To put briefly in the terms of plain analysis, the elections are a test of Akhilesh’s five year tenure and the recent feud through which the Samajwadi Party (SP) went through, the decision to ally with Congress, all of these factors on the one hand, when considered solely from the perspective of SP. On the other hand, BJP would be tested for the trajectory of its functioning ever since it has come to the power, and most prominently in the light of the recent decision of demonetization, while keeping in mind the way communal polarization has worked in the State during the last five years and even before. BSP, on the other hand, this time heavily trying to compound on Dalit-Muslim nexus plus its image of ‘anti-goondaraj’ would be looking forward to create a larger impact, if not to straightaway look for a clear majority. However, while all of this happens, the impact which Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) may create is not to be undermined, rather taken into account to look at the way votes could be divided. In this article, as the title suggests, the primary focus would be to look from the perspective of the voters, and second priority will be put to the angles of the political parties as I believe that the primary stakeholders are the voters and an attempt could be made to understand their leanings through the past as well as latest developments. While analyzing the trend it is very important to look at the factor that how preferences are set by the voters as it reveals the concurrent trends in each constituency or community-wise.
The Jat Equation
The Western UP has a significant Jat population of around 17-18%, while at the State level it being around 4%. There are number of factors which are needed to be considered while determining their leanings. Firstly, in the context of the communal polarization which drew the results of 2014 elections, the situation is absent, though there were several instances such as that of Dadri mob lynching, but in the immediate past of the elections, the situation is not that grim, like it was in Muzaffarnagar-Shamli region. Though the manifesto of BJP does have plethora of communal agendas such as that of ‘anti-Romeo Code’ and the ones on which it remains silent, yet it is expected to deliver on and PM Modi’s recent callings for building of Shmashaan ghats if there could be a kabristaan though indicate the way BJP has chosen, which however might prove to be not as successful as it did during the 2014 elections. Secondly, with respect to the development model on which the BJP fought 2014 elections did not seem to deliver what perhaps had been thought of it. Rather, the November 8 demonetization decision has only attracted the ire of the most of the members of the Jat community, barring a few who still believe that the decision did a job of attacking the coffers of the rich staked with cash. The rhetoric of anti-terror strikes has also seemed to play a crucial role, which Mr. Modi continued to repeat even during his rally in Varanasi on March 4th, 2017, ever resurfacing the notion of being a ‘nationalist’. In the light of the demonetization decision, the Jats feel that they did not feel privileged the way the BJP has worked and have not received their due. In this context, the ever-persisting issue of Jat reservation is also to be borne in the mind. Thirdly, all these factors have given the indication of Jats going back to Ajit Singh-led RLD, especially in the Western UP where the Jats overwhelmingly voted for BJP in 2014 elections but now feel betrayed.
The Muslims’ Question
A primary agreement appears on part of the Muslims in the entire UP that they would vote for the party which has the highest probability of beating the BJP candidate. In Western UP they make around 38% of the total population and are no doubt a significant contributor to the outcome of the elections. Two situations emerge in the context of Muslim voters of the State. Firstly, BJP has not allotted a single seat to a Muslim candidate and given the contexts of the communal incidents of the past and the quite visibly communal manifesto of the BJP which has contents such as ‘anti-Romeo code’, etc. the Muslims are by and large left with the choice of either SP-Congress coalition or the BSP’s dalit-Muslim strategy. Secondly, Muslims face a dilemma here. The rife in the SP has two connotations. Shivpal Yadav is known to be the grass-root worker who has a strong holding at the core level and perhaps therefore it wasn’t viable for SP, Mulayam Singh Yadav or Akhilesh Yadav to do away with him. However, the voters were shown two factions among SP, first being the Akhilesh Yadav-led faction which did not have enthusiastic support from Mulayam Singh and that he has been very dull in campaigning for the party. Second, in furtherance of this, the Muslims who paid their allegiance to Mulayam Singh and hence the SP had their vociferous support might face some difficulty and may vote for BSP this time, given the attitude which Mulayam Singh has demonstrated post-‘reconciliation’. Thirdly, the SP’s decision to form coalition with the Congress might bring it some much-vouched for Muslim votes, though not much, but they may still very well do the job in the situation where the contest appears to be pretty close one. Fourthly, the BSP last time relied on upper caste-dalit combination. This time it has tried to go with the Muslim-dalit combination. BSP has allotted a total of 97 seats to the Muslim candidates. In the light of the situation where the Muslims would be looking to prevent the formation of a BJP government in the State, the pattern of voting is difficult to predict. While, some may clearly continue to vote for the SP and may put BSP only on the second priority after looking at the situation that how much probability does the SP-Congress candidate have of beating the BJP candidate, the Muslims may clearly vote for BSP given the reason that SP faces the disrepute of improper rehabilitation works in the aftermath of Muzaffarnagar-Shamli riots and that the number of seats allocated to Muslims by the BSP is highest.
