In India, the perception, rightly or wrongly, has gained ground that if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) loses the ongoing Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly election, it will be the beginning of the end of the Modi era.
So it will be intresting to know how the situation unfolds in the political battlefield of the Indian heartland.
In an interview to Gulf News, Prof Sanjay Kumar, India’s topmost researcher in electoral politics and ace psephologist, discusses threadbare the ground realities of UP.
What is happening in Uttar Pradesh?
I think it is a very close contest between the BJP and Samajwadi Party (SP). Maybe in some regions, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will also play a role, but I think the entire election is focused on the contest between BJP and SP. Congress is nowhere. It is a bipolar contest between BJP and SP.
What are the fundamentals to bear in mind while analysing the UP situation?
There is some disenchantment on the ground against the BJP government regarding price rise, unemployment, Covid mismanagement etc. But all those dissatisfactions are not getting translated into huge anger, which is necessary to defeat the BJP since the party had a huge lead over Samajwadi Party in the earlier elections — 2017.
Since the BJP is perched on a high peak, and when I say high peak, I mean the big gap between BJP (39.67%) and SP (21.82%) in the previous elections, the opposition needs to pull a lot of votes away from the BJP. Those votes need to come to Samajwadi Party and then only it will be in a position to defeat the BJP.
So the important thing that one has to keep in mind is the victory margin of the BJP in 2017. In the seats where BJP had a victory margin of 20,000 plus, the SP may find the going tough. Even as it looks like a close contest, BJP will still have an edge over its rival SP.
How do you read trends in the first phase of elections?
Everybody is watching how three important communities voted. The Muslims, the Jats and the Jatav Dalits are in sizeable number in Western UP. They were polling in the first phase.
At the moment it is very difficult to say which community would have voted for which party, but going by the turnout, there was a clear indication that there was an enthusiasm among the voters.
I am not saying that people from upper caste or other communities have not come out to vote but going by ground reports you can clearly see that Muslims, Jats and Jatavs have voted in sizeable numbers.
Is it an anti-BJP vote?
No. Historically Muslims don’t vote for BJP. But there is still a question mark on whether Jats voted against BJP. So yes, there is unhappiness among the Jats against BJP due to the farm laws but whether the anger is big enough to bring down their support to BJP from 70% plus to 10-20% or will it still remain at 40-50%? That’s the question.
If at all the BSP is losing its voter base, who will benefit from it?
I think the Jatav votes will still remain in favour of Mayawati but perhaps not as high as 80% (as was the case in previous elections). Because of welfare schemes and their liking for Modi and a hope in Modi-Yogi combination helping UP, the Dalit vote may go to the BJP. In last few elections, we have not seen Dalits voting in favour of SP.
Is that because of social reasons or political reasons?
I would say more economic reasons. Social reasons also play a role as there is a sense of untouchability between Dalits and some upper castes but when it comes to relationship of Dalits with dominant Other Backward Class (OBC), it’s a different kind of an operation.
I think Dalits (who earlier backed BSP) would go to the BJP. “Modi theek hai” perception has percolated down to the villages.
What about political impact of the farm laws?
If the BJP suffers a setback in the first and the second phases of polls, it will be because of the anger among the farmers. But the only question is to what extent? I don’t see that there is going to be a very radical change or an extreme reaction.
Because unhappy people will also look at the other side. Who is the alternative? And the alternative which is available does not give confidence to the people. BJP has made it a point to raise the issue of law and order at all levels.
Is Yogi more of a liability or an asset to the BJP?
If I have read people’s mind correctly, Yogi is disliked by a smaller number of people compared to the sizeable numbers who like his governance. And this is because of his strong leadership, and a very firm hand in dealing with issues, whether it is handling criminals or antisocial elements.
On the ground people do say that his style, language and approach is not always desirable but sadly a large number of people also say, “this is right, this is how it should be done.”
In 2017, BJP won due to Mandal (castes) plus Kamandal (Hindu identity). What’s the feeling on ground now?
See, the Kamandal deal remains intact with the BJP. I would say issues of Hindu identity have become more pronounced. BJP is using it more aggressively because in 2017 there was no Ram Mandir construction but now Ram Mandir construction is taking place.
But Mandal deal is weakening because there are visible cracks in the non-Yadav OBC votes. Now again the questions remains, what is the extent of votes BJP is losing among the non-Yadav OBC voters?
You are cautious. You are not saying there is a pro-BJP wave, neither are you saying that there is an undercurrent in favour of SP. How do we interpret that?
There is disenchantment against Yogi alright but the anger is not all encompassing, so there is no strong anti-incumbency. It’s not that people are saying we want to remove and throw away the government.
Muslims, Jats and Dalits are unhappy. But, overall their disenchantment is not very sharp, so “the anti-BJP” vote is not visible. A pro-Akhilesh (SP leader) mood is absent because the passion for him is largely confined to Muslims and Yadavs.