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Can Akhilesh Stop BJP In UP?

February 15, 2022 08:39 IST
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The broad patterns tell us that to sweep UP, the BJP has to retain its voteshares of the past three elections.
But to merely win it, the party can do so while losing some voteshare, and perhaps up to as much as 10 per cent, observes Aakar Patel.

IMAGE: Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav at an election rally in Bulandshahr, February 3, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

I have not been to Uttar Pradesh in some time, and what I am saying is not based on material that is recent or on any groundwork I have done recently.

However, it is interesting to see the patterns of voting in the state over the last few years to arrive at what the possibilities are in that state's election.

In 2012, the Samajwadi Party won a full majority in Uttar Pradesh with a voteshare of 29 per cent.

Remarkably it was not the BJP, but the BSP that came second, with 26 per cent voteshare.

The BJP, which was then led by Uma Bharati, had only 15 per cent.

Two years later in 2014, the BJP remarkably tripled its voteshare (along with alliance partner Apna Dal) to 42 per cent. On its own the BJP had about 40 per cent.

We can attribute this to two things: One is the leadership and charisma of Narendra Modi, which brought voters across northern India towards the BJP.

The second was communal violence in western Uttar Pradesh.

In August and September 2013, Muzaffarnagar and Shamli saw a series of episodes of extreme violence and rape which polarised the region and sent thousands of people, mostly Muslims, into relief camps.

This polarisation remained for a long time and the BJP campaign of 2014 and 2017's assembly elections used the violence to mobilise.

The Hindu newspaper reported in March 2017, that the Jat vote was split and taken away from the Lok Dal by the BJP.

The report said the Jats were told that their vote against the BJP would only 'aid and ensure formation of a government by Muslims', adding that an 'audio recording of Amit Shah's meeting with the Jat leadership, which was strategically leaked, had quite an impact on the community. It actually scared the community and got at least half of the Jats to its side by the time the Jat-dominated lands went to polls on February 11. Finally it was Hindu consolidation in the BJP's favour.'

The BJP took the state, again taking about 40 per cent of the vote.

The other thing that was supposed to be a factor in this election was the economy.

Voting happened in February 2017, only weeks after Demonetisation and extreme distress across India especially among the poor.

But this did not appear to affect the BJP negatively and the party continued its dominance.

Interestingly, the Samajwadi Party retained its 2012 winning voteshare of 29 per cent on the seats it contested.

The Bahujan Samaj Party lost voteshare in this election.

The two rivals, SP and BSP, then united in the 2019 election and this time it was thought by many that the BJP would get a tough fight in UP.

This did not happen and the BJP again increased its voteshare to close to 50 per cent and swept the state.

The external factor this time was thought to be India's attack on Pakistan. The strike on Balakot came at the end of February and voting happened a few weeks after that.

Of course, we do not know to what extent that was a specific factor just as we do not know how much Demonetisation did or did not contribute to the 2017 results.

We can assume, given how much focus there was from the BJP on communal polarisation in 2017, that this is the primary driver of its politics and its votebanks.

Uttar Pradesh's chief minister tweeted this about the BJP's opponents on 28 January: 'They are worshipers of 'Jinnah', we are worshipers of 'Sardar Patel'. Pakistan is dear to them, we sacrifice our lives on Maa Bharati.'

One day before this, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had said this: 'I do not know why Pakistan's founder Jinnah's name is often invoked during elections. Those who want to politicise this... in UP's politics, Jinnah's name should not be invoked. Instead, we should talk of farmers' sugarcane.'

The reason that Jinnah and Pakistan and Muslims are raised by the BJP is that it has worked for them in the past.

And for this reason it will continue to be used.

The broad patterns tell us that to sweep UP, the BJP has to retain its voteshares of the past three elections.

But to merely win it, the party can do so while losing some voteshare, and perhaps up to as much as 10 per cent.

The Samajwadi Party appears to be headed for a record voteshare for itself, but it is unclear whether even this will be able to stop the BJP from a repeat.

Again, I am not saying this on any ground evidence, merely looking at the numbers of the past.

The last thing to do here is to see if there are any external factors.

These are the farmers' protest, which ended in November after one year.

Then there is the current agitation against the Union government on the issue of Railways and other central jobs.

A little farther back are the visuals of corpses in the Ganga during the second wave of Covid last year.

Will all of this become irrelevant in front of communal polarisation?

It is likely that the results of this election will give us the answer to this question.

Aakar Patel is a columnist and writer and you can read Aakar's earlier columns here.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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