Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Jan 24, 2017
Hard task for BJP in coming Assembly elections

The filing of nominations for the first phase of the seven-phased assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh began on January 17. While polling for the first phase will take place on February 11, voting for the last phase will be held on March 8 with counting of votes taking place on March 11.

The outcome of the electoral battle for the biggest State, which sends 80 MPs to the national Parliament, is crucial as it is not only going to impact the country politics in coming years but also have a fallout on the politics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The total number of voters likely to exercise their franchise in the State is 14.12 crores who will make their choices of a candidate at the 147148 booths in 403 Assembly seats.

The forthcoming electoral contest is going to be three cornered with the BJP, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP)-led alliance seeking people’s mandate to rule the State for the next five years.

Issues of demonetisation, surgical strike against Pakistan on 29 September last year, law & order, Yadavisation of the State administration during the SP government, unemployment, communalism and last but not the least development of the state are going to influence voters’ choice in electing their representatives.

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Results of the elections would also offer clues to whether the caste politics or identity politics has taken a full circle or not? Acceptance of the Mandal Commission report in 1990 by the Janata Dal government of Prime Minister V P Singh had given a decisive push to the role of castes in national politics.

While the BJP and the BSP are depending overtly on the caste arithmetic in the State, the SP, led by incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, is making development a major issue with an appeal to the youthful population of the State which is aspiring for employment opportunities and better living standards.

In UP, a victory or defeat will decisively impact the future course of the BJP as the verdict will not only be seen as a referendum on the Modi government but will also decide the outcome of the next presidential election in July-August this year.

For the Prime Minister and the BJP, electoral battle in UP is very important because if it is not able to emerge at least as the single largest party, then the saffron party’s downward journey would begin and Modi’s USP will be under serious threat as he would not be seen as a winning factor. Opposition to Modi and party president Amit Shah would begin to grow making governance for the Prime Minister all the more difficult.

In the 2012 Assembly elections, the BJP had won 47 seats with 15 per cent vote share. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party, with 43.3 vote share, came ahead in 71 Assembly constituencies when Modi had emerged the main vote catcher and the mascot of the saffron brigade.

The BJP performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was a huge improvement over its show in the Assembly elections when there was a quantum jump in its polled votes. If one had assessed the BJP’s chances in the coming assembly elections based on its poll percentage in 2014, then it should win 328 seats.

Already, Modi has addressed seven rallies in UP in the last six months and the BJP has undertaken parivartan yatras across the State. It is not going to leave any stone unturned and will try every trick up its sleeves to at least emerge as the single largest party.

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While the BJP rode to victory on a popularity wave and anti-Congress environment in the 2014 polls with Modi enjoying high appeal both in terms of his projected performance as the Gujarat Chief Minister and his promise of ushering in development resulting in jobs and high standards of living, it is facing many challenges now.

After two and half years in power, the performance record of the BJP-led NDA alliance has failed to leave a deep impression on the public mind. But for its ardent supporters and followers of Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), majority of electors who had voted for the BJP in 2014 are disillusioned and may not again vote for the saffron outfit.

There is unease among the BJP leaders over the style of functioning of both the prime minister as well as the party president Amit Shah who is reported to be inaccessible to middle ranking leaders of his party.

The BJP has yet another handicap as it has not given a chief ministerial candidate and Modi is the only USP of the party. The Prime Minister is expected to address at least a dozen more rallies.

On the other hand, the BJP has an advantage of having the committed support of the RSS cadres and has an assured vote bank. The RSS has deputed some of the best hands to make the BJP win the UP elections. Amit Shah has worked hard on the caste arithmetic of the state with special stress to woo non-Yadav, other backward castes (OBCs). The party has admitted OBC leaders into the fold in the hope that they would get enough votes to make the party win.

The main challenge to the BJP is coming from the incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav who has established total control on his party after winning the family battle and the Election Commission recognising him as the legitimate leader of the SP with the party symbol. The Chief Minister, whose image remained unsoiled and came to be popularly perceived as one who has undertaken infrastructure and other developmental projects, has forged an electoral alliance with the Congress.

An alliance with the Congress, which materialised after lot of negotiations and delay, has ensured that Muslim electorate constituting approximately 20 per cent of the State’s electorate does not get divided. While earlier Muslims were drifting away from the SP to the BSP, the alliance with the Congress has reportedly consolidated Muslim voters who normally vote to keep the BJP out of power.

Despite the fact that the BSP has done its electoral homework well and has fielded candidates according to caste combination, yet BSP supremo Mayawati may not have the desired electoral results because Akhilesh is enjoying support across the castes. This has made the task of BSP supremo Mayawati difficult, and her chance of returning to power after her party lost to the SP in the 2007 assembly election may remain a pipedream.

The Congress, which had won 28 seats in the 2012 elections but was able to win only two Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general elections, was confronted with an uphill task. Congress vice president  Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Kisan Yatras’ had evoked some response from people but that does not seem to be enough. Active participation and the role Priyanka Gandhi Vadra --sister of Rahul Gandhi -- in making an alliance with SP possible is a factor which is likely to motivate and enthuse the party workers and a section the electorate which has been looking towards the country’s oldest party to revive its political fortunes.  The alliance with the Akhilesh party has given a chance to the Congress and its leadership to improve its foot prints in the biggest state.

In Punjab, a three cornered battle is on cards with the Aam Admi Party (AAP), the Congress and the SAD-BJP seeking people’s approval. The SAD-BJP is suffering from an anti-incumbency factor and therefore the main contest is going to be between the AAP and the Congress. In the coming week, the picture will be clearer.

In Uttarakhand, though the main battle is between the Congress and the BJP, the AAP may also fish in troubled waters. Chief Minister Harish Rawat led Congress and the BJP are in the direct contest. The BJP is not only a divided house in the State but demonetisation has put the party on the defensive. Another handicap for the BJP in Uttarakhand is not projected a chief ministerial candidate.

In Goa, the AAP is a serious contender for power and it may give a tough time to both the ruling BJP as well as the main opposition, the Congress.

In Manipur, the BJP stands a fair chance to win because normally the electorate of the north eastern States prefer a party which is in power in New Delhi.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Satish Misra

Satish Misra

Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...

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