State Elections 2022: Double Incumbency Advantage for the BJP in UP

22 Feb, 2022 12:52 IST|Sakshi Post

By Praveen Rai

The assembly election in UP is the political talk of the town due to the mammoth magnitude of balloting and the prime significance of its timing in the 5-year national election cycle of India. It is generally termed as a midterm referendum of the central government or the semi-final election of political party (ies) in power, electoral wind wane that points the direction of future politics. The enormity of polls keeps pace with the growth of state population as it accounts for 150 million voters who have stepped in or will set foot in more than 170,000 polling booths to press EVM buttons to elect 403 legislative members. The election is crucial, but its excessive media coverage and political importance based on the belief that the road to Delhi passes through UP is exaggerated. The myth surrounding this hype has been debunked long ago, as the Congress did not have prominent electoral footprints in the state during the UPA government in India between 2004 and 2014. CM Yogi Adityanath and Akhilesh Yadav sounded the poll bugle by engaging in a slugfest of communal chest-thumping for electoral one-upmanship and mediatized battle of engineering defections from each other’s party to win the narrative. Political hysteria and rhetorical gimmicks, which are the new hallmarks of electoral politics, reach their crescendo in UP, as elections have become highly competitive due to caste-communities' coalitional quest for identity and self-assertiveness for inclusive power-sharing. 

A quick recap of the previous election in 2017 divulges that a saffron Tsunami swept UP, as the BJP won a three fourth majority (312 out of 403 seats) with forty percent popular votes. The BJP alliance won 325 that including nine seats of Apna Dal (Sonelal) led by Anupriya Patel and four seats by Om Prakash Rajbhar’sSuheldevBharatiyaSamaj Party (SBSP). The Akhilesh Yadav-led SP-Congress alliance failed to take off as SP won 47 seats (22 percent votes), while the grand old party managed to win seven seats with 5 percent votes. The BSP led by Mayawatiwon 19 seats (22 percent votes), while the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) led by Jayant Chaudhary, grandson of former PM Chaudhary Charan Singh, managed to win a solitary seat. The election was historical as it decimated the political supremacy of regional parties based on caste identity politics and revived a new era of national one party domination.   

Opinion Poll Predictions

The election in 2022 is witnessing a deeper contest due to ideological realignments of existing parties and the entry of AamAadmi Party (AAP) and All India Majlis-e-IttehadulMuslimeen (AIMIM) presided by AsaduddinOwaisi. It has the trappings of multi-polarity, but primarily it is a one to one between BJP alliance and SP combination of rainbow parties. The BJP plus includes Nirbal Indian ShoshitHamaraAam Dal (NISHAD) and Apna Dal (Sonelal), while the SP coalition comprises of RLD, SBSP, NCP, RJD and PragatisheelSamajwadi Party (Lohiya). The BSP has allied with small non-descript parties, while the Congress on failing to find an ally decided to go solo.

The plethora of public opinion polls televised by media puts the saffron party miles ahead of its rivals and it may win a clear majority with seats in the range of 225 to 267. The SP alliance will emerge as the runner-up and win between 111 and 160 seats. The polls place the BSP in third (8 to 12 seats) and the Congress in the fourth position with seats between 0 and 11. The archives of survey predictions in UP reveals high levels of erraticness in fathoming the direction or the enormity of the mandates in last three assembly elections. The polls in 2007 and 2012 predicted hung assemblies, but BSP and SP emerged clear winners. The political prediction in the last state election was correct as most of them predicted a BJP victory. However, none of them could measure the magnitude of ‘Modi-wave’ and foretell that the saffron party will cross300-seat mark and create history.

The central reasons for frequent ‘psephological surprises and high predictive mismatches in UP are because of ‘First-Past-the-Post’ electoral system, multiparty election competition, and high volatility of the electorate. The polls fail in computing correct vote share or seats for the parties due to new alliances, party mergers or splits, the defection of heavyweights, intraparty factionalism and localised dynamics. The profile of voters is heterogeneous, as the overlap of multiple identities based on regional, caste-community, linguistic and religious affinities make it difficult to ascertain the patterns and continuity of their political affiliation. The forecasts also go wrong because they fail to take into account the voting intention of undecided voters and ‘Fear of Reprisal’ from intrusive parties.  Voters with threat perception desist in telling correct voting preferences and safeguard themselves by naming the dominant party in their locality. Thus, seat forecasts by media opinion polls needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, a warning of ‘Let the Audience Beware’, as they generally play safe by under assessing the number of seats to be won by the winning political establishment(s). 

Thus, it becomes essential to vindicate the election survey forecast by looking into the poll interplay of caste community coalitions and issues that may facilitate the electorate in forming a voting decision and the most likelihood scenariosof the political outcome.

