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UP elections SP The Frontrunner BSP in struggle for 2nd place

Updated: February 25, 2012 10:16 am

As the battle for Uttar Pradesh enters the final stages with the first phase of election began on February 8, there is much confusion as to who will win or lead the race. There are (opinion) polls and polls but there is little clarity as to the nature of the outcome and what factors are contributing to this outcome.

Here is an attempt to unravel the UP poll mystery for you.

Insight No.1: SP to win Twice as much as Runner-up

Most people think the UP election is a very closely fought battle and it is difficult to pick who is leading the race. Many polls have put the SP at No.1 slot but only by a narrow margin.

In my assessment, Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party is the frontrunner in UP polls and may win twice as many seats as its nearest rival in the ensuing polls.


The SP is likely to get between 130 and 170 seats in the 403-member state assembly, well short of a majority. The BSP is likely to end up with 65 to 105 seats; BJP 70 to 85; and the Congress 55 to 70 seats. Congress party’s ally Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) is expected to win between 15 and 20 seats.

With a projected tally of 65 to 105 seats, the BSP is likely to win between half and one-third of the seats it won in the last assembly polls.

Insight No.2: BSP may slip to 3rd position

There is a strong possibility of the BSP finishing third in the race behind the BJP. This is likely to happen even if, as is likely, the BSP gets as much as 5 per cent more votes than the BJP. While this may sound like a mathematical absurdity, let me clarify that such anomalies are common in first-past-the-post electoral systems and particularly in the Indian context.

So, don’t be surprised if, with a tally of just 70 to 85 seats, the BJP emerges ahead of the BSP to finish second in the electoral race.

In this election there is clearly going to be a keen battle for the second slot.

Insight No 3: Congress makes smart gains, but finishes behind the BJP

Compared to the 2007 polls, the Congress party is set to make big gains but, nevertheless, will finish fourth behind the SP, the BSP and the BJP. The principal reason for this is the lack of strong support for the party from any caste and community. Brahmins who have deserted the BSP have gone mainly to the BJP, while the Muslims though they have developed a strong empathy for the Congress, are nevertheless sticking to the SP for reasons of electoral viability.

Does that mean the Congress party’s success in 2009 polls winning 21 Lok Sabha seats was a one-off performance? No. When it comes to the Congress party, people make a distinction between Lok Sabha and assembly polls. The Congress isn’t seen to be a viable alternative for assembly polls. This perception could have been countered by the Congress by projecting a strong regional leader as a chief ministerial candidate. Rahul Gandhi is not seen as an Uttar Pradesh leader and his assurances to the voters promising good governance have no takers! Come Lok Sabha elections, Rahul is likely to make a good impact. His campaigning is laying a good foundation for the coming Lok Sabha battle.

Insight No.4: Complex Vote Arithmatic

A careful look at the projected vote shares shows that the BSP is likely to get just 2 percentage points less in votes as compared to the SP and is ahead of the BJP and the Congress by a whopping 5 and 9 percentage points respectively.

Journalists and political leaders see the relative strengths of different parties in terms of the popular support when they observe an election campaign. In the present case, the SP and the BSP seem to enjoy similar voter support (as evidenced in their projected vote shares), while the BSP is way ahead of the BJP and Congress which are struggling below 20 per cent each in vote share.

It may not be readily evident how the SP can win twice as many seats as the BSP with a tenuous lead of 2per cent in votes, and how the BJP can win more seats than the BSP despite trailing in voting percentage by a wide margin. It is the complex electoral arithmetic of Uttar Pradesh that accounts for these apparent contradictions.

Insight No.5: BSP has High Volatility

The performance of the BSP tends to fluctuate very widely with a small shift in voting percentages. At 30 percent popular vote, the BSP gets a majority in UP assembly elections (as it did in 2007 polls) and at 22 percent (which is the population share of Dalits in UP), the BSP wins just 20 seats. Isn’t that incredulous? In other words, hypothetically speaking, if all Dalits vote for BSP and nobody else votes for it, it will win just 20 assembly seats!

The high volatility of the BSP’s performance in terms of seats won is due to the nature of its vote distribution in the state. Dalits who are the main support base of the BSP are spread all over Uttar Pradesh and across all assembly constituencies.

You may find this thumb rule interesting: with every percentage point the BSP loses in its vote share as compared to its tally of 30 present in 2007 polls, the party loses between 20 and 28 seats. Mayawati’s success thus is critically dependent on obtaining incremental votes of other castes. She has understood this better than anybody else and enhanced her vote share by co-opting other castes like Brahmins. Once elected to power, she has squandered that mandate by alienating every section of the voters except her own Dalits.

Brahmins are so enraged with Mayawati that the Brahmin face of the BSP S.C. Mishra, is now deridingly referred to as Scheduled Caste (SC) Mishra. Muslims are furious as they have been harassed for alleged atrocities against Dalits and as nothing has been done for their welfare. Upper castes are keen to see the end of the Mayawati regime. OBCs had nothing to cheer about Mayawati’s regime. Despite many disappointments, Dalits are sticking with Mayawati only for want of a viable option.

Mayawati is trying to overcome this disaffection among various castes by fielding candidates of various castes in a strategic manner. That may shore up her position somewhat but is unlikely to work as effectively as it did in 2007. This is also the reason why she is projected to win upwards of 65 seats rather than 20 seats that an only-Dalit support may deliver to her.

Insight No.6: Parties Fail to Evoke Confidence

The SP, BJP and the Congress are merely beneficiaries of the negative vote and sentiment against Mayawati’s BSP. The fact that none of these parties is making big gains in terms of votes shows their inability to broaden their appeal across various castes as Mayawati was able to do in 2007. It is just that the BSP’s losses and alienation of different castes are delivering windfall gains for these parties.

Thus, the present election marks a reversal of the process that occurred in 2007 elections when all castes supported the BSP in some measure in anticipation of good governance. Five years of mis-governance and broken promises seem to have promoted caste voting as a safer option once again, and in its wake what we can expect is a fractured mandate and a post-poll phase of uncertainty and political manoeuvring.

 By GVL Narasimha Rao

(The author is a noted Psephologist. This article first appeared in

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