Western UP: Will RLD Be Able To Upset The BJP Applecart?

Western UP: Will RLD Be Able To Upset The BJP Applecart?

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Sunday, January 30, 2022 04:58 PM IST
Western UP: Will RLD Be Able To Upset The BJP Applecart?Uttar Pradesh map
  • The Rashtriya Lok Dal had traditionally commanded the unwavering loyalty of the jat community — which holds the key to electoral fortunes in western UP — but the party has dwindled greatly in the past decade.

    Today, it can barely win an assembly seat on its own.

    Here's an analysis.

With less than a fortnight of campaigning left for the first phase of assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), everyone is looking at the state’s western swathes. This is where the jat factor is expected to play a decisive role in determining outcomes.

The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had traditionally commanded the unwavering loyalty of this community, but the party has dwindled greatly in the past decade. Today, it can barely win an assembly seat on its own.

However, the party retains a sizeable presence in a few dozen seats of western UP (see here for details), for which, it has merited a tie-up with the Samajwadi Party (SP).

The RLD has been allocated 33 seats in the early lists by the SP-RLD alliance. Nineteen were covered in a previous article, where it was predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would do very well. This piece covers the balance of 14 seats.

These 14 seats are all located in western UP. Twelve will be polled in the first phase on 10 February 2022, and two in the second. Only two of the 14 are reserved seats. This is their recent electoral history:

Western UP: Will RLD Be Able To Upset The BJP Applecart?

This is where they are located:

Map 1: The locations of 14 seats being contested by the RLD
Map 1: The locations of 14 seats being contested by the RLD

In 2014, when the RLD was in alliance with the Congress, the BJP won all 14. In 2017, the RLD managed to win one seat on its own — Chhaprauli — in a low-scoring four-way contest. These are the 2017 vote shares:

Western UP: Will RLD Be Able To Upset The BJP Applecart?

We see that the BJP’s average vote share was double that of the SP-Congress alliance, and that of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and indeed, equal to the two groups combined.

That was the Modi wave, which first brought the BJP back to UP in 2014, and then again in 2017. When you added the RLD vote share, then the combined opposition went ahead of the BJP — but only on paper, and even then, only in nine seats.

For this and other reasons, the RLD joined the SP and BSP in 2019, to form a formidable alliance. The BJP’s tally came down to eight, with the RLD winning three, and the BSP as many.

Interestingly, none of the three SP candidates won.

Here are the 2019 segment-wise details:

Western UP: Will RLD Be Able To Upset The BJP Applecart?

The key point to be noted is that these 14 seats followed a state-wide trend, of a counter-consolidation in the BJP’s favour, against vote-banking by the others.

The more the SP, BSP, and RLD played the identity card, the more it was rejected by others. This was accentuated by another factor: some voters, who had been die-hard loyalists of say, the BSP, SP, or RLD, rejected the 2019 alliance and voted for the BJP instead.

Some votes also went back to the Congress.

Thus, even as the SP-BSP-RLD combination gained 21 per cent by coming together in 2019, over what the SP and Congress got in 2017, the BJP gained further by 9 per cent.

In fact, the combined opposition vote share (aligned and non-aligned) was still a full 7 percentage points behind the BJP (46 to 53).

This is because the BJP polled so much more heavily in so many seats, in which they had already registered thumping victories twice before — in 2014 and 2017 — meaning that where the BJP held, they held bigger.

The inferences are clear: First, the RLD has won only one of these 14 seats on its own strength in the past three elections.

Second, the RLD is not a factor in half the seats, which means that its candidates will have to depend on the SP to do the heavy-lifting.

And as explained earlier, third, putting up an RLD candidate in a non-RLD stronghold carries the risk of triggering a voter exodus from alliance ranks.

In 2022, the SP and RLD are without the BSP or Congress. How might the elections play out under those circumstances? To find out, let us do some electoral maths.

A persistent theme running through Swarajya’s coverage of the 2022 UP elections has been to see how the BJP might lose. A few crucial factors include: a very high index of opposition unity (IOU), the vote differential between the BJP and the SP-RLD, and an erosion of BJP votes from the 51 per cent it got in 2019.

This is because the BJP is the party to beat in UP, and because it also makes for objective analysis. To that end, three scenarios have been constructed, to capture varying possibilities, and to then forecast outcomes (See here for a detailed explanation of the methodology used). The results are given in a table below.

Western UP: Will RLD Be Able To Upset The BJP Applecart?

Note: the colour red indicates advantage BJP, and blue means ‘too close to call’.

Scenario 1: Here, we assume rather generously that there is a perfect IOU, and subtract the 2017 BJP vote share from the 2017 combined opposition vote share. This is done, since a number of surveys predict that the BJP’s vote share in 2022 will be around the 40 per cent mark (close to the 41 per cent it got in 2017).

Result: We see that the BJP retains only five of the 14 seats, with the rest going to the RLD-SP.

Scenario 2: Here, we carry forward the generosity of a perfect IOU, but subtract the 2019 BJP vote share from the 2017 combined opposition tally. This is done to simulate a counter-consolidation in the BJP’s favour — a phenomenon that has manifested itself distinctly in the past, whenever the opposition formed a formidable alliance.

Result: The BJP would still register only five sure-shot wins, but, in this case, three seats become too close to call. This means that under such circumstances, the BJP’s tally would range from 5-8, with the RLD winning 9-6.

Scenario 3: Here, we lower the IOU factor by assuming that only half of the BSP’s 2017 vote share shifts to the SP-RLD. This is what the most recent poll surveys suggest, and represents a consolidation of the Muslim vote under the SP umbrella. We then subtract the BJP’s 2019 vote share from the balance to simulate a counter-consolidation.

Result: The BJP is projected to win eight seats, with two more being too close to call. That gives a BJP range of 8-10, and an RLD range of 6-4 seats.

However, readers must note four important points in these calculations:

First, no positive vote swing to the BJP has been considered, meaning that these are conservative estimates.

Second, since the IOU in 2022 is going to be lower than in 2019 or 2017, because the BSP and the Congress are contesting alone, the vote share required by the BJP to win is also going to be lower.

Third, in a split electorate, the actual, requisite win margin will also be lower, meaning that even if the BJP’s vote share reduces, its chances of victory will be higher because of the vote differential between it and the SP-RLD (no matter how narrow; this is actually how the SP, BSP, and BJP all secured comfortable majorities in the past, with less than a third of the vote).

Fourth, the impact of the Congress leaving the SP has not been addressed. It doesn’t have much of a presence in these 14 seats, but it has enough to gift the BJP an advantage by splitting the vote further. In Rampur Maniharan, for example, it polled a good 14 per cent in 2019.

Now, it is next to impossible that none of these four factors won’t come in to play. Some votes will go to the BJP; the IOU will reduce from a high of 2019; the BJP will enjoy a vote differential over the SP-RLD in higher cases; and the Congress will split the non-BJP vote.

Put together, and in conclusion, the higher possibility is that the BJP would win most of these 14 seats in Western UP.

(All data from the 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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