Caste Community Coalitions

The focus of party alliances in UP are more about reaping demographic dividends rather than ideological like-mindedness. The electorate comprises of 41 percent OBC, 21 percent Dalits, 19 percent Muslims and 19 percent Upper castes. The Congress reigned supreme in UP before the rise of regional parties based on a winning combination of upper castes, Dalits and Muslims. The rise of BSP and the SP led to realignment of caste community coalition and beginning of identity-based coalitional politics. The majority of Dalits shifted base towards the BSP, while the Yadavs (9 percent of the population) formed, the vote bank of SP. The major bulk of the Muslim electorate supported the BSP or the SP depending upon their electoral momentum, and they forged successful alliances with other upper, OBC and SC castes for winning elections. The caste calculus perfected by the regional parties received a jolt in 2014 General elections, as the BJP consolidated its support base of upper castes by adding non-dominant OBCs and SC castes to win a majority of Lok Sabha seats. The creation of committed saffron supporters from a labyrinth of castes based on Hindutva assertion not only helped the BJP in registering an emphatic win in the 2017 state election, but also in regaining its dominance in UP in 2019 national elections.

Also Read: UP Voters Must Say Triple Talaq to BJP and SP, Says Owaisi

The BJP is once again galvanizing its core voters mainly from upper castes, OBC subgroups sans Yadavs and non-JatavDalit sub-castes with a strong Hindutva pitch to win the election. The SP has tried to shed its Yadav-centric image by forging alliances with other OBC castes and hopes to capitalize on the perceived alienation of Brahmins during saffron rule. It has allied with RLD (traditionally a Jat party)to woo back the dominant Jat community in western UP as they changed their political loyalty and shifted to BJP after the communal riots in 2013. The saffron party's success in the previous elections in UP has been due to wholehearted support from the Jat community, but its relationship came under severe stress due to farm agitation. The SP is banking on polarizing the Jatand Muslim votes in 113 assembly seats located in the region adjoining Delhi-NCR. Congress has appointed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the campaign head and allotted 40 percent seats to women candidates with the aim of gender mobilization.

The crystallization of social coalitions created by parties and their political arithmetic depends upon the chemistry of the constituents in transferring votes to each other and the efficacy of electoral issues dished out by parties.

Issues Influencing Votes

The issues contested in this election includes state governance ratings, the strength of leadership, poll manifestos, and political messaging. The highlights of BJP report card include improved law and order, crime prevention, the safety of women, infrastructure upgrade, sharp implementation of welfare schemes, increased investments, and completing the Hindutva project Kashi VishwanathDham in Varanasi. The parties opposed to it are focusing on incidents of atrocities against minorities, Dalits and women, mishandling of the second wave of Covid 19, unemployment, price rise, economic distress, and anti-farming policies. It is a cocktail of state and national issues, but the mandate will be determined by electorate's localized assessment of the law and order situation, the outreach of state welfare policies, and last-mile delivery of public services.

The electoral pattern in UP reveals that no CM has won back-to-back elections in last seventy years. However, this trend may reverse asit did in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, because the BJP has a double incumbency advantage and appealing personalities of PM Modi and Yogi Adityanath. The saffron party will benefit from the low opposition index, as parties against it have failed to form an alliance that will trigger fragmentation of non-BJP votes. The caste community and gender mobilizations poll strategies of SP and the Congress to defeat the BJP may not yield the desired result due to the following reasons:

-One the caste calculus of the BJP and the mobilization intensity of Hindutva seems intact in eastern and central UP. It assuaged the temper of Jats in western UP by repealing the farm laws and micro-managed the remaining grievances through door-to-door election campaigns. The ‘Modi wave’ that swept UP during the previous elections by mobilizing the disillusioned and floating electorate is still a possibility, and that could be a real game-changer.

-Two the strong polarization of Jat-Muslim electorate anticipated in western UP may not have worked, as the wounds of 2013 communal riots have healed, but bridging the religious trust deficit will take much more time. The attempt by RLD to reclaim the sole leadership of the Jats may not have fructified as new community leaders that emerged during the farmer’s protests may share the spoils.

-Finally, the endeavor to mass mobilize farmers and women as vote banks based on class and gender issues may be a non-starter, as there are no records of polarization on these counts in Indian electoral politics.

To conclude, the saffron party seems to be winning the battle of political narratives, as‘BJP’s Law and Order versus SP’s Goonda Raj (Rule of Goons)’ binary seems to be resonating silently with the voters. The election in UP is a referendum on BJP’s rule that could lead to two possible outcomes.

-One if the SP-RLD combine riding high on the two dynasts succeeds in winning plenty of seats in western UP, the winning seat tally of the saffron alliance will dip below the 250 mark.

-Two if the benefits of double engine government have touched the lives of Hindi speaking electorate and SP alliance fails in mass mobilization, BJP will win more than 250 seats with sky’s the limit. The nature of competitive politics in UP has been so capricious that predicting elections has become a ‘psephological nightmare’, hence another surprise cannot be naively ruled out.

The author is a Political Analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

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