This was a closely fought triangular contest, and the likeliest outcome is a hung assembly.
Now that all the phases are of the Uttar Pradesh elections are over, the time has come for predictions. Several senior journalists, in my opinion, misused their influence by calling the election before the final phase of voting.
The observations I present here are based on travels in the state, evolving trends over the past three years (particularly in west UP) and conversations with a wide range of people (in person and over the phone). Let me start by presenting five reasons why UP is most probably headed towards a hung assembly.
- This was not a ‘wave’ election. In the initial phases, the media tried to project an Akhilesh Yadav wave, in the latter phases, a Narendra Modi wave. But there was no ‘wave’ on the ground. Truth is, this was a seat to seat election and individual candidates, localised caste arithmetic and issues will determine the result.
- National issues like demonetisation will have an indirect impact. While not many may have voted directly on that issue, for castes like Jats and sections of non-Jatav Dalits who may have voted the BJP in 2014 and were already drifting away from the party for various reasons, demonetisation was the final nail in the coffin, leading to them snapping their ties or loyalty for the party. One is very uncertain about Banias, though. Many Banias, who are among the most loyal BJP voters, were very upset with demonetisation. However, whether that has resulted in voting elsewhere and to what extent is unclear. The community has been very silent this time. And in many parts, they didn’t even openly campaign for the BJP.
- This was a closely fought triangular contest. Small shifts in vote percentages could affect a disproportionately high number of seats.
- A gradual MBC consolidation outside of the three major parties in UP is taking place. It will have a limited impact on this election, but still, in an election fought so closely, each vote and each seat matters. Examples are the Nishad party, which will command a sizeable influence over the Nishad community in Deoria and Gorakhpur districts, and, to a much lesser extent, the Mahan Dal in Kasganj and a few neighbouring districts. Their varied influence will affect the BJP’s performance to some extent in at least 4-5 districts. However, the BJP’s alliance with the SBSP (Suheldev Bharat Samaj Party) and Apna Dal will help consolidate MBC votes in favour of BJP+ in other districts. This atomisation of UP politics is expected to grow over the next few years. Marginalised communities are rejecting ‘vanguardism’ of any party and organising themselves.
- Speaking of atomisation, a growing articulation of pasmanda Muslim politics is increasingly visible, particularly in east UP. The Peace Party of India has had very limited success in consolidating this trend. My hunch is that this time, there will be a caste-wise split among Muslim voters. Definitely not as stark and pronounced as Hindu voters, but more than ever before. This will benefit the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Samajwadi Party–Congress will be the biggest losers on this front. There is a potential for the growth of a pasmanda movement after this election and even an eventual electoral consolidation.
While we are headed towards a hung assembly, the competition is largely between the BSP and BJP. The SP-Congress alliance has struggled to keep up. The BJP and BSP have been much more successful in terms of castes and communities they were wooing. Let me explain.
- The BSP has been successful in consolidating the Dalit community. Even non-Jatav Dalits have by and large consolidated in favour of the BSP. Fractures (mainly among Pasis and Khatiks) in favour of the BJP are far and few. In which case, the BSP starts with a robust 20% votes.
- The BSP’s main election plank was Dalit-Muslim unity. While both communities, and more specifically Dalit-pasmandas, could even forge an ideological and political unity, given that both communities have been at the receiving end of harsh marginalisation and assault, particularly under the Modi government. But while Mayawati made a bid for an electoral alliance, not enough was done to build movements to enable a solidarity between the two communities on the basis of shared concerns. However, over the last year one did see ‘Bhaichara Sammelans’ of Dalits and Muslims organised locally by BSP leaders, but perhaps not at the scale one would have imagined. That being said, the BSP seems to have made substantial inroads among Muslims this time.
