Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) are racing to beat each other in the ongoing Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. It is still early to predict who will form the government of Uttar Pradesh. However, speaking to people from all the districts covered in the first four phases of the election, I found that vocal voters were more inclined towards the BJP. On the other hand, silent voters may be the winning factor for the Samajwadi Party.
BJP COULD DO WELL IN WESTERN UP
Elections are conducted very differently in the western and eastern parts of the UP. The western belt, with wealthy and influential farmers and massive support for Jayant and Akhilesh, could hurt the BJP’s previous big win in the region.
But on closer inspection, it is now clear that the Jats did not vote for the SP-RLD alliance.
This is because the Jats are torn between their traditional identity as Hindus and farmers and their anger over the agricultural laws and the resulting unrest in the ‘ganna’ belt of western UP. Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Chaudhary hoped that the farmers’ protest and the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre would cause the BJP to lose a large part of its vote bank.
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However, Jat voters in the heart of Kairana, Shamli told me, “We are Jats, we don’t forget. This was in reference to the Muzzaffarnagar riots of 2013, when Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi party was in power in the state.
One constituent said: “The issue of farmers is important, but our safety is also important.
On the question of employment in the UP, a young first-time voter said: “Those who are underqualified are unemployed”. The Urban Jat still votes for the BJP.
What is obvious is that even if the BJP wins in the western UP, the margins will be lower this time. In 2017, the BJP won all seats in Muzzaffarnagar and 53 out of 58 seats in the Phase 1 poll. This number will surely go down this time.
THE OWAISI FACTOR
Muslims have no choice but to vote for the SP-RLD alliance in Uttar Pradesh. This factor seems to work for SP.
But since AIMIM leader Assaduddin Owaisi started campaigning in western UP, more and more young Muslims have been swayed by the leader’s support for the community, which was lacking in the SP election campaign in the west of the UP.
“Why isn’t Akhilesh Yadav talking about us? asked a young voter during Owaisi’s door-to-door campaign in Meerut. It’s something that Owaisi was able to hang on to.
In Rampur, the traditional followers of the Azam Khan-Abdullah family came in large numbers just to catch a glimpse of Owaisi. In the seats where the SP, BSP and AIMIM fielded Muslim candidates, the votes will surely be split between the three. But Owaisi’s AIMIM also fielded Brahmin and Gujjar candidates in many constituencies to bring inclusiveness to its party.
Victory in the western UP depends not only on consolidating Jat and Muslim votes, but also Jatav, OBC, non-Jatav Dalit, Brahmin, Gujjar and Lodh votes. The Jatav vote factor seems to reduce SP’s chances of victory.
In Muradnagar, young voters said, “Mayawati’s vote is Mayawati’s vote whether she comes to campaign or not.
Certainly, when Mayawati campaigned in Saharanpur, Agra and Mathura, his support increased. In Saharanpur, BSP voters are as vocal as BJP voters. Jatav votes traditionally go to the BSP, but this time the votes will be split between the BJP and the BSP.
SP COULD FIGHT BETTER IN PHASE TWO
The SP will do better in Muslim-dominated Rohilkhand, but even there the Muslim and Jatav votes will be split between SP, BSP and AIMIM. Rampur, a Muslim majority constituency, as well as Deoband will be the winning areas of SP. The city constituencies of Rampur, Suar, Chamaraua, Milak and Bilaspur, the first three of which are predominantly Muslim, will be the deciding factors in Rohilkhand.
Azam Khan and Abdullah are likely to retain their seats, but the seats of Milak and Bilaspur could see a tough fight. “Mehangai [rising prices] is also a big problem for us. This government is doing a lot of Hindu against Muslim. We want this to stop, we want to live in peace with our Hindu, Sikh and Christian brothers and sisters. If the PS government comes to power, we can live in peace,” said Laiba, a local Muslim.
“Today’s contest is between BJP and SP only. We need Rampur to move forward and when the cities are developed, the country will also move forward,” said one BJP-friendly voter.
Although Akhilesh Yadav may not have addressed the hijab issue during his campaign, it found its way into Phase 2 polls in Rohilkhand where women said hijab was a choice. Several women also wore their hijab while voting.
“We feel safe. But hijab shouldn’t be an election issue – inflation should be the concern here,” said Mohsina, a graduate of Raza College, Rampur.
Farmer unrest, as well as the problem of stray livestock, are significant issues here. Bareilly has 70% sugarcane growers, Moradabad around 60%, Badaun 40%, Bijnor over 50%, Rampur around 45%, Sambhal 35%, Saharanpur and Amroha 65% and 60% respectively and Shahjahanpur has 35% of cash crop producers. The seats in Saharanpur could see a split in votes between the SP and the BSP, as the latter has more dominance over the votes of Dalits in the region.
AWADH AND BUNDELKHAND: 50-50
Akhilesh could garner massive support for Karhal. The family’s show of force was enough to bolster Yadav’s vote bank. In the city of Kanpur, the SP did not field a very strong candidate to counter Satish Mahana, who has won the seat since 1991. He is a seven-time MP and confident of winning his eighth victory.
The urban voters of Kanpur are in his favour, also because they believe that the PS did not present a very strong candidate against him.
The SP is fighting hard in Arya Nagar. Some believe that the BJP will not be able to repeat its 2017 results due to the choice of candidates. For example, the party left Ghatampur for ally Apna Dal after failing to find a replacement for incumbent MP Kamal Rani who died of Covid. The SP candidate is a renegade BJP MP from Bilhaur Bhagwati Prasad Sagar.
In Kalyanpur, an OBC-dominated seat, Congress lined up the sister-in-law of one of Dubey’s aides who was killed in an encounter. She claims to have the support of the Brahmins. It has been a strong seat of the BJP in the past.
Sisamau, a Muslim-majority seat, voted for the SP in 2017.
LAKHIMPUR KHERI MASSACRE FAILED BJP DENT VOTING
As we move towards the northeastern part of UP we leave behind the influential and wealthy farmers of western UP and see the lack of facilities and the problem of stray livestock become more prominent for the humble farmers of this region.
In 2017, the BJP won all eight assembly seats in Lakhimpur in a campaign led by Ajay Misra Teni, a Brahmin face who is a strongman and powerful leader of the BJP. But now it seems that the eight seats are witnessing a tough competition between the BJP and the SP. It could be 60:40 in favor of the BJP this time.
This is because the vote of Brahmin and Rajput castes is very influential in this region. Bail for the Lakhimpur Kheri case accused Ashish Misra may have worked for the BJP as it came in just before the Phase 4 poll.
Nor can Kurmi and Maurya voters in Lakhimpur region be ignored, as well as OBC votes which will also go to the BJP. Maurya voters in Lakhimpur declined to talk about Ashish Misra allegedly running over farmers under his vehicle in Tikunia, but spoke of the difficulty of having to spend on barbed wire to protect their crops from stray animals.
“People here will vote for the BJP,” said one voter.
In Rae Bareli, it could be difficult for Congress to keep its stronghold. Here, the Thakur votes could be split. With Aditi Singh leaving Congress to fight for the BJP, it’s Thakur versus Thakur in the stronghold.
In Lucknow, it will be a blow for the SP because the region has a large number of Muslim voters (about 90,000) and Vaishyas (80,000). The cantonment headquarters of Lucknow will also see a tough competition.
The seven-phase Uttar Pradesh Assembly election is held in February and March. The votes will be counted on March 10.