Predicting the outcome of an election is never an easy job, especially in a country like India where the political landscape is fractured along caste and religious considerations.
It’s true that ‘development’ has become the buzzword for the Indian electorate in the twenty-first century.
However, when it comes to electing their political representatives, the people of India, especially those living in northern part, still prefer to give maximum weightage to the caste and religion of the candidate.
The political barriers of caste, creed and even religion, were breached to a large extent in 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the arrival of Narendra Modi on the political horizon as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
In politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, the Modi wave was so intense that it wiped out all other players except in a few pocket boroughs of Mulayam and Nehru-Gandhi families.
Under Narendra Modi’s leadership, the BJP along with its ally Apna Dal, won a whopping 73 out of 80 parliamentary seats. People from all hues, Muslims perhaps being the only exception, voted for ‘Modi as PM’.
Elections are again being held in the same Uttar Pradesh, this time for electing the next state government. Polling is being held in seven phases to elect 403 members of the Assembly. The contest is triangular with BJP, SP-Congress alliance and BSP in the contention to form the next government. Out of seven phases of polling, four phases have been completed.
The question that is being hotly debated across India is that after four phases of polling, which party is the front runner as far as the race to form the next government is concerned?
Now that Modi has become the Prime Minister, will he be able to recreate the 2014 magic for his party in these Assembly elections?
The opinion is divided but a consensus is emerging, slowly but surely, on certain ground realities. Let’s take a look at what these realities are.
Political observers point out that the existing caste-equation in the state appear to be favouring the BJP.
After four phases of polling, it can be said that unlike state elections of 2007 and 2012, the upper caste votes, the traditional vote-bank of the BJP, are consolidating in favour of the saffron party. In last two elections, SP and BSP had successfully breached this bloc. However, the overwhelming majority of this bloc is believed to have reposed its faith once again in the BJP.
In addition to that, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits are also believed to be throwing their weight behind the saffron party, if reports emanating from Uttar Pradesh are anything to go by.
Interestingly, a party which was once known to represent mainly Brahmins and Banias has spread its wings to such an extent that now the OBCs have become its pivotal support-base.
The BJP carefully cultivated non-Yadav OBC community in the state and today, most of them including Kurmis, Mauryas, Shakyas, Lodhs, Gurjars, Kushwahas and Pals are all reportedly clamouring to give BJP a chance in the state after 14 long years.
Among non-Jatav Dalits, Koris, Pasis and Valmikis have also gravitated towards the BJP, according to various reports that have emerged from the ground zero.
Yadavas continue to be with their cycle symbol although there are reports of intra- Mulayam family feud spoiling SP’s chances even in the family strongholds of Etawah and Mainpuri. A miffed Shivpal Yadav looks in no mood to patch up with his nephew and it may have an impact on the poll prospects of the SP.
The numerically powerful Jatavs of UP, as usual, are still standing like a rock behind their caste-leader Mayawati. But the inability of Mayawati to reach out to other castes, especially upper castes, similar to 2007, seems to have weakened her prospects.
However, it must be mentioned that no political analyst can write-off Mayawati in any election. She is capable of springing surprises although the mood of the voters, as assessed by various political commentators of the state, is not suggesting any tangible wave in her favour.
More than anything, What is working for the BJP once again is the personal appeal and charisma of PM Modi. It seems that even after almost three years in office, the voters of UP are still on an extended honeymoon with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The intensity of the Modi wave of 2014 is not exactly on the same level but the reports suggest that the voters are still voting for the BJP in the name of Modi.
The first phase of polling, in western Uttar Pradesh, was a bit challenging for the BJP given the resentment that prevails among the Jat voters against the central government on the issue of reservation for the community in govt jobs and educational institutions.
Jats had voted decisively for the BJP in 2014 and Muzaffarnagar riots had also played a role in the polarisation of Jat votes in favour of the BJP.
BJP chief Amit Shah’s last minute efforts aimed at rapprochement with prominent Jat leaders may not have doused the fire completely but has certainly cooled the tempers, according to various media reports.
Taking advantage of Jat resentment, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) of Ajit Singh is believed to have made a comeback and queered the pitch for the BJP among the Jat voters in the first phase.
However, the party seems to have picked up the momentum in second, third and fourth phases.
One factor that seems to be going in favour of the BJP is the reported division among Muslim voters.
Reports suggest that while the youngsters among Muslims are overwhelmingly throwing their weight behind the SP-Congress alliance , a good chunk of the community votes, especially in rural areas, is going to BSP with Mayawati reportedly lobbying hard with the Muslim clerics of the state who still command considerable influence in the community.
What cannot be overlooked is the fact that the BSP has given tickets to around 100 Muslim candidates. These candidates will definitely play their own small or big roles in making things easy for the BJP.
In nut-shell, the consolidation of upper caste voters, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits coupled with the split in Muslim votes between SP-Congress and BSP has made the road a bit easy for the BJP.
PM Modi’s OBC background seems to have further encouraged OBCs and EBCs (Extremely Backward Castes) to come out openly in support of the BJP.
As far as Akhilesh Yadav is concerned, he is personally liked by people cutting across caste, creed and religion but his party is yet to get rid of the stigma of being dominated by leaders with criminal antecedents.
One report quoted people as saying that Akhilesh himself is good but he can’t control the local leaders who use muscle-power to get things done in their favour in their respective areas.
The intra-party feud has further divided SP workers and it’s creating problems for the party, according to reports emerging from UP.
Another area of concern for the SP-Congress alliance is the 103 seats allotted to the Congress. According to political commentators, it will be difficult for the Congress candidates to put up a good show as the party structure is not sound even in the areas where they are contesting against the BJP.
As the attention shifts to eastern UP in next three phases, the scenario appears to be loaded in favour of the BJP in view of the existing caste combinations in that region.
According to an estimate, in eastern UP, Brahmins form a large chunk of the electorate in addition to OBCs and EBCs. A good number of seats allotted to the Congress are also in this region. Therefore, political pundits predict even better performance by the BJP in this part.
Finally, if the reports emanating from UP after completion of four phases of elections are any indications then it can be said that the odds seems to be tilting in favour of the BJP and the party appears to have an edge over its competitors SP-Congress and BSP.