Predicting election outcomes in India is often tricky, and more so when it comes to the eastern states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This is primarily because of their immensely complex social demographics and voting patterns. In past, the results of elections in both the states have surprised everyone and it will not be unusual if the people of Uttar Pradesh deliver a completely surprising verdict. Despite all the complexities surrounding elections in Uttar Pradesh elections, voting on the basis of caste remains one of the strongest factors. Analysing the numbers coupled with the ground reports pouring from various parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bharatiya Janata Party is most likely to emerge as the strongest party in the assembly elections.
Many people tend to compare the current assembly election of Uttar Pradesh with the 2015 Bihar assembly elections where the Mahagathbandhan, a mega alliance of JDU-RJD-Congress, trounced the Bharatiya Janata Party. This is a flawed comparison because the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar was a solid coalition of anti-BJP parties and the fight in Bihar was two-headed. In Uttar Pradesh, the fight is triangular with BJP, BSP and SP-Congress combined.
If we consider 2014 Lok Sabha elections as a reference, the mahagathbandhan in Bihar accounted for about 45% vote share (20% RJD+ 16% JDU+ 9% Congress) while BJP secured 36% votes. Since the parties contested separately in Bihar during the Lok Sabha elections, BJP swept the polls by winning 32 out of 40 seats. In Uttar Pradesh, SP-Congress combine accounted for about 30% vote share, while the BJP secured 43% votes winning 73 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats. In Bihar assembly elections, since all the major parties came together, it was a direct contest. Mahagathbandhan was able to hold on to its 44% votes and add further 3% votes, thereby securing 47% of the votes against 31% votes that BJP received, thereby winning a majority.
The scenario in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections this year is no where similar to Bihar assemblly elections of 2015. The contest in UP is triangular and hence, no solid consolidation of anti-BJP votes. In a likely scenario that there is no massive swing of votes, the vote share will be somewhere close to 40% votes for BJP, 30% to SP-INC and BSP getting 25% of votes. This translates to about 270 seats for BJP, which means a massive mandate.
In a triangular contest like this, 33-34% vote share is sufficient to sail past the majority mark of 202 seats. So, the only likely scenario for BJP to lose this election is by losing more than 9% of votes it secured in Lok Sabha elections of 2014. It may be argued that the 2014 election was a Modi wave, while this is an assembly election and hence BJP will lose a large chunk of votes. However, the ground reports suggest that the Modi wave is persistent and has not lost its sheen. When asked, people across UP said they are not voting for BJP, but for Modi – a clear reference to the enormous popularity he still enjoys. The reason behind continuous support enjoyed by Narendra Modi has been a mixture of multiple factors. Demonetisation, surgical strikes, LPG connections to poor women, MUDRA Yojana, direct benefit transfers and a host of social welfare schemes have strengthened the faith of people of rural areas in Narendra Modi.
There is no denying the fact that caste plays one of the most important roles in Uttar Pradesh. This is where BJP has done exceedingly well. The state consists of 40% OBCs, out of which 8% are Yadavs. The forward (upper caste) are 22% in number. The large chunk of 32% non-Yadav OBCs have been disillusioned with Samajwadi Party government because of party’s partial treatment. While all benefits have been passed on to the Yadavs, the other non-Yadav OBCs have been left out, be it government jobs or passing on the benefits of government schemes. The police forces have disproportionately high number of Yadavs, a fact which has been repeatedly mentioned by the PM in his rallies. An excessive minority appeasement by SP has also polarized the non-Yadav Hindus. BJP has found support from non-Yadav OBCs and the forwards, who comprise about 50% of Uttar Pradesh population.
Another advantage for BJP in this election has been the split of Muslim votes among SP-Congress coalition and BSP. In 2012 assembly elections, Muslims voted as a block to ensure Samajwadi Party wins. However this time, with Mayawati fielding 99 Muslim candidates and Akhilesh government’s failure to contain multiple riots , a large fraction of Muslims have aligned with Mayawati. With a split in Muslim vote, it is always the Bharatiya Janata Party which gains. The state has about 19% Muslims, and along with 8% of Yadavs form the core vote-bank of Samajwadi Party. With Muslim votes split into two, it will significantly reduce the vote share of SP and thereby, aid Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP has also exploited this confusion among Muslims by calling Samajwadi Party as its main rival at one place and Bahujan Samajwadi Party as its main rival at another place.
With Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and a host of senior cabinet ministers leaving no stone unturned to ensure a saffron sweep in the Purvanchal which goes to poll on the 8th, the BJP has a golden chance to end its ‘Vanvaas’ (exile) and occupy the chair of Lucknow. As of now, the nation is anxiously waiting for 11th March to see if Akhilesh continues his term, or saffron surge sweeps India’s largest political battleground. Media has not covered Mayawati like the other two parties, but with a slight tilt of Dalit-Muslim votes in her favour, she too can be the dark horse and surprise everyone.