In the data-points of the May 2014 results, the ground situation in UP has a key reference point. Those results define the ceiling for the BJP and the floor for every other party. Primarily, because that was a Modi wave election and all the non BJP parties were fighting to plug the leaks in their respective vote-banks. To define the BJP’s floor, 2012 Assembly results can serve as a realistic reference point. In 2012, the BJP returned to the lowest level, 15%, in a trend line comprising several consecutive elections. Mayawati’s BSP, which scored a duck in terms of seats in May 2014, still managed to secure a 20% vote-share. Congress managed to poll barely 8% in 2014, which is over 3% lower than what they polled in 2012 Assembly polls. SP too scored only 23% in 2014.
First, the big picture. Simple common sense dictates that those parties who have touched their lowest or the highest extremes, will now begin their return journey towards the middle, call it the equilibrium, in the absence of 2014 like circumstances. In plain English, the BJP will shed from its unprecedented vote share of 43%, to the advantage of the rest. Unlike in a Lok Sabha poll, UP’s local politics is every bit dominated by the regional parties, like the SP, BSP and RLD. In a Parliamentary poll, the voters tend to consider the regional parties as marginal players. Also, the constituencies are far bigger and therefore, relatively, less manageable due to a lack of closer connect with the candidates. Not so in the Assembly polls. This puts added pressure on the BJP to shed from its vote share. Finally, the lack of a viable statewide leader to lead the campaign for the BJP, and that too when faced with a four-time CM like Mayawati or a youthful incumbent like Akhilesh, who is no less formidable, mar the chances substantially if not completely.
Now the specific segments. A majority of those Dalits, who had substantially contributed to the BJP’s sweep in 2014, have largely returned to the BSP. The sub-caste level division to scoop out Valmikis is over stated. Only Sonkars/Khateeks, who have been usually breaking ranks to vote for the BJP in the urban areas may stay with the BJP. This offers a major solace to Mayawati. Her headache is the reluctant Muslim vote. This segment is not moving en masse to her as in the past. In places, Mayawati will get the Muslim votes because only BSP is in a position to stop the BJP. Prime examples are like Bijnor in Western UP, pockets in Meerut, Agra and Ghaziabad and several districts in the Terai and Poorvanchal.
The Muslim vote, in the Western UP particularly, has consolidated around the SP-Congress combine. This consolidation is such that the Hindu candidate of SP in Budhana, Pramod Tyagi, is taking most of the Muslim votes even when the BSP has fielded a strong Muslim candidate. In Saharanpur, the BJP may draw a blank in the entire district despite winning the Lok Sabha seat. Likewise, in Moradabad and Muzaffarnagar, SP/Congress combine is sweeping most of the seats. An average Muslim voter goes for a three-filter test. The first, and the foremost, filter is who can defeat the BJP. The second, a desirable but not mandatory condition, is if such a candidate is also a Muslim. The icing is, of course, if the party happens to be SP. The trouble for the BJP isn’t that the Muslim vote is out to avenge a complete wipeout of 2014. Their problem is that the non-Muslim vote is blissfully indifferent to this one-way polarisation. And the BJP has only themselves to blame for this.
In the Western UP, the BJP, who took more than 50% vote-share in 2014, is suffering essentially on account of the Jats. The Jats have gone jittery with the BJP and a bit remorseful for having let down Ajit Singh and his RLD completely. This may not yield even half a dozen seats to the RLD but will almost certainly cook the BJP goose. The Jats have always played a major role in the BJP’s success. Over the years, the party groomed its own Jat leadership and made them ministers too. But, they have not moved about the Khaps, to create grassroots connect and acquire the stature that can match up with Ch. Charan Singh’s legacy. Another chink in the BJP’s armour is their traditional mainstay, the trader vote. The demonetisation has hit this section the hardest. The Party may be flush enough to not bother for their money, but the tepid indifference of the traders is going to cost them dearly in some close fights.
Even the high vote-share of May 2014 will not prove to be a credible enough insurance. In fact, that vote may turn out to be just a one-time fairy-tale surge. UP, this time, is settling down to business as usual. The BJP can count on Tyagis, Sainis, Lodhs, Thakurs, Punjabis, Brahmins, Telis, Nishads, Kurmis and a whole host of others but then, they don’t vote en block everywhere. They often check out their own candidates and the local equations. The Yadav vote too, that had leaked a little to favour the BJP in 2014, has almost entirely moved back to the SP. All this because the BJP is unable to offer itself evocatively enough, even to its own core.
Akhilesh Yadav has emerged as an affable young face. He has managed to camouflage the harsh edges of the SP, and that too after it ran roughshod over UP for five years. He also seems to have emerged almost unscathed from the clan-feud that threatened to go out of control at the nth hour. By stitching an alliance with the Congress, Akhilesh has created an opening in, traditionally, the weakest region for SP – Western UP. Most importantly, he has shrugged off the incumbent’s accountability
The winner in the midst of all this seems to be the Congress. A party, given up for dead, is as if waking up from its funeral pyre. Clutching on to the ‘dhoti/payjama’ of SP, the Congress is all set for a revival. It was the fear of this revival that Mulayam was resenting such an alliance. In several urban pockets, Congress is tugging at the votes alienated by the BJP.
Now, the likely scenario. In the midst of it all, UP seems headed for a hung house. Nobody can stop Mayawati from crossing the three digit score. The question is how far will she go beyond that. Will she go ahead of the SP-Congress combine? That, very few are willing to concede as on date. And finally, the BJP. The party should be very lucky to get even close to a 25% vote-share, down from 43% that it got in 2014. This does not translate to a three digit score in terms of seats. Seems like BJP is in for some more ‘karseva’ to Mayawati, if she is able to keep her flock together after the polls, that is.