Narendra Modi may have declared the BJP the victor, but vote-block arithmetic means UP is still anyone’s game.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first important leader to have expressed apprehensions of a hung assembly during the high pitch campaign for the last two phases of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. In a big public meeting in Mau, eastern UP, Modi said that the other political parties in the fray may desire a hung house but the voters should not fall for it. Was he projecting his own fears on to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)? Then, within 48 hours, Modi changed tack and asserted in another hugely attended meeting in Deoria that the BJP had already won the elections and the only question that remained was whether it would be with a two-thirds or three-fourths majority. What was the cause for such a mood swing, one might ask? Nothing on the ground had really changed between when Modi made the two diametrically opposite claims.
It only showed the BJP’s nervousness in regard to the outcome of the elections, where caste, reputation of candidates and other local factors were largely dominant. The BJP had not been able to build any overarching theme except to stoke majoritarian sentiment over Muslim/Yadav appeasement by the Akhilesh Yadav government. This hadn’t worked to the extent the BJP might have hoped.
Then, of course, Modi decided in the last two days of the campaign to put up a grand show in Varanasi, his own Lok Sabha constituency where the BJP had won three out of eight assembly seats in 2012. The bulk of the Union cabinet was parked in Varanasi to supplement Modi’s show of strength. It was amply clear that the prime minister was pressuring himself to repeat the 2014 Lok Sabha performance in Varanasi, which means the BJP must win all eight assembly segments. This seemed a very tall order.
Yogi Adityanath was far more realistic when he told a small group of writers in his Gorakhpur Mutt, “We have our core vote base and the opposition too has its core vote base. Then there are floating votes which are undecided until the last minute. We have to bring the floating votes to our side”. In some sense, what Adityanath said represents the main dilemma for all the important political parties in UP.
This was amplified more accurately by finance minister Arun Jaitley in Varanasi when he said there are five important vote blocks in UP – upper castes (20%) , Muslims ( 20%), Yadavs (10%), non-Yadav backward castes(30%), Dalits(20%).
Jaitley has argued that for any party to win it must, at the very least, bag two of these five voting blocks, almost entirely. Winning over 80% of any block is considered fully secured. Once two vote blocks are secured, the winning margin comes from what Adityanath described as the floating votes from all castes, which come in the name of good governance. Modi had secured massive votes from all the vote blocks mentioned above, except Muslims, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. With its upper castes core base (20%), Modi managed big chunks from Yadavs, Dalits and lower backward castes in a presidential type contest, thus hitting 43% vote share. But now the Yadavs and Dalits are largely returning to their own state leaders – Akhilesh and Mayawati.
As for non-Yadav backward castes, Modi has worked hard to mobilise them but the reality is they are split three ways, with the BJP likely to secure the bigger chunk, but not enough to claim even 60-65% of that block. For instance, the Jats are largely believed to have walked away from the BJP in western UP.
So going by Jaitley’s formula, the BJP still cannot claim with certainty to have fully bagged two of the five vote blocks. The BJP could get over 80% of the upper castes votes but may fall short on getting a critical mass of non-Yadav backward castes such as Kurmi, Kushwaha, Prajapati and Rajbhar. The SP-Congress alliance claims to have two full vote blocks of Yadavs and Muslims, totalling 30%. But doubts have been raised whether the Muslims have indeed gone entirely with the SP. Mayawati had fielded over 104 Muslim candidates and they too seem to have done well in many pockets so far. Thus it is doubtful if Akhilesh has two of the five vote blocks fully secured.
The BSP too cannot claim to have two full vote blocks firmly in its pocket. It had the Dalits but Mayawati is not sure about how many Muslims and non-Yadav backward castes will have voted for her. Mayawati has been urging Muslims to vote for the stronger BSP candidate rather than the weaker one put up by the SP. So there is uncertainty over which party will indeed secure two full vote blocks, as explained by Jaitley, and then touch the winning line with the extra floating votes that come from across all castes in the name of development.
If Modi’s personal appeal can get the bulk of the non-Yadav backward caste – 30% of the total votes – then the BJP will win a majority. In fact this is the largest and most crucial block that will decide which way the elections go. If the non-Yadav backward castes are split three ways – which seems likely – we could see the SP-Congress alliance reach closer to a majority as the Congress is also expected to bring some of its traditional upper caste votes into the SP’s Muslim-Yadav base. The BSP could also do very well if its Dalit vote base is supplemented by a sizeable share of Muslims and non-Yadav backward castes, as seems to be the case so far. Come March 11, UP may yet throw a few surprises.
If all three major political formations get vote shares in a close range of 26-29% then it could be a perfectly hung assembly with any of them coming either first or last.
Note: This article was edited to correct the number of Muslim candidates fielded by the BSP; it is 104 and not 120 as previously mentioned.