Yogi vs Akhilesh
UP Elections 2022: It is a head on electoral contest between BJP and SP Image Credit: AP and ANI

As the 2022 election campaign for the Uttar Pradesh (UP) begins, here are few pointers that would help us understand what is at stake as India’s most populous state gets set to go to polls.

Fight between BJP and SP

Compared to the last few elections, 2022 assembly election has a novelty factor. It is not as straightforward as Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh where BJP is pitted against Congress in a straight contest.

In the upcoming UP elections, out of the 403 assembly seats, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are pitted against each other in at least 275-300 seats. The ticket distribution and filing of nominations are not over yet but it’s likely that this election will be different and shall mostly be seen as a “SP versus BJP” poll.

However, in eastern UP, there are many seats that will witness a three-corner contest. It’s expected that around 70% of votes (to be polled) shall go to either SP or the BJP. This has created pre-voting blues for both parties. In the 2017 elections, Bahujan Samaj Party got 22.23% of votes and Congress got 6.25% of votes.

In the same election, the BJP collected 39.67% of votes while SP got 21.82% of the vote share. That is all set to increase at cost of the BSP. Meanwhile BSP’s 22.23% of vote share may reduce dramatically despite BJP trying to make sure that Mayawati’s party doesn’t collapse completely.

In Delhi election of 2015, Aam Admi Party got 67 seats and BJP got 3 seats because BJP did not think that in a triangular contest, Congress would collapse completely, not winning a single seat, and its vote share would reduce by 15%.

If there are no parties to cut votes of SP’s anti-BJP votes, then the challenge before BJP would be serious.

In 2017, BJP increased its tally from 47 seats to 312 while SP’s seats were reduced from 224 seats to 47.

So, the first thing to remember in UP is this: dramatic ups and downs are possible in elections.

In the event of these elections turning into the caste war of the Pichada (backward classes) versus Agada (forward castes) then BJP will be at disadvantage. It will have to struggle to retain sub-castes of Dalits and OBC votes and to do that, it will be compelled to underplay the support it gets from the upper castes.

In the last elections BJP won handsomely because it could manage Mandal (castes-based votes) plus Kamandal (voters who votes on basis of Hindu identity).

“The UP scene has hotted up majorly due to this fight becoming increasingly straight between SP and BJP,” Arvind Mohan, professor of economics in Lucknow University, told Gulf News

He added, “The BJP has lost the edge in this election because in 2014, 2017 and 2019 election it won due to division of votes. This time the division of votes will be much less. Both are equal contenders for power.”

Law and order versus inflation

If there was a referendum on the issue of unemployment or inflation in UP, then the ruling party would lose right away. Go to any household of the poor and middle-class in UP, the parents’ plight is visible.

Even though free rations are available, many Dalit women in Dulava village reminded me that edible oil and cooking gas are so costly that managing food for the family remains the challenge.

Covid main naukari chuth gayi. Naukri nahi hai. Kuch kaam dila do” (We lost jobs in Covid. Get us work) — their request to the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

But, its equally true that if there is a referendum on the issue of keeping law and order in the state (known here as “kanoon vyavstha”) then the BJP remains unbeatable. Jats, Dalits and even many Muslims accept that their women folks mobility has increased, and they are feeling safer.

Akhilesh’s pension scheme

Team Akhilesh Yadav believes that the SP chief’s announcement of restoring the old pension scheme which would directly benefit around 12,00,000 UP voters and impact their families is a gamechanger. That would also influence current employees who would be beneficiaries in the future.

All those appointed after April 2005 have lost the post retirement social security network since its withdrawal in 2005. But the SP boss’ announcement can also be seen merely as a poll promise and its impact remains questionable in sceptic voters.

Hindu identity is key

This election is a fight between Akhilesh Yadav and the BJP. Akhilesh and SP are synonymous but the same cannot be said about Yogi and the BJP. Take it or leave it, despite the ground realities not too encouraging for the ruling party, BJP’s core voters don’t seem to have deserted it.

The reasons aren’t difficult to decipher. Improvement in law and order is an euphemism for communal divide too. Voting in first phase in Western UP will begin on February 10 but so far in UP’s Western districts the communal polarisation isn’t as starkly visible as it was before the 2017 election. However, that doesn’t mean that Hindu identity is not in play in these elections.

Let’s not forget that in last five years PM Modi and CM Yogi have relentlessly addressed their core Hindu constituency. Professor Arvind Mohan agrees, “The voters who vote on basis of Hindu identity are still with the BJP. That is a reality. They remains BJP’s biggest advantage.”

Modi’s leadership

Modi has been sophisticated in acquiring leadership of UP’s Hindu voters. He performed religious vedik puja to start construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya in August 2020 and participated with style in the majestic inauguration ceremony of the Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor in December 2021. Both events have registered a deep impact in BJP’s core voters.

While discussing UP election’s caste war, a noted BJP leader told Gulf News, “The rough edges of Yogi’s governance issues and allegations of Thakurwad (supporting only his own Thakur caste) will be taken care of by the projection of Modi’s leadership as the election campaign peaks.”