The Dalit Vote Bank
Dalit vote appears to be the most segregated or the volatile one. It is divided very equally among the BJP, SP-Congress combine and BSP. While, the BSP has traditionally claimed the Kanshiram legacy and tried to capitalize on the dalit votes, the situation appears a little dicey. The BSP in the previous elections had went for upper caste-dalit combination, but has this time tried to create a common ground for the Muslims and the dalits. Jatav constitute the majority of the dalit community and could emerge as the game changer. However, the volatility of the dalit vote may put it in the favor of BJP as there exists some consensus over the same. BJP has tried to play on the agenda of the development and still there is a significant portion of the dalits who put their faith into it, though it looks like a mere rhetoric to many others.
The SP family feud
The SP family feud can be seen into two contexts. Firstly, the same might have done the job of projecting Akhilesh as the lone fighter and to add to it, an image of the ‘young leader’. It might not be said that if the entire scene was staged or not, though the winds indicate a consensus towards the former, Akhilesh has shown himself emerging as a strong ‘hero’ amidst the unfavorable conditions. This has created the perception that even though Akhilesh might have been tried to be silenced by the patriarchs of his party, he rather had the courage to fight back and emerge victorious. Secondly, though it might have done the job of giving Akhilesh his own space and his emergence as a powerful leader, yet where it left SP is a difficult point from where the party has been left divided. His uncle Shivpal Yadav is known to be a core party worker and has time and again pledged his complete loyalty towards the SP supremo. However, he has threatened to float a new party after the elections and therefore in the context of such events, the voter base of SP might suffer.
In analyzing the above-mentioned scenarios, it must be borne in mind that there are two kinds of voters, viz., core voters and floating voters. The core voters would state a strong liking for a particular party and may have a strong dislike towards the other and their voting preferences don’t change and they stick to one party. The floating voters on the other hand may go for the larger narrative and accordingly vote.
It appears from the trends that the parties in UP have been focusing primarily on the core voters, while BJP finding it a little difficult to stick to the same, as the base it relies on does not hold much water with it. The region of Upper Doab is the one prone to communal polarization and therefore does not have much scope for the floating voters, unlike the rest of the Uttar Pradesh. The Prime Minister, preceding the last phase of the election vociferously campaigned in the Varanasi which also becomes important because of the fact that he himself contested from the constituency in the 2014 elections. While the elections cannot be largely based solely on the reason of ideology (interpreting it narrowly), but that people know that goods and services can be delivered to them and that the same have been delivered in a very biased manner. BJP has a larger burden to shed and it is being said that the UP elections would be a litmus paper of the acceptability of the BJP government by the people. BJP also put Yogi Adityanath, who enjoys considerable support in his region and beyond, among its ‘star campaigners’ for the elections which can play a crucial role in still somewhat playing on the communal agenda.
For SP-Congress alliance, the agenda of development has been put in a different definition from what BJP relies on. Akhilesh Yadav has focused on empowerment of local artisans and local businesses first, the idea to which he might find immediate buyers, unlike that of the BJP which many think is nothing beyond rhetoric.
Had the question that who will have a clear majority in the 403-strong UP assembly, BJP might not have seemed to been any closer to the formation of the government given the demonetization exercise which has done it a significant damage (at least it appeared so in the beginning and perhaps continues to), but the rhetoric might end up giving it well and if not absolute majority, there are chances that we may witness a hung assembly. Not to forget, the regional factors have huge capability to make the changes and especially in such a volatile scenario. It is the floating votes that the parties have to look for and the ones which determine the way elections go. The UP elections will be a great deciding stage for the national politics. The party winning here will see a changed scenario for itself in the chase to the 2019 elections.
 UP: Advantage Akhilesh, Frontline (March 3rd, 2017)