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Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections due early next year are generating a lot of curiosity having all the elements of a Bollywood potboiler. Initial opinion polls suggest Mayawati’s BSP is ahead of BJP with SP a distant third. While BJP is grappling with the issue of whether to declare a CM candidate or not, BSP and SP have no such pangs. Clear leadership helped BJP as we saw in Assam. However, all elections are different and one formula which worked in one state may not work in another state. Despite all the confusion in the party ranks and opinion polls suggesting otherwise, BJP has a good chance in UP.
Six factors which put BJP ahead of others:
1. Good performance of Modi government at the center
The Modi govt. completed two years in office in May 2016. Modi leads the popularity charts across surveys and BJP could repeat its performance of 2014 if elections held today. Control in corruption, low inflation, highest economic growth in the world and increase in brand image of India is seen as his biggest achievements.
Though everything is not all hunky dory, even a section of critics admit that he needs to be given more time. He still has 60% of his tenure remaining. BJP will pitch Modi’s 2 years of performance at the centre against 5 years of Samajwadi Party’s misrule. Comparisons will also be drawn with performance of BJP states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat with UP.
2. Strong anti-incumbency against Akhilesh
Akhilesh govt. is facing strong anti-incumbency and people want change as is evident from opinion poll results. The deteriorating law and order (the recent Mathura incident is a case in point), poor development (state still languishing amongst bottom three in terms of GDP per capita) and CM struggling to impose his authority have made people unhappy with his regime.
a. Law & Order
Crime has increased in UP since Akhilesh government took over. Rate of crime per lakh of population has increased from 98 in 2011 to 113 in 2014 as per NCRB. Murders, rapes, kidnapping and riots have witnessed a significant increase. When 47% of SP MLAs have a criminal record this was bound to happen!
|Rate of Crime||98||113|
To be fair to Akhilesh, state GDP growth during last two years has exceeded the national average. However, apart from Agra-New Delhi Yamuna Express Way nothing tangible is seen on the ground. Akhilesh govt. failure to publicize development carried out by his government adds to his woes. Exodus of people to states like Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat continues unabated as there are no job opportunities in the state. Some projects like Lucknow Metro project and Agra Lucknow Express Way have been started, but may not see the light of day before elections (too late).
c. 5 CMs (Panch CM)
In UP it is common knowledge that the state has “Panch CM”. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Shivpal Singh Yadav, Ramgopal Yadav, Azam Khan and Akhilesh Yadav are described as the 5 CMs of the state. When SP won a historic mandate in 2012, Mulayam’s younger brother Shivpal was irked at the appointment of Akhilesh and being side lined.
The seniors have almost been running a parallel government and on many occasions publicly criticized Akhilesh govt. actions. This clearly confuses the voters as to who has the final authority.
3. Broadest social coalition
BJP has the broadest caste vote bank in the state comprising of upper castes, OBCs (excluding Yadavs), Jats and Dalits (excluding Jatavs). These account for 60% of the population. In contrast Mayawati and Mulayam have a narrow social base. Mayawati vote bank comprises of Dalits, Muslims and Brahmins (49% of population) and Mulayam vote bank comprises of Yadavs, a section of OBCs and Muslims (50%-55% of population).
Additionally, BJP made decent breakthrough among Yadav and Jatav youth in LS polls which could still be retained as they appeal to the development agenda of Modi.
4. Head start in terms of Vote Share
BJP recorded 42.6% vote share in UP in LS 2014. In the 10 states which have gone to polls after May 2014, BJP on an average has lost 20% votes. Only in Maharashtra and Kerala did they record an increase. Worst performance was in Bengal where they lost 40% of the votes.
Even if we assume that BJP could lose 40% votes like in Bengal, it ends up at 25.5% which is still higher than what SP & BSP got in LS polls and very competitive in a quadrangular contest.
5. Split of Muslim & Dalit votes
Muslims and Dalits account for 40% of population. Muslim votes historically have been split between SP-BSP-Congress. Dalit votes have been split between BSP-Congress. SP-BSP-Congress are actively wooing the minority community votes. BSP is expected to field 100 Muslim candidates. Congress on the other hand has appointed Ghulam Nabi Azad as in charge of the state. Congress under Prashant Kishor is also expected to pitch for Dalit votes in efforts to revive its traditional vote bank of Upper Caste – Dalits – Muslims.
6. The Surprise Element
UP has given a verdict contrary to popular perception in the last decade.
a. In 2004 LS polls, SP won the maximum seats when BJP was expected to improve its tally significantly riding on good performance of Vajpayee govt.
b. In 2007 VS polls, when a hung assembly was predicted, BSP won a simple majority.
c. In 2009 LS polls, Congress along with ally RLD won the maximum 26 seats riding on anti-poverty schemes of UPA I when people predicted the death of the party in the state.
d. In 2012 VS polls, polls again were predicting a hung verdict with SP emerging as single largest party well short of majority and Congress-RLD significantly improving their position due to improved performance in 2009. SP recorded a thumping victory bettering BSP’s tally of 2007.
e. In 2014 LS polls, while polls gave 40-50 seats to the NDA, it swept the state bagging 73 / 80 seats even to the surprise of Amit Shah.
So while initial polls and trends predicted BSP ahead and now show SP ahead, BJP could emerge victorious as a surprise winner.
To sum up, despite initial trends suggesting otheriwse, BJP is the front runner in UP in my opinion based on factors mentioned above. It is an elections for BJP to lose. Alliances with small parties, quick final decision on whether it will announce CM candidate or not and candidate finalization for seats will be key to victory prospects. However, massive polarization of Muslim & Dalit votes pose a risk to BJP’s victory.