Citizens in 10% of seats in UP, India’s electoral barometer state, voted today. Around 62.06% of those eligible to vote cast their ballet in these 8 constituencies. Of these Agra is though to have turned out at a rate of around 56.46%, amongst the lowest constituencies that went to the polls in UP during the second phase of voting.
This article has been updated to reflect the poll numbers for the state with ECI figures as of 10pm Thursday.
The most dramatic and high-stakes contest in the 2019 election plays out in Uttar Pradesh, where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rise to dominance is being challenged by a previously unthinkable alliance.
The two major players in the state – the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party – decided to come together to form an alliance, leaving out the Congress. Previously bitter rivals, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati came together in an alliance in January, saying that a “25 minute meeting ended a 25 year enmity”.
A huge point of antagonism between the two parties was the infamous 1995 guest house incident, where Mayawati was locked in a hotel by a group of SP party workers bent on violence after the unexpected dissolution of a coalition with then SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. While joining hands with Akhilesh Yadav, his son, she said she was “moving ahead of the 1995 guest house incident in the interest of the country and to serve the people, who are upset with the BJP’s anti-people policies”. Akhilesh Yadav too paid tribute to setting the historical incident to rest, announcing that he had made it clear to SP workers that “any insult to Mayawati is an insult to me”.
On paper, the alliance looks strong and if their 2014 vote shares are added together, they could win 41 of the 80 seats, leaving BJP with 37.
BSP chief Mayawati will be fighting to stay relevant in the overcrowded political landscape of UP. Her space stands challenged by inroads made by the BJP among the Dalit community as well as the emergence of young leaders such as Chandrashekhar Azad of the Bhim Army who intends to contest from Varanasi.
The alliance, which was tested in several by-polls last year, has performed well, winning the Lok Sabha seats of Kairana, Phulpur and Gorakhpur (Yogi Adityanath’s own seat).
Will Congress make a dent?
The Congress, being left out of the coalition, will be contesting all seats on its own in UP as well – to dubious reception. Caste and religion are among the key hinges around which the vote will pivot, with the SP-BSP coalition banking on the combined support base of Dalits, Yadavs and Muslims. Concerns abound on whether this tactical move will end up splitting the anti-Modi vote by virtue of attracting the Muslim vote, which tends to be towards the party most placed toward defeating the BJP.
Additionally, however, the party has fielded Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the party general secretary in charge of eastern UP. This complicates the matter as she might have a particular appeal for Brahmins, who find affirmation of her presumed genetic superiority in her appearance – but have been the bastion of the BJP vote thus far.
Her brother and president of the Congress party has said that her inclusion comes with a more long-term vision, with the party looking to the 2022 assembly elections in the state. It has been speculated that Priyanka could contest from Varanasi, setting up an epic clash with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In 2014, the state paved the way for an NDA government at the Centre on the strength of the Modi wave. The BJP won 71 of the 80 seats and with its ally Apna Dal, took the NDA tally to 73. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party saw their fortunes dwindle. The SP managed to win only five seats, while the BSP did not win a single seat. The Congress managed to hold on to its family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli. No Muslim candidate was elected from any seat in the state for the first time since independence.
The BJP followed up on its impressive showing in the 2014 Lok Sabha and ousted the SP government in the 2017 assembly elections. The party won 325 of the 403 seats and installed Yogi Adityanath as its chief minister. The SP and BSP were reduced to 47 and 19 seats respectively. The Congress, which was in alliance with the SP, managed to win only seven seats. Its tally was lower than that of the Apna Dal, which won nine seats.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal, once a major force in the Jat-dominated regions of western UP, will also be fighting to stay relevant. The party’s strength in the Lok Sabha was reduced to zero in 2014 with the party president Ajit Singh and son Jayant Choudhary both losing their seats.
Major governance issues
As 77% of the state’s 200 million people live in rural areas, the sluggish performance of the rural economy during the 2014-19 period will likely be on the minds of voters as they go to register their vote. Here are some of the key issues:
- Communal riots have been a critical issue in the state with over 195 incidents of communal violence in 2017 alone – 27% of the country’s communal violence. The state’s Muslims also have had to contend with an increasingly polarised national discourse that has led to fears of further marginalisation.
- Unpaid sugarcane dues that stand at over Rs 10,000 crore. In 2017, the BJP promised that if it is voted to power in the assembly it will ensure that sugarcane dues are cleared within 14 days of the sugar mills taking delivery of the cane. That, however, has not happened. The issue will be key in western UP where a bulk of the sugarcane farmers are located.
- The stray cattle menace is another issue that has made farmers lose sleep. After the Adityanath government came to power in UP, one of its first executive decisions was to ban ‘illegal’ slaughter houses. This led to the disruption of one of the key features of the rural economy where farmers would keep cattle to sell their milk. They would then sell the cattle to slaughterhouses when they no longer produced milk. The ban on a large proportion of the slaughterhouses and the threat of gaurakshaks has led to a complete breakdown of this economy forcing farmers to leave their cattle as they can no longer afford to feed them. The stray cattle have destroyed crops across the state forcing farmers to maintain vigil even at night.
- Unemployment rate in UP at 9.6% is higher than the national average of 6.8% according to the Centre for monitoring Indian economy.