UP presents a big question mark

Elections to 403 assembly seats in this state will be held in seven phases, starting February 10. Voting starts in the western region and will progress to the east.

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Elections to 403 assembly seats in this state will be held in seven phases, starting February 10. Voting starts in the western region and will progress to the east.

Last time out, the BJP had registered an over three-fourths majority, winning won 312 (39.67%) seats. Samajwadi Party (SP) won 47(21.82%) seats; Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won 19 (22.83%) seats, while Congress won 7(6.25%) seats. These were, and still are, the main players in the state.

Last time around, the BJP did not present a chief ministerial face, going by the combined force of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The first choice as CM of the state was Manoj Sinha, but later Yogi Adityanath of Gorakhpur was brought into the picture, and the rest is history.

What is happening this time around 14 MLAs have quit from the NDA, 12 from BJP and the rest from Apna Dal (S). Of them 9 moved to SP. The rest have yet to find a party. The SP has said that only Radhey Mohan Agarwal of the BJP, who had won last time from Gorakhpur (urban) Yogi will this time fight from Gorakhpur is welcome, if he wishes to switch. Agarwal has not confirmed anything.

Akhilesh Yadav, SP chief and former chief minister, is contesting from Azamgarh Gopalpur. This is a seat which has returned Javed of SP last time with a large margin (15,000 votes). The seat has a large presence of Muslims and Yadavs. This is a safe seat, and SP has won it four times and once by BSP. This is in the last five elections.

So, both, the CM and the former CM have chosen the safest seats possible.

UP CM Yogi Adityanath

In the first phase, polling will be in 58 UP assembly constituencies spanning 11 districts. That is on February 10. In the second phase, voting will be held in 55 assembly seats across nine districts. That will be on February 14.

In the third phase, polling will be held in 59 assembly seats in 16 districts on February 20. In the fourth phase, voting will be held in 60 assembly seats spanning across nine districts on February 23.

In the fifth phase, 60 assembly seats in 11 districts will go to the polls on February 27. In the sixth phase, polling will be held in 57 assembly seats in 10 districts on March 3. In the seventh and last phase, voting will be held in 54 assembly constituencies in nine districts on March 7.

The tenure of Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly is scheduled to end on 14 May 2022.

Opinion Polls
So far no credible opinion polls have come out, but if public rumours are to be believed, the BJP might not have it easy this time around. And this is not about the defections. That should not create a major hassle for the ruling party. It is about public perception. So far projections are in the region of 260 seats, more or less, for the BJP and a 41% vote share. That could change in the coming days.

There is also talk about a hung assembly, in which case the BJP might come out on top, simply because of its financial muscle. Horse trading will become huge matter then.

Last time, Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal was offered only 24 seats and that too from Congress’ quota of 103 seats. The RLD demanded 55 seats, which the SP denied. That made the RLD to pull out of the alliance. The party contested 150 seats alone, but won only 1. Later, its lone MLA was expelled from the party.

This time the SP-RLD alliance has been sealed and as per the first list, announced by the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party and Jayant Chaudhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal there are 29 candidates, 10 from the SP and 19 from the RLD. In the second list of seven candidates, all seven seats have been given to Jayant Chaudhary-led RLD.

SP chief Akhilesh Yadav with RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary

With this, the RLD has so far got to contest 26 seats while the SP will field its candidates from 10 seats. RLD has gotten seats in mostly Jat areas, where they have considerable influence.

The strange win
Last time, the BJP had earned a strange win: the Deoband assembly seat. As per the 2011 Census Deoband has 27.8% Hindu population and 71.06% Muslim population. While the general perception was that the Muslim community never votes for BJP, the results showed that BJP’s Candidate Brijesh received 102,244 (43%) votes, while the BSP candidate received 72,844 (31%) votes. Rumour has it that the BJP’s position on triple talaq and support for Muslim women – the Supreme Court verdict came later made Muslim women vote for the BJP. This theory has not been founded on solid ground, though.

This history of the region is stranger, because never has a Muslim candidate won here. Thakurs have won 90% of the time.

Western UP
Western UP is a place where the BJP is on shaky ground. The Yogi government seems to have unusual emphasis on rthe development of Pravanchal, or eastern UP. Hence the SP-RLD alliance may have a good effect here.

Considering this, the 117 seats to go the polls on February 10 and 14, in the first and second phases, appear to be challenging for the BJP, given the region’s significant Muslim and Dalit population.

The boost for BJP may come from the Braj Bhoomi region. This includes Mathura, Agra, Firojabad, Etah, Aligarh, Mainpuri. With the BJP recently raising the Krishna Janmabhoomi issue and bringing up the masjid-mandir fight here too, this could directly affect 40 assembly seats here. Last time the BJP won 34 of the 40 seats in the Braj region.

Probably the biggest difference this time will be the apparent absence of a Modi wave. That was the moving force last time, one that could be used by the BJP to steamroll old parties, without even projecting a CM face. This time, even with an incumbent CM, the issue might not be that easy.

Another large effect in western UP, full of Jat farmers, will be the effect of the farm laws. The withdrawal of the laws will have little effect, with the pain of the protests and deaths still lingering. Amid this, it is strange that Rakesh Tikait, one of the prime movers of the farmers’ agitation, has not come out with any move.

What might spoil the SP-RLD alliance’s dream, could be the entry of Asaddudin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM). In areas of Muslim dominance, he might cut into the alliance’s votes. That would be beneficial for the BJP. Owaisi’s stand has always been shady, as seen in his initial trial hand during the Bengal polls. He has no fight with the BJP.

The Congress issue
Congress, already on the sidelines, is trying its bit.   
In Moradabad, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra recently promised more representation to women and blasted SP-RLD and BJP for not delivering on their promises. Hersa is a ‘Ladki Hoon, Lad Sakti Hoon’ campaign. How far this will carry the Congress’ fortunes, only time can tell.

The BSP position
For the BSP, a large chunk of Dalit voters, especially Jatavs, are considered a committed vote bank. However, the younger generation seems to now be turning to alternate options like Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan. The absence of Mayawati in the run-up to the polls is prompting speculation as well.