While the 2017 opinion polls currently predict Mayawati to be ahead, BJP has the right voting combinations to win the election
BJP must also consider its tactical options should Mayawati align with Congress and numerous smaller parties across the state
All four major parties – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress – are trying hard to search for the perfect social combination which will help them win the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh.
In a quadrangular contest like this, 30-32 percent vote share would be enough to win an assembly election. For example, in 2007, BSP bagged 30.4 percent while SP bagged 29.7 percent in 2012, both ending up with simple majorities.
Forming caste/religious blocks key to victory
In the last few elections three voting combinations based on caste and religious blocks have operated in Uttar Pradesh. Depending upon their strength and traditional vote banks, parties will be targeting these individual blocks.
- Block I comprises of Brahmins, Jatavs, other scheduled castes and Muslims (49 percent of the population)
- Block II comprises of Brahmins, other backward classes (OBCs), Jats, other scheduled castes and Rajputs (60 percent of population)
- Block III comprises of Yadavs, OBCs, Rajputs and Muslims (68 percent of population)
Block I has traditionally belonged to BSP, Block II to BJP and Block III to SP. While this looks pretty simple, it gets complicated because of overlapping vote banks – (i) upper caste and dalits in case of BSP and BJP, (ii) Rajputs and OBCs in case of BJP and SP, and (iii) Muslims in case of SP, BSP as well as Congress.
Caste blocks and their dynamics
Block I, comprising Brahmins, dalits and Muslims (49 percent of population), was the traditional vote bank of Congress until late 1980s, with an upper caste chief minister at the helm. This model was replicated by Mayawati in 2007, only difference being, a dalit replaced upper caste as CM. BSP has historically ended up with 25-27 percent of vote share due to this block with 2014 being an exception when it received only 19.8 per cent of the vote share. Within this group, more than 70 percent Jatavs have voted for Mayawati, who belongs to this community. More than 50 percent of other SC/ST have historically voted for BSP except for Lok Sabha polls where BJP made a significant dent bagging 45 percent votes.
Block II, comprising of upper caste, Jats, OBCs and other SC (60 percent of population), was developed by BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. It was able to make a dent in the OBC vote bank of SP and dalit vote bank of BSP to create this social coalition, helped by the fact that Narendra Modi is an OBC himself. BJP has historically got 15 per cent vote share in last three assembly polls, but this dramatically improved in Lok Sabha polls. On an average more than 50 percent of Brahmins and Rajputs have voted for the BJP in the past elections. It overtook SP as the first choice of OBCs in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Block III, comprising Rajputs, Yadavs, OBCs and Muslims, accounts for 68 percent of population. This group has traditionally supported SP. BJP over the years has been able to break into the OBC vote bank of SP, which was able to wean away a section of Rajputs from BJP. It has historically received 20-22 percent vote share from this block. On an average more than 60 percent Yadavs have voted for SP in the past elections. In any elections SP has received maximum Muslim support.
BJP gave new meaning to caste blocks in 2014 Lok Sabha elections
BJP had received majority of votes across caste groups except for Yadavs and Jatavs in May 2014, bagging 42.6 percent vote share. If it is able to maintain the same performance then it will be a clear winner. However, even hardcore BJP supporters know that the performance can’t be repeated as the Modi factor has been absent in successive state polls and local issues have dominated.
BJP’s winning formula in 2017
BJP needs to hold onto its Block II vote bank comprising Brahmins, Rajputs, OBCs, Jats and other SCs. Some of the votes could be lost to BSP (dalits and Brahmins), Congress (Brahmins) and SP (Rajputs and OBCs). Should it even end up with the average of the last two elections, it would give BJP a 30 percent vote share.
The strategy then is to optimise its votes amongst its core supporters (upper castes) and push that up from 10.1 percent (average of last two elections; a+b+c) to about 13 percent through development/jobs agenda. In alliance with the Apna Dal and one or two other smaller parties – Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) for example – its total vote share would then cross 35 percent and deliver a landslide in the state.
With Congress and other smaller parties/independents likely to win about 20 percent of the votes, only about 45 percent of the votes will remain to be contested between SP and BSP. With SP is likely to win a minimum of 20 percent of vote (given past record), the probability of Mayawati crossing the BJP vote share is low.
The real challenge for BJP
At some point closer to the campaign, Mayawati will realise that her caste combinations will not hurt the BJP vote share. This will mean that most Muslim votes will remain with SP and not give her the last minute momentum that she needs to win the election. This could then push her into alliance talks with the Congress, RLD and Peace Party. This alliance would be seen as a strong challenger to the BJP and gain votes from Muslims, other OBCs and even upper castes in some constituencies.
This could have the effect of BJP getting pushed to the average of the last two elections (30 percent) and in turn bump up the Mayawati-led alliance to about 35-38 percent of the votes (from about 32-33 percent predicted as a sum of the parties without the alliance). It is unlikely that such an alliance will be announced until two-three months before the election so as to reduce the tactical options with the BJP (including declaration of a chief ministerial candidate, Central Bureau of Investigation cases against Mayawati etc.). In sum, Uttar Pradesh has always surprised analysts and this election would be no different. In 2007, BSP emerged as winner when everybody thought it will be a hung assembly.
In 2009, Congress performed really well in Lok Sabha polls, raising hopes for a recovery. In 2012, BSP lost due to loss of its anchor dalit votes, and in 2014 BJP got much higher seats than it got even at the peak of Ram Lalla movement. While the 2017 opinion polls currently predict Mayawati to be ahead, BJP has the right voting combinations to win the election. The BJP’s efforts over the next five months should be to solidify its main voting blocks (upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs) to push its predicted vote share closer to 35 percent. It must also consider its tactical options should Mayawati align with Congress and numerous smaller parties across the state. This election will be fought to the finish, the game has just begun.