As #UP2017 Enters Fifth Round, A BJP Surge Is Evident
#UP2017 was a race that began many weeks before the first was cast on 11 February. At various points in the race, different players seemed ahead. But now, as it nears completion, there is a palpable BJP surge
The electoral scenario in Uttar Pradesh has been changing rapidly and one can see it changing even now. Four phases of the election are over. Three phases are yet to be completed. A campaign that started with promises and claims of development has slid to the level of caste machinations, religious polarisation and personal attacks. Graveyards, crematoriums and then donkeys acquired a special place in the electoral speeches. This can be seen as a sign of the fact that the UP election still hangs in balance. Political leaders are desperate to tip it in their favor and are not going to leave any stone unturned in that.
When the Samajwadi Party civil war was at its peak, it seemed like the BJP and BSP were to be the main contenders for the Uttar Pradesh power tussle. Muslim voters, who have strongly supported the SP since the demolition of Babari Masjid in 1992, seemed in a state of uncertainty. For this reason, it appeared as if they were turning towards Mayawati. Mayawati, on her part, was clearly strategizing to win the election through the Dalit-Muslim equation. That is the reason she gave the highest number of tickets to Muslim candidates. The Bhartiya Janta Party, too, considered Mayawati to be the main opponent and was trying to portray her as anti-Dalit.
The BJP, on the other hand, had been working to get the upper castes, the non-Yadav OBCs and the non-Jatav Dalits behind it for some time. Given Samajwadi Party’s internal feud, it was focussed on weakening the BSP. The conditions were seeming to be conducive as the non-Yadav voters who were disappointed with the SP were seemingly gravitating towards it. A few of the Dalit and SC leaders from Mayawati’s party were already in BJP. Support from these caste groups, and the imminent division of Muslim votes made it seem that the road to government for the BJP was clear.
But as soon as the Yadav civil war turned in Akhilesh’s favour, the setting changed. Akhilesh’s complete control over almost all of the SP and the cycle symbol, and the coalition with Congress—all these meant that the dilemma in the Muslim voter’s mind would now be over. Clean image of the young chief minister, his development-oriented vision, his distancing himself from criminal elements in his party and those of his achievements that had a universal acceptance were evidence enough that he was going to be the forerunner in this election.
That was the reason that BJP leaders, including PM Modi, started vehemently attacking the Akhilesh government and the Congress. Besides, BSP was still hailed as the main contender so that the Muslim voters could get divided, and BJP’s path to victory is cleared.
There was yet another change of scenario after 11 February, the day of the first phase of the elections. Indications that came from western UP were not in favour of BJP at all. Polling data, ground reports from media and the demeanour of BJP leadership signalled that the party did not get the outright support of the Jats as it did in the 2014 parliamentary elections. News followed that the Jats had retreated to their traditional haven, the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Chaudhary Ajit Singh; and Muslims had voted for whichever candidate out of SP’s or BSP’s had a better chance of defeating the BJP on that seat. These were omens for a great loss for the BJP as it had been working on religious polarisation in the region since 2013. The party hoped for better results from the first phase.
The second phase of the elections was in the Muslim-dominated Ruhelkhand belt and with the completion of this round on 15 February, there was yet another indication that the proverbial pendulum had swung again. The divsion of Muslim votes between SP and BSP had the BJP camp upbeat.
The third phase primarily comprised the urban areas of central UP and according to reports the BJP has performed well here. It was also evident here for the first time that while Akhilesh and Rahul may have some chemistry going for them on the dais, on the ground, their cadres had poor coordination. Even apart from friendly fights in several places, SP leaders think that they would have fared better without the coalition with Congress.
By the time the election reached Bundelkhand, news started pouring in that the coalition was weakening day by day and BJP was performing better.
Bundelkhand didn’t get any good news for BSP either. Severely backward despite receiving many economic packages, this area has been a fort of the BSP. But this time around, indications from voting day suggest that OBCs and some Dalit voters have switched to BJP.
Some political analysts believe that the BJP’s caste arithmetic is bearing its fruits. Senior journalist Brajesh Shukla, who is touring the whole of Uttar Pradesh for nearly a month now, claims that it is for the first time that the non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits have consolidated behind the BJP. In fact, Brajesh goes on to say that the positive effects of demonetisation in the countryside are also proving advantageous for the BJP. Contrary to what other parties claim, the rural citizenry of UP sees demonetisation as a step in favour of the poor and against the rich.
Now, before the fifth phase of the election, the scenario is that after a brief period of decline in the initial phase, the BJP appears to be surging ahead. Akhilesh Yadav is getting accolades for his clean image and some of his famous initiatives, but all of that is not converting into votes. The SP-Congress coalition was probably a loss-making deal. Although initially Mayawati was giving BJP a good fight, her efforts towards social engineering and forging Dalit-Muslim unity do not seem as effective now.
Seeing their party lead, all leaders from the BJP, including PM Modi, are engaged in aggressive campaigning and aiming at polarisation to extract maximum gains in the last three phases of the elections.
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