With two rounds of polling in western UP’s mostly Muslim-dominated areas districts having been completed, political parties are now smarting with word-of-mouth perceptions and tallying them their in-house analysis. For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the wide belief that Muslims resorted to tactical voting to ensure BJP’s defeat has come as a signal that election management is much more than efficient booth management. The turnout in the first and second rounds has reportedly led to a lot of unease in the BJP and efforts are under way to ensure a greater turnout in the coming phases of polling.
Polling for the third phase, involving 59 seats in 16 districts of central UP’s Braj and Bundelkhand regions, is scheduled on February 20.The districts are Hathras, Kasganj, Etah, Firozabad, Mainpuri, Farrukhabad, Kannauj, Etawah, Auraiya, Jalaun, Kanpur Nagar, Kanpur Dehat, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Jhansi and Lalitpur.For the record, there are 627 candidates in fray in this round with 2.15 crore voters.
Campaigning for this phase ended on Friday (February 18) evening. It saw high-pitched campaigning by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Bahujan Samaj party leader Mayawati and Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The districts in this round are different from the first two rounds in terms of demography, socio-economic composition and electoral history. The race is on among all parties to get an edge in this round. The campaigning has seen attacks and allegations flying around. Nepotism, appeasement, dynastic politics, criminalisation of politics, corruption, are only some of the ingredients that have been used freely by all campaigners.
The candidates to watch out for are Akhilesh Yadav, IPS officer turned BJP candidate Asim Arun in Kannauj, Louis Khurshid (wife of former Congress leader Salman Khurshid) from Farrukhabad, SPS Baghel, a former aide of Akhilesh against him in Karhal, and a UP minister Satish Mahana from Maharajpur, Kanpur.
This phase is crucial for all the four main parties for different reasons.Forthe BJP, it is a challenge to repeat the 2017 performance of winning 49 out of the 59 seats, especially in view of the continued dominance of the area in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well. The party had won most of the seats in even the so-called Yadav strongholds of Etawah, Kannauj, Firozabad and Mainpuri districts, causing a massive setback to the Samajwadi party (SP) and members of the extended family of SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav.
This, is the challenge before the SP too – to regain control of an area that was for decades under its influence. It was a major embarrassment in 2017 when the SP lost seats in its stronghold of the so-called “Yadav belt”and the results showed the community to have preferred the BJP. Akhilesh Yadav has made it a prestige issue as he is contesting from a perceived safe seat of Karhal in Mainpuri district. The appearance of Mulayam Singh Yadav with his appeal to the people of the area to vote for Akhilesh and the SP indicated the importance Akhilesh gives to this election. The fact that Akhilesh’s estranged uncle and present-day allyShivpal Yadav was also part of the family trio in the campaign is meant to send a signal that the events of 2017 that led to a split in the SP and the Yadav family belong to the past and all is well between the warring family members.
The Bahujan Samaj Party used to be the dominating political force in Bundelkhand region till 2012. Dalits constitute nearly 22 per cent of the population. In the 2012 Assembly election, it had won 7 out of 19 seats with 26.2% vote share; but in 2017, the BJP, for the first time, made a clean sweep by bagging all seats in these seven districts - Jhansi, Lalitpur, Jalaun, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda and Chitrakoot - polling in the last two is scheduled in the next round on February 23. The BJP maintained its winning streak in and 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well. Now the BSP hopes for a revival of its fortunes in Bundelkhand. Party supremo Mayawati has held rallies in Orai and Banda and her core supporters, the Jatavs, are believed to be strongly behind her.
As for the Congress, the party’s stakes are confined to seats where it did well in the last election. The campaign focus has been on Kanpur where even Priyanka Gandhi Vadra held a roadshow and visited many areas. Interestingly, Congress had won the Kanpur Cantonment seat in 2017 Assembly election despite a BJP wave across the region.
Another seat where the party is focussing despite a not too-encouraging history is Farrukhabad, where Louise Khurshid is in the fray. She and husband Salman Khurshid had been the face of the party for decades from here. Louise contested thrice for the Assembly and twice for Lok Sabha, having won the Assembly election only once. Salman himself was elected to the Lok Sabha from Farrukhabad from 1991 to 1996 and in 2009.
Reports of tactical voting by the Muslim voters to ensure one party’s defeat have been noted by all parties with interest. There is a possibility that this trend might continue in other phases of polling as well. There are also reports that many organisations have geared up to ensure a larger turnout of voters which may happen otherwise also, with the cold weather losing its sting.
The article is authored by Ratan Manilal,
(Political Analyst, associated with Peoples Pulse,
a Hyderabad based Research Organization.