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Veer Mulayam Chahu disha ore” (loosely translated as ‘Mulayam the brave, being hailed from all directions”) was the war cry that was reverberating all across Lucknow. It was December 1993 and a particularly cold Lucknow day when lakhs of Yadavs had gathered to hail the victory the SP-BSP alliance in the UP assembly elections. Also gathered in that milieu were tens of thousands of Dalit supporters of Kanshi Ram, most of them didn’t even have footwear as they had travelled from nearby and far-flung villages and were unprepared for the Lucknow winter. The contrast was too stark not to miss. The Yadavs were boisterous and strong, making merry of a hard-fought victory, whereas the SC supporters of BSP were quietly suppressed and huddled among themselves, overawed by the power of the Yadavs.

Any astute political observer on that cold December day in Lucknow would have told you that such an alliance wouldn’t last long. Mulayam Singh Yadav (like most of his caste brethren) strongly believed that the Dalits simply lacked the ability to lead or rule, he just wanted to abide his time and then eventually gobble up the BSP and sideline Kanshi Ram. History had other plans for him.

After that brief interlude, Yadavs and SCs have remained bitter rivals in the socio-political matrix of Uttar Pradesh starting from the village level and going up all the way to the secretariat in Lucknow. In 2014, Narendra Bhai Damodardas Modi entered UP and disrupted longstanding political structures irrevocably. Prior to 2014, Uttar Pradesh was neatly divided into 4 columns. The Samajwadi Party was seen as the party of OBCs, the BSP as that of SCs and the BJP was the party of upper castes, while the Congress party (barring a rare rise in 2009) was a distant fourth with leftover voters of all three segments plus some Muslims 

Modi came on to the political scene of Uttar Pradesh and delivered what we have famously noted as the USHV – United Spectrum of Hindu Votes – phenomenon wherein he united the upper-castes, a large chunk of OBCs and even non-Jatav SC voters which essentially left the SP, BSP and the Congress party to fight amongst themselves for the Muslim vote pie. In fact, the rise of Modi and BJP has been so strong that it has left a vacuum in the opposition space. Hence, the only way to combat BJP was to form opposition alliances. In the 2017 assembly elections, Congress and SP came together in what was popularly known among the media circles as “UP ke Ladke” which led to disastrous consequences for both the parties. Today, SP-BSP have come together in what is being termed as “Bua-Bhatija” alliance to test their fate in the Lok Sabha elections.

Ideally, such an alliance between SP and BSP would have had a much better chance to perform in an assembly election scenario where voters would have exercised their franchise to elect a Chief Minister. Uttar Pradesh electorate is genuinely nationalist in its approach to elections as the voters here truly believe that their vote matters most to India. Historically, UP has been like this in its approach and it is a deeply ingrained political philosophy for most UP voters to vote for a national government. For instance, in 2009, when most poll pundits believed that Mayawati’s BSP having been in power in the state for two odd years would get most MP seats, but surprisingly UP voted for Congress in big numbers because it was the only national party in strong contention.

Therefore, in order to understand the 2019 electoral trajectory, we must analyze why USHV came about in the first place in Uttar Pradesh. Before the advent of 1980’s, Congress was seen as this broad-tent party with various social and caste groups that competed with each other within the party forum. First the OBC assertion through Mandalization and then the SC dynamism through Kanshi Ram and Mayawati’s Dalit mobilization changed the scenario completely by dividing the polity in the state. Muslim voters simply aligned with any one of these groups (with a certain proclivity for Yadavs of SP) with the sole purpose of keeping BJP at bay. After the initial euphoria of 80’s 90’s and early 2000’s, as these different political structures began to grow, three political trends began to take root.

  • Yadavs among OBCs and Jatavs among SCs began to dominate the socio-political landscape leaving out other sub-groups in the lurch, even as Yadavs and Jatavs started competing against each other (many times violently) for power in the villages and towns of Uttar Pradesh.
  • Non-Yadav OBCs and Non-Jatav SCs were completely alienated by the Yadav-Jatav domination which created deep heartburn among these communities
  • Upper Castes, who constituted almost a quarter of UP’s voters were disillusioned by the whole turn of events and were desperately looking for the revival of their political fortunes.

