The elections in Uttar Pradesh passed the half-way mark on Wednesday with three more phases of polls remaining. The low turnout in the voting so far has puzzled the pollsters on which way the wind is blowing although there is consensus among them over huge anger against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On Wednesday, 60.1% voting was recorded in 59 assembly constituencies in the fourth phase of the polling for Uttar Pradesh assembly election. Lucknow recoded the lowest turnout (55.92%) and Unnao (57.73%) the second lowest as per the data available with the election commission (EC). In each the first three phases on February 10, 14 and 20, over 60% voter turnout was recorded in Uttar Pradesh, about three percentage points less than 2017 polls.
According to the commission data, Lakhimpur Kheri district recorded the highest turnout at about 65% followed by 61.5% in Pilibhit and 62% in Rae Barelli. Lakhimpur Kheri and Pilibhit has a sizeable Sikh and Muslim population. Lakhimpur Kheri is the place when Ashish Mishra, son of union junior home minister Ajay Kumar Mishra alias Teni had moved down four farmers during a protest march against three farm laws that was repealed by the Central government in the winter session of Parliament.
Sitapur recorded 58% voting, 10 percentage points less than 2017 and Unnao 57.73%. The average voter turnout in these nine districts, which went to polls on Wednesday, was 62.55% in 2017 and 57.52% in the 2012 UP assembly elections. So, the voter turnout was higher than in 2012 in these elections.
The higher voter turnout in 2017 polls was because the BJP was able to mobilise its cadre in a big way which brought even fringe voters to the polling booths. This election that drive among the BJP workers appears to be missing even though higher than usual voting in Lucknow and Kanpur cities indicate the BJP was able to mobolise its voters to some extent in these urban areas. In fact, Lucknow witnessed highest voting since 1952.
Except Lucknow and Kanpur, where some polarization has also taken place, the urban voters did not show much interest in polls. However, the enthusiasm among rural voters was higher, where the anger against the BJP on the issue of stray cattle and unemployment is much more. However, the free ration to poor since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out two years ago has dimmed this anger to some extent.
While the poor turnout clearly shows disdain among voters for the political parties and candidates, it fails to provide a clear picture on which side the wind is blowing considering the money and muscle power the BJP has as compared to its rival candidates.
Observers on ground say that the turnout of the Bahujan Samaj Party’s traditional Jatav and other Dalit voters is lower compared to previous years. Although this would harm the prospects of the BSP, which is being seen as an ally of the BJP, the fear of the majority of remaining Dalit vote getting transferred the BJP is giving chills to the Samajwadi Party. If the BJP gets Dalit votes, the prospects of the Samajwadi Party winning polls in low voter turnout elections would be bleak.
However, the data shows that the Samajwadi Party has done well when the voter turnout is low as its traditional Yadav and Muslim voters come out and vote in large numbers. This time, the enthusiasm among the two communities, is very high and possibility of the divide within them, as seen in 2017, is very less.
So, the low voter-turnout is a double edged weapon that can lead to close contests with small victory margins. In that scenario, it could turn out to be a nail biting finish. We will have to keep guessing till March 10 when the results of the vote will be announced.