Rampur Bypoll: Samajwadi Party Has A Slight Edge

Venu Gopal Narayanan

Jun 20, 2022, 01:14 PM | Updated 01:14 PM IST

BJP's Ghanshyam Lodhi and SP’s Asim Raja.
BJP's Ghanshyam Lodhi and SP’s Asim Raja.
  • The most probable outcome is that the SP will win Rampur with around 50 per cent of the vote share, with the BJP close behind.
  • Rampur, a Lok Sabha constituency in western Uttar Pradesh, is headed for a by-poll on 23 June, since Azam Khan, the sitting MP and Samajwadi Party (SP) heavyweight, was elected to the UP provincial legislature in March 2022.

    The SP has the edge presently, and is banking on an identity base of Muslims, Yadavs and Jats. The Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party will not be participating. That means it will be a straight two-way contest between the SP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

    The SP’s candidate is Asim Raja, the head of its Rampur city unit. His BJP opponent is Ghanshyam Lodhi, who was with the SP till just a month before the assembly polls of March 2022.

    This seat has an interesting electoral history. Following a delimitation, this seat was won in 2009 by actress Jayaprada on an SP ticket. It was a low scoring affair with a poor turnout. The vote was split four ways; the BJP came last with 10 per cent.

    In 2014, the BJP surged to victory on the crest of a ‘Modi wave’ by gaining 27 per cent, most of which came from the Congress. SP-BJP bipolarity, though, was still low; nearly a third of the votes remained with other parties.

    But in 2019, the SP tied up with the BSP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). This made the contest severely bipolar, with ‘Others’ getting only 4 per cent of the vote. While the BJP did improve its performance to a commendable 43 per cent, and had Jayaprada as their candidate, the SP alliance won with 53 per cent of the popular vote.

    Between 2014 and now, two assembly elections were also held, in 2017 and 2022. If we aggregate the results of the five assembly constituencies which make up this Lok Sabha seat, we see that the SP won both times.

    This electoral history offers multiple observations, which indicate the most possible outcome for the forthcoming by-election.

    First, the SP has steadily expanded and consolidated its vote base in Rampur over the past decade.

    Second, votes which shift to the SP from non-BJP parties via periodic alliances are seen to stay loyal to the SP even after those alliances have broken. For example, the SP polled 53 per cent in 2019 — 15 per cent more than what it got on its own in 2014 — through a tie-up with the BSP. But in March 2022, it lost only 3 per cent back to the BSP.

    Third, the BJP, too, has grown in Rampur, but it is still a clear second. The best it ever got was 43 per cent in 2019, which won’t be enough to win this by-election.

    Fourth, as a table below shows, this seat has become almost exclusively bipolar:

    Fifth, and significantly, the only time the SP registered a negative vote swing in this Lok Sabha seat, in any of the past four elections, was in 2022, when it lost 3 per cent from the 53 per cent it got in 2019. But then, the BJP, too, lost 5 per cent between 2019 and 2022 (some of it to the BSP, and more to ‘Others’). That means the gap between the BJP and the SP has only increased.

    Sixth, the BJP has consistently won two of the five assembly segments in the elections of 2014, 2017, 2019 and 2022, but only the same two — Bilaspur and Milak. Further, in 2022, their wins in these two seats were with wafer-thin margins. In Bilaspur seat, they won by just 307 votes, and in Milak reserved seat, their lead was a slender 3 per cent.

    Seventh, in contrast, the SP’s win margins in the other three assembly segments — Suar, Chamraua and Rampur, consistently range between 20-30 per cent since 2017.

    Now, the BJP does benefit from a vote share rise in general elections, but the situation is slightly different in Rampur this time. Looking at the March 2022 assembly election data, the BSP retains only 7.4 per cent, and ‘Others’, 5.1 per cent. So even if the BJP manages to get 4 per cent from ‘Others’ (possible), and 5 per cent from the BSP, that would still take it up to only 46 per cent, from the 37 per cent it logged in March 2022.

    (Electoral math can be maddening at times: We can’t add this additional 9 per cent to the BJP’s 2019 figure of 43 per cent, since 3 per cent of that was with the SP then. It’s what happens when alliances change dramatically from election to election.)

    That swing of 9 per cent, while substantial, would unfortunately still be insufficient for the BJP to gain a lead, since the SP currently commands 50 per cent of the vote in this seat. Further, the SP’s 2022 win-margin over the BJP is equal to the BSP-plus-Others’ vote in those provincial elections — nearly 13 per cent.

    That means the BJP will not be able to win this seat unless it attracts at least 6-7 per cent of the vote directly from the SP.

    Can that happen?

    While we cannot rule out such an eventuality, the probability of its occurrence is low. This is because the political atmosphere is so vitiated by identity politics at present, that the BJP’s best efforts to institute a supra-caste consolidation will not be enough, when sheer demographics is against it. Anyone suggesting otherwise may consider the recent spate of stone-pelting incidents in Kanpur and Prayagraj, and the SP’s generous gesture of nominating the RLD’s Jayant Chaudhary to the Rajya Sabha.

    Thus, the most probable outcome is that the SP will win Rampur with around 50 per cent of the vote share, with the BJP close behind.

    All data from Election Commission of India website.

    Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.

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