BJP must take a decision quickly on whether it will announce a chief ministerial candidate or opt for a collective leadership.
Focus should be on anchor vote segments of upper castes and OBC as other SCs are now consolidating in favour of BSP.
On 22 August 2016, ABP News published results of an opinion poll carried out by CSDS-Lokniti. It predicts a hung assembly in Uttar Pradesh with Samajwadi Party (SP) leading (30 percent) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (27 percent) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) (26 percent) trailing. This follows a survey by 5forty3 in July which showed the BJP ahead with 32 percent, followed by the BSP (25 percent) and the SP (21 percent). The big difference in the two surveys is a small leakage of upper cast (UC) vote from BJP to SP, Muslims consolidating further under SP and the party racking up small gains among Dalits and other backward classes (OBCs), with the BJP losing further ground among OBCs and Dalits.
The BJP is seen losing massive vote share (-15.6 percent) compared to Lok Sabha polls. With 68 percent of voters claiming that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not brought achhe din or have no opinion about it, some of the traditional voters of other parties – Yadavs, Jatavs and even other scheduled castes – have returned to their preferred parties. The recent Dalit agitation against the BJP in Gujarat has had its effect, with the vote share from the community going down by 29 percent.
However, the big surprise is the large loss which appears to be coming from other OBCs, leading to a decline of six to seven percent in overall vote share. Despite appointing Maurya (Keshav Prasad), an OBC leader, as state president and importing another Maurya (Swami Prasad) from the BSP, the BJP is struggling among OBCs (-22 percent). This is coupled with the drop in UC vote share by 27 percent to the SP (Rajputs) and the Congress (Brahmins), probably given that it is a state election and the candidate profile is far more diverse. Plus, the fact that the UC community is probably unhappy with its overt seduction of OBCs is hurting the party. Lastly, the aggressive advertising and on-ground campaign by the SP and the BSP may also be eroding some BJP vote share across caste groups.
As the SP emerges to the top for the first time in any of the polls, it is important to see how the party is achieving this.
Two things clearly stand out. The SP appears to be further solidifying its Yadav and Muslim vote. This is bad news for the BSP and the Congress, which want to be seen as an alternative to the BJP. Secondly, they have managed to reach close to 2012 levels among UC, other OBCs and other SCs, giving them a minor edge at the moment.
The BSP is seen gaining among Jatavs (75 percent, +7 percent), the caste to which Mayawati belongs. The cow-vigilante anti-Dalit atrocities have ensured that other SCs who had supported the BJP in Lok Sabha polls have flocked back to the BSP (56 percent, +27 percent). Despite Maurya’s exit, the BSP’s vote share from OBCs has doubled to 23 percent, strengthening the party’s argument that Swami Prasad is not a mass leader. However, her Muslim support is constant at 18 percent. Without a one-third vote share from minorities, it will be difficult for Mayawati to cross the hurdle.
The Congress is seen struggling with a five percent vote share. In our opinion, this is on the lower side, and the party should be able to garner anything between 10-12 percent. In a hung assembly situation, it could even play the role of a kingmaker.
The maze that Amit Shah must get out of
The current results are likely to enhance pressure on Amit Shah to announce a chief ministerial candidate. In all recent polls, we have seen how leadership has emerged as the key factor in state and national elections. Modi benefitted from this factor as one-fourth of the electorate voted for the BJP only because of him. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar triumphed over a leaderless BJP. Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi), Sarbananda Sonowal (Assam), Mamata Banerjee (Bengal), Mufti Mohammed Sayeed (J&K), J Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu) are some other examples.
The CSDS poll shows a tie between Mayawati and Akhilesh at 24 percent. The BJP is consistently lagging in leadership ratings for not declaring a chief ministerial candidate. Hence, people have difficulty in naming a leader as the best choice for chief minister. The survey doesn’t help the BJP in forming an opinion on its chief ministerial candidate – Rajnath Singh (seven percent), Yogi Adityanath (five percent) and Varun Gandhi (three percent).
None of the other surveys have shown a strong chief ministerial candidate, and only the 5forty3 survey showed Yogi Adityanath as a strong candidate at 16 percent of the vote. The blame for this squarely lies on BJP’s top leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. After the stupendous Lok Sabha performance (73/80), the BJP should have cultivated a leader in the past two years to match the charisma of Akhilesh and Mayawati. Are Modi-Shah falling into the same trap as the Gandhis, not letting local leadership flourish in order to maintain their dominance in the party?
As we said in our previous Swarajya column, the BJP does not have a great chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh to help them win the election. Further, its dependency on a wide array of caste groups makes it extremely difficult for it to choose a chief ministerial candidate from a particular caste and thereby antagonising the other caste groups. However, as the predicted vote shares stand today, Shah’s election execution model has become more complex than it was two months ago. At this moment, he may have the following options:
- He will need to find a somewhat caste-neutral candidate who will appeal to most of the voters; for example, Varun Gandhi.
- Alternatively, he could choose an OBC leader as chief minister, but then he will have to figure out a way to consolidate the UC votes much more with appealing messages that other parties cannot match.
- Another option is to choose a UC leader to bring back a section of voters disillusioned with the party. An upper caste chief ministerial candidate with an OBC state president could work wonders for the party.
- Not choose a leader at all and instead appoint three prominent leaders from different castes (UC, OBC and Dalit) to drive the campaign with an emphasis on development as the prime agenda with micromanagement of messaging at booth level to appeal to voters in smaller groups.
- Hope for a split in Muslim vote with some swing towards Mayawati instead of a consolidation towards the SP. This can be done at a constituency level.
None of these options is brilliant, but the situation is slowly moving towards a place where the BJP is finding itself with limited and less efficient options. The BJP has to take a decision quickly on whether it will announce a chief ministerial candidate or opt for collective leadership. The focus should be on anchor vote segments of UC and OBC, other SCs now consolidating in favour of the BSP.
A keenly contested triangular contest means that a party cannot win with just 30 percent vote share, unlike previous elections of 2007 and 2012. It needs 32-34 percent to win. So all is not lost for the BJP as nobody is near that mark yet. That said, neither the SP nor the BSP has made a strong case yet for being elected, and there are no guarantees that their vote shares will hold until election day. Each of the parties has the option of launching a game-changing move and win the election in 2017. The question is, who will make the big move?