Kingmaker UP Goes to Polls
The entire country is riveted to the outcome of assembly election, in the most populous state, with over 14,12,53,172 voters, which pundits believe is the semi-final of the 2019 general elections and a mini-referendum on demonetisation and surgical strike across the LoC.
In the first phase — total seven –polling was held for 73 seats in western UP on February 11, 2017. All the parties, BJP, SP-Congress alliance, BSP and Ajit Singh’s RLD were in the fray.
At stake are the political fate and future of all the leaders — Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. However, because western UP saw the most dramatic upsurge for the BJP in 2014, for the saffron leaders, this first phase is very critical. In 2012, BJP won 11 seats of 73, in 2014, it had an outstanding success in 68 assembly constituencies and the vote share of the party was jumped from 16.3 per cent to 50.4 per cent.
This means the BJP could lose huge chunks of votes and yet dominate in the region. The BJP leadership realising that the Jats, who voted in huge numbers, are wary of the party and Ajit Singh has been trying to ingratiate with community, made last minute pitch to assuage them. Narendra Modi addressed a huge rally and then Amit Shah promised that on March 12, abattoirs will be closed. For the SP, this has always been a disappointing region, but its alliance with the Congress could help a bit while Mayawati has had stronger presence in the region.
Yogi Adityanath nudged the Jats by reminding them of Kairana. It is obvious that the first phase was extremely critical for the BJP, not that it does not have importance for others.
This election will make or unmake Akhilesh Yadav, who fought even his father to seize control of the party. If he loses, his crafty uncle Shivpal could force him to abdicate. For Rahul Gandhi, it is a do-or-die situation both for his political and party’s future. An adverse result will sink him and he will take his party along with him.
Mayawati could not win a single seat in 2014, a similar dismal showing this time will end Bahenji’s raj.
The polls are also crucial for both the BJP and the opposition from another point while BJP has a brute majority in Lok Sabha, it has presented a curious and unprecedented tug-of-war between the ruling party and Opposition. While the BJP-led NDA government can pass any law as it pleases in the Lower House, key legislation often get stuck in the Upper House — where the Congress enjoys a majority — due to Parliament logjams and political bickering. While for the BJP, UP polls will be one chance to wrest free the Rajya Sabha from the control of the Opposition, ensuring that BJP’s strength is limited in Rajya Sabha is the only respite Congress can hope for until the next Lok Sabha elections.
Is the Muslim factor relevant?
The myth of the Muslim vote bank persists despite the fact that Muslims have never voted en bloc. Debate has raged even before the dates for UP polls were announced about which way the Muslim vote will swing. Every political party is out to woo Muslim voters, especially in the community-dominated districts.
What is obvious is the difference in preferences. What is common is the party they would not vote for — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In any case, the Muslim vote is one of the most coveted constituencies of UP politics. Every ‘secular party’ wants consolidation of minority votes in its favour. In this election, the BSP has given 99 tickets to Muslims and openly appealed to the community. The SP and the Congress are allying to show to Muslims that they can stop the BJP. The BJP terms this as ‘appeasement’, and instead seeks to unite the ‘Hindu vote’ to counter the ‘Muslim vote’.
But do minorities think and vote together? In the battle for the Muslim vote, who form 19 per cent of the state’s population, Mayawati has put up 99 Muslim candidates and Samajwadi Party has fielded 56. As expected, BJP has none.In Western UP, Muslims dominate in Rampur, Moradabad, Amroha, Saharanpur and Bijnor, the proportion in some areas goes up to 70 per cent. In the current election, Mayawati is desperately trying to woo them because with Dalits, 23 per cent, she has a winning mix. But it’s a myth that the community votes en bloc–they are divided over castes they have, and personal likes and dislikes and of course between SP and BSP. In fact, Mulayam Singh Yadav, claims that most will vote at his bidding.
There is a sharp split between the older and younger generations. The old iterate that they will vote the party which is most likely to defeat BJP, but a few youngsters are upset that “are we only meant to defeat the BJP?”
Like the young in other communities, the Muslim youth too is looking for jobs, development, more opportunities and better quality of life. They could break the traditional voting pattern in their community. In that case, Akhilesh Yadav stands a better chance of attracting more Muslim young than Mayawati. This will be music to the ears of BJP leadership.
The less Muslim votes to BSP will drastically cut its chances of winning.
A columnist noted, “What would be the criteria of deciding the vote, whoever can defeat BJP…. (but) …there are class and caste distinctions among Muslims; there are Muslims in every non-BJP party; there are seats where multiple Muslim candidates compete, fragmenting the community vote; there are other issues — from roads to law and order — which shape voting too.
“Muslim votes get divided. See, defeating BJP is a big factor. But not all Muslims are able to judge that accurately. Other factors also matter: the candidate, the party, the village level dynamics, the rivalries.”
If all Muslims voted together, the BJP would not have won 71 Lok Sabha seats in UP in 2014, nor formed governments in the state in the past. The Muslims may have common reasons to vote for a particular party but they are not homogenous.
The issues raised by various parties signify their political thinking. Ideology is of course a major casualty. Even Akhilesh and Rahul have not been talking about secularism and attacking BJP as fundamentalist
outfit. This is because signs are already visible of polarisation cutting across various caste divides. BJP has put up 76 dalit candidates. SP and Congress are attacking Modi personally to dent his credibility.
The other issue is about law and order, which is highly uncomfortable and sore point for SP. And connected to this is the question about safety of women. SP’s talking point is development. So is Modi’s. Who will convince the voter of the ability will get the thumps up from the voter. While Akhilesh talks of swanky expressways, ambulances for pregnant women, Modi promises to end vikas ka vanvas and asks Akhilesh to give details of work done by his government.
The UP voter is too mature and seasoned to be befooled by slogans or promises. So don’t bet on any result, wait for March 11.
by Vijay Dutt