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New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party is set to retain Uttar Pradesh, as a spirited performance by the Samajwadi Party could not dent the saffron party’s might in the key northern state. The saffron party alone looks set to win around 256 seats, while Akhilesh Yadav’s party is leading in or has won a total of 110 seats.
As India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh is seen as one that can single-handedly change India’s political direction. With a size bigger than many countries and a population as large as Brazil, Uttar Pradesh assembly elections had been keenly watched.
BJP’s alliance parties Apna Dal (Soneylal) and Nishad Party are leading in 11 and 6 seats respectively. The SP is leading on 112 seats and its alliance partners SBSP and RLD on 6 and 8 seats respectively. The BSP is leading on 1 seat and the Congress on 2.
Chief minister Adityanath has swept the Gorakhpur Urban seat in his maiden assembly election, having won 66.34% of the votes. The saffron-robed chief minister’s perception as the most-polarising leader in the Sangh parivar pantheon came under intense scrutiny. But at the same time, his aggression consolidated a large chunk of hardcore Hindutva supporters who rebranded him as the best-suited icon to succeed Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Lakhimpur, a key site of the farmer’s struggle, also saw BJP’s Yogesh Verma edge past Utkarsh Verma Madhur of the Samajwadi Party.
Deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Keshav Prasad Maurya, lost to Samajwadi Party’s Pallavi Patel by a large margin in Sirathu.
SP’s Akhilesh Yadav had emerged the biggest challenger as he attempted to build a social coalition by going beyond the confines of his core support base of Muslims and Yadavs, and at the same time centred his campaign around immediate livelihood issues of an electorate that is still recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic.
Akhilesh won with 60% of votes from the Karhal seat.
Muzaffarnagar riot-accused and the state sugarcane minister Suresh Rana who was seeking re-election from the Thana Bhawan seat has lost to Ashraf Ali Khan of the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
Zahoorabad, where SBSP leader Om Prakash Rajbhar was up against BJP’s Kalicharan Rajbhar and BSP’s Shadab Fatima in a triangular contest, saw the former sweep 46.68% votes in a clear victory.
Varanasi South, the home of Kashi Vishwanath corridor, a much touted project of the PM, saw Neelkanth Tiwari of BJP edge past Kishan Dixit of Samajwadi Party in a close fight.
Fazilnagar, where rebel BJP leader Swami Prasad Maurya is contesting as an SP candidate from this seat in Kushinagar district, saw the leader lose to Surendra Kumar Kushwaha of the BJP.
The thrust on problems like unemployment, agrarian distress, and economic security in SP’s campaign stood in contrast to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) polarising canvassing along religious lines. The polar-opposite campaigns made the electoral choice of the majority, which is reeling under economic duress, difficult, and question the hegemonising force that the BJP has become in UP.
In such a battle of wits, the non-BJP parties emerged as a strong opposition, and so did their supporters. Whether their spirit is enough to dislodge the BJP, which has formidable election machinery and grassroots-level organisational strength, will be known on March 10, Thursday.
Nonetheless, the opposition showed signs of a revival in facing the might of the saffron party. Most state ministers, including the deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, appeared to be fighting tough elections. The last-minute flight of several OBC leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya or Dara Singh Chauhan from the BJP to SP also gave the party the additional impetus that Akhilesh Yadav desperately needed.
And, although Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda claimed that their party ran a “scientific” campaign among targeted communities to get a majority vote, it was hard to miss that the BJP repeated most of its incumbent MLAs. Six months ago, several BJP leaders indicated that the party would drop at least 150 MLAs who are unpopular. However, when faced with stiff opposition, it couldn’t even drop 50 of them. The resentment against incumbency MLAs eventually gave a thrust to the SP and other parties.
Gradually, the elections became bi-polar, with those wanting to see Adityanath at the helm again rooting for yet another term for the BJP, and those seeking to remove him consolidating behind the SP-led alliance.
Both the camps depend hugely on their smaller allies which will be crucial for the incremental votes each of them gets. While the Nishad Party and Apna Dal (Sonelal) are expected to get the BJP support from the sizeable Mallah and Kurmi communities, SP’s allies Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, Mahan Dal, Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), and Rashtriya Lok Dal are supposed to consolidate OBC groups Rajbhars, Nonia-Chauhans, a section of Kurmis, and Jats in favour of Akhilesh Yadav. Swami Prasad Maurya’s influence over the significant Kushwaha community may also play a crucial part in the outcome.
It would be remiss to not acknowledge the role of the year-long farmers’ agitations which set the tone for the opposition parties. Their fervent agitations foregrounded agrarian distress at the centre of state politics and became the root from which other economic issues emerged during the campaign. The agitational street politics of an otherwise affable Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi through the last two years also opened up space for the SP to come to its own.
As the outcome of the marathon seven-phase polls begin to come on Thursday, both the BJP and SP will be looking to consolidate their positions. The final electoral tally may appear to be a one-sided affair but it will belie the close contest that played on the ground for over three months.