Just seven days remain for kickstarting the elections of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, 2022. The first phase of voting for the western parts of the state is to take place on February 10.
According to the opinion polls and trends emanating from the ground, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to be on the back foot, as it looks unlikely to be able to repeat its 2017 performance.
In 2017, of the 126 seats in western UP, the BJP had won 102 seats, decimating its rivals the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress. The BJP also performed exceptionally well in eastern Uttar Pradesh, which sends 140 MLAs to 403-member state Legislative Assembly. The ruling party won 120 of the 140 seats in eastern UP, enabling the party to win 312 seats.
The 2022 election is, however, different on several counts. First, the ruling BJP is not as popular as it was in 2017, second the SP has been able to stitch a better caste alliance of non-Yadav, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and third, voters in UP have not returned the same party in the hustings since 1989. People acknowledge that law and order and electricity supply has improved under the BJP’s rule.
West Not the Best
The signs of the BJP not doing well is clearly visible in western UP, where several of their candidates have faced resistance from villagers. Many candidates have not been allowed to campaign in the villages, blaming the ruling party for a year-long farmer agitation on the borders of Delhi, and poor remuneration for the agriculture crops, especially sugarcane. Moreover, the baton charge on Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Jayanth Chaudhary during his visit to the Hathras rape victim’s house has spread through the villages in a big way and has not gone well.
In 2017, according to a study by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), close to 72% of Jats voted for the BJP, resulting in its resounding victory. This is unlikely to happen this time, according to CSDS’ Sanjay Kumar. Even if half of the Jats migrate away from the BJP, it would be enough for victory of some of the opposition party candidates as the margin of victory in western UP last time was less than 10,000 votes in several constituencies.
The BJP’s bid to polarise the polls on community lines is not working to the extent the party would have liked. It has some impact in urban areas in western UP, but polarisation is being negated in villages due to widespread farmer anger. The BJP in the past two decades has won from Hindu-dominated urban areas in western UP. In 2017, it made inroads into the rural areas due to polarization and hope of good governance from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This time, the common refrain is that BJP is trying to create the Hindu-Muslim divide only to win elections and to hide its failures.
With the BJP’s polarization trump-card not working and the SP and RLD able to overcome initial alliance hurdles, the contest is close in western UP. How much the BJP will come down will be known only on March 10, when the votes would be counted.