channel Jan KI baat resentment and discontent in party cadre is evident. One such story published by the channel and doing rounds in the media had workers abusing the state BJP chief for non- transparent and corrupt distribution of tickets.
Sources tell me this is also the reason why the the party President Amit Shah is holding meetings with the discontented leaders and party workers which go late upto 4 am. The extent to which this crisis is managed will decide how far the BJP goes in seeing the lotus blossom in UP.
Lastly, but not the least if “Kam Bolta Hai” slogan of Akhilesh Yadav led SP is what the voter believes in ,and youth from across caste vote for Akhilesh Yadav as the “youth face of UP ” having the ability to perform on the commitment done in the manifesto, and provide opportunities of employment for more than 5 crore youth leaving UP yearly in search of jobs due to a defunct primary and higher education system in the State , Samajwadi Party has a chance to cross the 140 mark. I remember how in my interaction with Kanpur University students lack of jobs post completion of graduation was a major concern of youth cutting across religion and caste
Nevertheless, the verdict will be out on March 11 and as you read this the third phase of polling is all set to begin on 19 February.