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The Uttar Pradesh elections in 2017 are a prestige issue for the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah jodi after a loss in the Hindi heartland of Bihar. Mayawati is eager to make a comeback, Akhilesh Yadav is slogging hard to retain his chair, while Congress has been infused with new energy by master poll strategist Prashant Kishor. The results will chart the direction of Indian politics in the years to come.
Muslims, accounting for 18-19 per cent of the state population, have influence in 73 seats (which cover more than 30 per cent of the state’s population). They have traditionally backed the Samajwadi Party (SP). 54 per cent of Muslims voted for the Samajwadi Party in the 2002 Assembly elections. It fell to 30 per cent in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and again rose to 58 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress also have decent pockets of influence among the community. While the BSP’s vote share doubled from nine per cent in 2002 to 18 per cent in 2014, that of the Congress stayed at the same level of 11 per cent after peaking at 25 per cent in 2009.
We believe Muslim votes would swing towards the BSP and it is expected to get 30-50 per cent of the community’s votes. This will add another two-six per cent to the BSP’s vote share which could play a crucial factor in determining the results.
But why will Muslims support the BSP?
1. To prevent split of votes
The Muslim vote, contrary to popular perception, was split between the three parties – Samajwadi Party-BSP-Congress in past elections. This benefited the BJP which won 22 per cent of the Muslim-dominated seats in last three state polls despite getting less than five per cent of the Muslim votes.
In 2002 and 2012, the number of such seats secured by the BJP was second only to the SP.
2. Unhappy with Samajwadi Party’s handling of Muzaffarnagar and Dadri issues
Muslims have been unhappy with SP’s handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The fact that the father-son duo of Mulayam and Akhilesh Yadav visited the riot-affected areas six months after the incident, and that too to seek votes for the Lok Sabha elections irked their hardcore supporters.
The Dadri incident has further alienated the community from the SP. In a recent ABP survey, only half of the Muslim voters felt that the Samajwadi Party government did a good job in maintaining religious harmony.
3. To prevent BJP from coming back to power
Muslims’ voting behaviour in recent past has been BJP-centric – “negative voting” – as they have voted for a party that could defeat the BJP. Even if it loses 30 per cent of its votes recorded in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, as in Delhi, the BJP still ends up at 30 per cent which puts it in contention in a quadrangular contest. Though opinion polls suggest Mayawati’s BSP is ahead, the main contest is between the BJP and BSP.
4. Poor state of Muslims in the state
The SP has been in power for almost 50 per cent of the duration since 1990, enjoying majority Muslim support. However, the plight of Muslims has not really improved under Netaji’s (Mulayam Singh Yadav) rule. Enrolment of Muslims in elementary schools in India is 12.8 per cent, which is similar to the total Muslim population. In Uttar Pradesh, this is only 9.64 per cent, which is half of their state population.
Literacy among Muslims is the lowest in Uttar Pradesh at 35 per cent. In the last seven years, from 2005 to 2012, while Kerala (26.5 per cent to eight per cent) and Gujarat (31 per cent to seven per cent) topped the states where poverty among Muslims has declined drastically, Uttar Pradesh was languishing at the bottom (50 per cent to 33 per cent). According to the Union ministry of human resource development, about four per cent of graduate students are Muslims (2013).
5. Active wooing by Mayawati
The BSP’s list is expected to include 100 Muslim candidates. This is higher than the 85 tickets issued to the community members in 2012. Before the elections, few high-profile Muslim leaders of the Samajwadi Party are expected to join the BSP.
Mayawati has been actively canvassing for reservation of minorities, and the poor amongst the minorities. This strategy entails the risk of polarising the Hindu votes in favour of the BJP though.
6. Last but not least – Mayawati has a good chance of winning 2017
All recent surveys show Mayawati looking good to win or compete well in 2017. Her position will get even better if she allies with the Congress. In that context, Muslim voters would see more merit in voting for a party likely to win, like the BSP, instead of “wasting” their votes on the Samajwadi Party.
The only hope for the SP is if the BJP also attempts to attract Muslim voters and there is less consolidation of Hindu votes. This would also ensure that Muslim voters would be less fearful of the BJP and would stick to voting for the Samajwadi Party. However, while there are conversations around attracting Muslim voters, it is highly unlikely that the BJP will aggressively go after the Muslim vote.
Therefore, Muslims see the BSP in a better position to defeat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. This will ensure the BSP gets the maximum votes from the community.
If the BSP seals the deal with the Congress, as recent overtures indicate, its support from the Muslims will cross 50 per cent and it will be a game changer in the 2017 Assembly elections.