One of the most talked about topic in Indian political circle is the Uttar Pradesh elections. The most populous state of India is going through its assembly elections. The first two phases of elections are already over. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of parliamentary seats and holds a huge importance in terms of the electoral outcome.
The last two elections in Uttar Pradesh ( 2017 Assembly elections and 2019 Loksabha elections) has seen a huge consolidation of votes in favour of BJP ruled NDA in both the elections. In 2017, NDA got around 42% votes. The same increased to over 51% in 2019. UP witnesses a multi party election with SP, BSP and INC are the other three major parties.
The pattern of votes has not always remained same across two elections in India. In UP itself while in 2012 assembly elections, SP formed a government with absolute majority and over 29% of votes and BJP led NDA got around 15% of votes and was third in the race. But within two years, in 2014 during the Loksabha elections, BJP led NDA got around 43% of votes while SP vote share declined to around 22.5%. So every election is different and its outcome can also be different. But as the vote share of BJP led NDA has remained over 40% in the last three elections in UP from 2014, it starts in a advantageous position.
A host of events have happened and new issues have cropped up since the last election of 2019. It remains to be seen how these issues impact the electorate and whether we witness a continuation of the trend that UP is witnessing since 2014 or whether something like 2012 happens and there is a significant change in the trend. Let us look into some of the major events, happened since 2019, which might have an impact in the voting pattern of the electorate.
Ram Mandir Verdict: This has been an age old issue and had changed the political scenario of UP and the country way back in early nineties. Now with the verdict from the honorable Supreme Court, the matter is settled and the construction of the temple is ongoing. The fact that an age old issue is solved, might have some impact in the minds of the electorate and have some impact in the elections.
CAA and NRC Movement: Like in others parts of the country, UP had seen hosts of protest movement against the CAA act during late 2019 and early 2020. There has been severe steps taken by the state government against the protestors. This can have an impact in the elections.
COVID- 19 and the aftermath: The impact of covid-19 in UP can be categorized into three phases, phase one is during the nationwide lockdown during the first wave of the pandemic where the migrant labors from all across the countries faced huge hardships. It needs to be noted here that a vast majority of UP population are migrant labors working all across the country. There were many anecdotal evidences of the hardships faced by the migrant labors of UP. This can have a significant impact in the minds of the electorate and influence their voting pattern.
Phase two of impact of the pandemic is an ongoing and long term impact, the economic impact of the pandemic. Not only the migrant labors but many others also lost their job during the pandemic and continued to face economic hardships. Some relief in terms of free ration was initiated by the government but job loss remained a severe problem. Eighty four percent of Indian population faced a income reduction during the pandemic and UP being the most populous state, a vast majority of those people are coming from UP. This can again have a significant impact in the elections.
Phase three of impact of the pandemic is during the second wave of the pandemic where there has been many anecdotal evidences of lack of oxygen supplies and deaths due to that from UP. Also there where some images showing dead bodies being burnt in masses and floated in the river. Many have suffered during this phase. This also can have an significant impact in the outcome of the elections.
Farmers Movement: Since later half of 2020 the country witnessed a major farmers movement against the three agriculture bills passed by the central government. The movement was spearheaded by the farmer leaders from Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh largely. The farmers had to protest over an year relentlessly until the government withdrew the three agriculture laws. This had an huge impact specially among the farmers of western Uttar Pradesh. Moreover there was an incident in the Lakhimpur Kheri where a son of a central minister was accused of driving his car over the protesting farmers. This can have a significant impact during the elections. It needs to be noted here that the ruling dispensation had got over 90% of the seats in this region during the last assembly election. It needs to be seen how this farmers movement impacts the electorate.
While all the above factors can have a significant impact in the elections, the performance of UP in economic and social indicators are not encouraging. UP has been in the bottom half of rankings in many social indicators like health and education. Jobs and unemployment has been a concern.
There are many issues and event that can impact the election of UP, but one very prominent factor of UP elections is the identity politics. This has been a major characteristics in this region. This is why a senior minister of the state government in national television talks about certain castes not voting for certain other castes as a advantage point for the ruling party. Similarly the leaders of the opposition talk about 85-15 with a grand alliance of unprivileged caste and religious communities. The ruling dispensation hits back with the 80-20 formula arguably in terms of religious lines. During the run up of elections there has exodus of senior leaders of certain communities from the ruling dispensation, also few prominent faces from the opposition moved towards the ruling party.
The final verdict will be influenced by a combination of some of the above issues discussed and also the identity politics at ground. As per the pre poll surveys it appears to be more of a two way fight between BJP led NDA and SP led alliance.
If we look into the last few elections in various states, the voter relates more to a face of the leader than a party. Wherever both parties have a strong face as a leader from both the sides, it becomes a closely fought election. Case in point is Bihar where both NDA and MGB had strong faces as leaders. Also when only one side has a credible face then the fight becomes one sided. Case in point is Bengal and Assam. The same trend was seen for the loksabha elections as well. In UP both sides have a strong face as leader.
UP has not voted same party to power in successive elections. And a lot of this can be attributed to the non yadav obc votes and the non Jatav dalit votes and to some extent Brahmin votes also as this has shifted alligance based on complex calculations.
What BJP did since 2014 is bringing them in one umbrella and holding the folk for successive elections ( loksabha and vidan sabha counted). Now this time again it seems to be changing with strong OBC leaders moving out from the ruling party in the run up of elections.
If we see both in 2007 and 2012 the vote percentages of BSP and SP hovered around 30%. So the wining party did not get more than 30% and when they lost there vote share went to around 23-24 percent ( a 6-7 percent drop). BJP on the other hand has got over 40 percent in 2017. So even a 6-7 percent drop takes them to 33-34 which makes the fight close and eventually the outcome may go either way.
The electoral outcome might also vary significantly across regions of UP with some issues impacting some areas. It remains to be seen in which ways the verdict of elections go but it can be certainly said that with so many issues and their varied impacts across regions, it is mostly not a wave election all across UP.