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BJP has become the new big-tent party of UP since 2014 wherein NY-OBCs and NJ-SCs along with upper castes compete for their interests, thereby bypassing the Yadav-Jatav power matrix. Modi’s emergence as the tallest OBC leader in the country has largely contributed to this new political bonhomie. The one crucial difference between Congress of the pre-80’s and BJP of the post-2014 is the Muslim votes which were the core element of the former and virtually missing from the latter’s basket 

Together, Upper-castes, NY-OBCs and NJ-SCs constitute about 58% of the UP electorate which is the primary reason why the Muslim veto no longer works in the state. In fact, if anything, the rhetoric like that of Mayawati blatantly asking for Muslim votes in the Mahagatbandhan rally in Deoband the other day, further polarizes these segments of Hindu voters to go and vote for BJP.

Data clearly suggests that between 2014 and 2017, more than 2 out of 3 upper-caste voters and 1 out of 2 NY-OBC and NJ-SC voters have been voting for the BJP. It is this combination of USHV that constitutes almost 80-85% of BJP’s vote-share in the state. It is in this background that SP and BSP have come together to challenge BJP’s hegemony in Uttar Pradesh, but there are five big hurdles facing this Mahagatbandhan.

  1. The vote-share demographic pie of SP-BSP consisting of Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims is still smaller than the BJP’s USHV at about 40-42%, so it will need near optimum levels of voting of all these segments of voters to be of any threat to BJP (RLD no longer has even 50% hold among Jats so it can be brushed aside).
  2. Most pundits and pollsters simply believe in the electoral arithmetic when they add SP-BSP-RLD vote-shares (which is still lower than that of BJP+ in 2014) and presume that it will equal that of BJP’s. The fact is that all these parties acquired this vote-share by competing in almost all the seats, whereas this time SP and BSP are competing in less than half the number of seats, so they will need near perfect vote transfer to maintain their 2014 levels. The example of Bihar 2015 experiment doesn’t hold true here because in Bihar, both RJD and JDU have been only contesting about 50-60% of the seats for the last 2 decades unlike in UP where Yadavs and Jatavs are at loggerheads for 2 decades.
  3. The NY-OBC and NJ-SC voters have still remained steadfastly loyal to BJP and Modi as our ground teams have found out over the last month. Primary reason why they have stood with the BJP despite a perception created among media circles of the Yogi government being avowedly upper-caste in nature is because these are the two segments who have benefited most from BJP’s path-breaking schemes like free LPG, toilets, DBT etc. The second reason why they don’t want to go out of BJP fold is that whatever said and done, the Yogi government’s fight against goondagardi (which is mainly facilitated by Yadavs and to some extent by Jatavs) has borne results and the EBC (Extremely Backward Castes) and Mahadalits feel more secure today than they were under SP government before 2017.
  4. The fourth hurdle is the possible division among Muslim votes between the opposition alliance and Congress. Although Congress is not much of a force in the state, it has fielded a few strong candidates including Muslims who have the potential to play spoilsport. Even a 10% dent among Muslim voters can have far reaching ramifications for overall electoral trends in the state.
  5. The fifth and probably the most important hurdle is that cutting across caste-lines, the middle class of UP in dozens of cities and small towns have supported Modi’s Balakot strikes which has created a renewed vigor among BJP supporters and will probably have a big impact on swing voters in the coming days.

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Despite all these positive factors, based on our teams findings till April 8th, our macro-analytical tracker suggests that BJP and the opposition alliance is almost at equal footing. There are about 17% undecided voters as of now and they will be the crucial deciders who will tell us how the election day trends will turnout.

BJP’s big opportunity is that there is greater upside potential for the party. It still has room to grow beyond 50% among the NY-OBCs and NJ-SC voters. Perhaps even more importantly, there is greater upside potential for improved turnouts among these segments of voters as they still lag behind other groups like upper-castes and Yadavs. Furthermore, Mayawati’s attempt to polarize the election may start to give greater impetus for Hindus to turnout on election day.

Our MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – tracker which tracks each parliamentary constituency at the polling booth level has classified 38 MP seats as toss-up or “too close to call” as of today. Both MAPi and Macro analytical trackers have capped the upside potential of the Mahagathbandhan at 30, where as BJP still has the ability to go beyond 60 seats.

Two elements that will be crucial are the relative turnouts of NY-OBC and NJ-SC voters along with the voting pattern of Yadavs and Jatavs. For instance, on the first phase of voting if 1 out of 5 Jatav voters or 1 out of 4 Yadav voters do vote for BJP, then it would be a huge indicator as to the failure of the alliance to transfer votes (of course, we will need confirmation in phases 2 and 3 to be absolutely sure). We will be live tracking all of these elements here at 5Forty3 Datalabs using MAPi, starting from the 11th of April.