- The highest Muslim vote BSP has ever won is roughly 20% in 2007. This had to increase to at least 30% for BSP’s experiment of Dalit-Muslim unity to succeed. While in the first two phases one senses that BSP managed to touch that figure, it is also evident that Muslim voting in favour of the BSP increased with each phase and has seen a very strong consolidation towards the last two phases. Again, this is not because of a BSP ‘wave’ but some very well thought out candidate selection which has influenced caste arithmetic. If the BSP gets 30% of the Muslim votes then the party is very much in the fray. If that number increases to 35-40% (very likely) then brace yourselves for a massive surprise in favour of the BSP. However, if Muslim votes in favour of the BSP are as low as 25% then they’re out of the race and will come in a poor third. The last outcome seems unlikely, though. In east UP, factors like Mukhtar Ansari joining the BSP and the Ulema Council’s support to the BSP have also helped the party in a big way. In polarised districts of west UP like Shamli, Muzaffarnagar and Bijnor, (barring a few seats in the three districts) Muslims seem to have consolidated in favour of the SP-Congress alliance. But this is definitely not a trend across the state, not even in west UP.
- The BSP has been the most organised and disciplined party in this election, with the least amount of infighting. Moreover, having declared their candidates the first, their candidates were better prepared and began their campaign earlier than others.
- The BJP seems to have successfully consolidated sections of upper caste votes, particularly Thakurs and Rajputs. Brahmins in some districts seem to have split, though one senses the majority have still voted for the BJP. Mathura and Ghazipur are two districts I am aware of where Brahmin votes have split in favour of the BSP. I believe there are others as well. There is no clarity on how much the SP-Congress alliance has benefitted from this. Where Banias are concerned, as stated earlier, there is little or no clarity. But whatever sections may have split from the BJP have voted in favour of the BSP.
- Sections of non-Yadav OBC’s seem to have been consolidated in favour of the BJP. However, large sections like Jats in west UP and Nishads in east UP have broken away, in favour of the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Nishad party respectively.
- Attempts at polarising the election towards the last couple of phases seem to have had a limited impact in favour of the BJP. My hunch is that it’s only helped consolidate the traditional ‘upper’ caste in their favour, and that too not on all seats.
- The SP-Congress alliance lost steam as the election progressed. While Akhilesh managed to revive his sinking image after the entire family feud, he could not convert that image into a wave.
- Akhilesh does seem to have consolidated his traditional Yadav vote, but the moot question is, was he successful in building a Yadav-Muslim alliance like the SP has done successfully in the past? Infighting, especially post the family feud, seems to have adversely affected the party. The party seems to be performing badly even in traditional strongholds like Azamgarh, Etawah and Mainpuri because of the family feud. Both the BSP and BJP seem to have made substantial gains in these districts at SP’s cost.
- Moreover, with the BSP making a strong bid for Muslim votes, along with smaller parties like the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (contesting on 38 seats) and the Peace Party also in the fray, the Muslim vote might get further splintered. Even Azam Khan, the SP’s most prominent Muslim face, seems to be on shaky ground on his Rampur seat where Tanveer Khan from BSP is giving him a very tough fight. His desperation became much too apparent when, in a rally at Faizabad, he went as far as urging Muslims to vote BJP instead of BSP.
- The SP-Congress’s consolidation of non-Yadav OBC’s seems abysmal. This will hurt them in a big way.
- The alliance wasn’t smooth sailing. Some seats rebel candidates of the SP and Congress are fighting against each other.
What is evident is that while the BSP and BJP seem to have been at least partially successful in consolidating beyond their traditional votes (this time, Muslims voting for BSP and MBCs for BJP), the SP-Congress alliance seems to be struggling to have consolidated anyone beyond their traditional Yadav votes.
Based on this, I suspect both BSP and BJP could be hovering around 150 seats (+/- 20). And I suspect the SP-Congress alliance will be confined to 90 seats (+/- 20). However, given how close a competition this is, all three could be stuck somewhere around 100-130 each. I will close by saying that the first scenario is more likely.
Nakul Singh Sawhney is a filmmaker. He trained at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. His films include the critically acclaimed Izzatnagari ki Asabhya Betiyaan, on crimes and killings in the name of honour, and Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai, on the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal violence.