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More than 2 decades ago when I was still a student and was learning psephology at the grassroots level, one of the first lessons I was taught by an RSS Pracharak from the Marathwada region was how to calculate votes using polling booth manuals. “Before applying your math models, you start with minus 150 votes from each of these 16 booths” he would point out to the voter lists from areas thick with minority population. His 20% reduction rule for the BJP has instinctively remained at the heart of my psephology for so many years now.

During the 2017 UP elections, a former Samajwadi party leader from western UP who joined BJP just before the 2014 Modi wave used to regale us with his humorous take about how his own driver of many decades will not vote for his new party, “he is totally loyal to me (sic), but he will not vote for the party, it is too much to ask from him, his religion (Islam) won’t permit it” this leader would say with a smirk on his face.

In the 2004 Karnataka assembly elections (which were held simultaneously with LS elections), I was working in the interiors of north Karnataka when another hilarious incident happened (pun intended). Buoyed by Vajpayee-Advani’s messaging that BJP should try and become more “secular” in order to expand its vote-base, many small time Muslim leaders were inducted into the party. In one of the north Karnataka constituency, in polling booth number 131, elections were countermanded because of some technical issue. This was the polling booth under the charge of a certain “Ahmed Bhai”, a former ZP member who had joined BJP about a year before the elections and was canvassing with full vigor teaching his Muslim brethren about the virtues of the new BJP under Vajpayee’s leadership. The next day there was re-polling (EVM machines were used for the first time here) and everybody was upbeat about it because Ahmed Bhai and his large extended family all lived in that same locality. A month later, when EVM machines were opened for counting, there was a rude shock awaiting the local BJP candidate. I still remember the page containing the voting numbers handed out by Election Commission officials. In a totally Muslim domninated polling booth number 131, Congress had got 231 votes, JDS some 80 odd votes and BJP had got, ZERO. It turned out that not only his family members, but even Ahmed Bhai had not voted for BJP!

There are many such stories from all over India which only reinforce the fact about that unwritten rule of Indian elections – that BJP starts every election with a big disadvantage of 5 to 30% (depending on the constituency) votes that will never come to it. For long, Muslims have held a veto power to prevent BJP from coming to power. In fact, this is why before 2014, most pundits believed that BJP would never recover its base in UP, for 1 out of every 5 voter in the state is a Muslim and he will never vote for the party.

In the 90’s, the then towering OBC leader of BJP, Kalyan Singh, used to famously assert in his speeches, “the day Hindus unite, no power on earth can stop BJP”. This reality came about a couple of decades late for Mr. Singh. Between 2014 and 2017, we have seen how the rise of Modi has impacted the Muslim voters of UP. They find that their veto is no longer valid, for Modi has managed to unite large swaths of the other 80% voters - the Hindus.

In the 2019 elections, Muslims were supposed to be enthused, because SP and BSP have come together for their cause. Our Models were expecting a much better turnout among Muslims voters, so we had specially kept an eye on Muslim majority polling booths, trying to ascertain the levels of Muslim enthusiasm. In the first phase at least, Muslims have actually disappointed the so called ‘secular’ parties by not showing any inclination to defeat Modi. It is as if they know that Modi is now beyond the reach of the Muslim vote.

Our algorithms can now actually project raw numbers of voters and how they voted through MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – tracker because of vast amounts of polling booth level data that our servers hold. Therefore, yesterday, after the poll when we claimed that there was a decline of around 6% in Muslim turnout, we were actually speaking through our math models which are now confidently predicting the turnout numbers from yesterday’s election.

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Kairana, which was supposed to be a lost cause for the BJP has in fact produced the most stunning turnout numbers this election season. There has been a significant drop of 17% among the Muslim voters of Kairana which has also impacted the overall turnout here. Kairana had famously built the MGB model in last year’s by-election which was supposed to singe the BJP in UP this summer, but the result may see a stunning comeback from the BJP.

Muzaffarnagar has seen the second most drastic drop in Muslim participation of 12%. Both these constituencies are telling a story through these numbers which cannot be fathomed by newspaper editorials or TV channel debates. In Muzaffarnagar, the average Muslim voter is frustrated that the Jats are still united behind Sanjiv Baliyan despite the once tallest Jat leader of western Uttar Pradesh, Chaudhary Ajit Singh contesting as the MGB candidate. In Kairana on the other hand, Muslim voters are tired of being used as a sponge-board only during elections and then being forgotten in the interlude.

Our turnout models are now showing that other OBC turnout this time was almost 75% in yesterday’s polling. What is more, the Kushwahas, the Kashyaps and the Saini community have voted in the range of around 80-85% in favor of BJP. They virtually identify Modi as their sole representative now!

As the Modi juggernaut keeps rolling, these smaller OBCs and other poorer sections will keep adding to the momentum. In the meantime, we intend to keep an eye on the Muslim turnout, as the disinterested Muslim voter is finally creating a level field. One day hopefully, I can go back and report to that old teacher of mine from Marathwada that his -20% rule has finally run out of space in India

[We will continue to analyze phase 1 this weekend with other important states]