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“Central government had released some 20,000 Crore rupees to Uttar Pradesh between 2007 and 2011 for the NREGA scheme, but hardly 40% reached the actual beneficiaries” explained a retired bureaucrat with 40 years of government experience, in Lucknow yesterday. “This was the infamous ‘11,000 crore rupees NREGA scam’ during the Mayawati regime, it was systematic loot from the bottom to the top. There were millions of fake job cards created in each district and the NREGA money was syphoned off.” he further elucidated.

“Every poor villager in UP knew about this NREGA scam then, as fake IDs were created and money redistributed among the Sarpanch, Panchayat members and local contractors virtually on a daily basis, even as the genuinely poor people were denied work regularly… that is what we were all used to in Uttar Pradesh” he continued with a ring of frustration in his voice. “My experience as a former bureaucrat has shown that it is the poor who interact the most with governments, starting from buying food in Ration Shops to sending kids to government schools and then going to civil hospitals when they have health problems. Almost every aspect of the day to day lives of the poor has high degree of dependency on governments, whereas the middle-class bypasses most of these interfaces” he was now literally lecturing me like an old professor in college.

“This is a totally new experience for the poor in Uttar Pradesh. They just don’t know how to react when they get free LPG, Ayushman Health Cards and 2000 rupees DBT in their bank accounts, all without having to pay any bribe or begging the government official and then having to wait for months on endlessly to finally get a benefit. The entire interface with the government has changed in the last 5 years”, he finally sums up about the Modi governance paradigm.

This is something that needs to be fully understood from a psephological point of view. How do ordinary people react to corruption in the system? – corruption need not be only about money/bribe, but it even means denial or delay in providing a service by the government. For poor ordinary people, corruption is a tangible process that directly impacts their resourcefulness on a continuing basis. Corruption is not an abstract concept of some news item about a 2G or a CWG scam costing the government exchequer some unheard-of numbers of rupees with hard to count number of zeros in it.

This is why today when Rahul Gandhi goes to town with “Rafael Corruption”, it hardly has any resonance on the ground, because it is an abstract concept with very little factual evidence. The middle-class who probably at least have a basic understanding of the Rafael deal simply does not believe that Modi can ever be corrupt or take any decision that is not in India’s national interest. The poorer sections of the society have seen a major tangible change in last five years in the way services are rendered by the government without delay and without a requirement of bribe for the local official, so they just cannot internalize Rahul Gandhi’s accusations.

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How will people react to this systemic change of governance? This is something that we have been tracking from day one, especially here in Uttar Pradesh. The state today is like a cesspool with two political currents. The primary current is the Modi current wherein a large number of voters, cutting across caste lines, are voting to reelect Modi primarily for his good governance – good governance for the poor means that the interface with the government has changed so positively with minimal or no corruption, while for a section of middle class it means the reassertion of muscular nationalism symbolized by the Balakot airstrikes.

The second countercurrent is that of caste, wherein the Yadav and Jatav voters in sufficiently large numbers are amalgamating with Muslims to vote out the Modi government. There is hardly any justification for this second group of voters to vote for Mahagthbandhan. The two reasons we hear from these voters are – secularism and “biraadri” (brotherhood with the caste fellows). Apart from these two age-old reasons, the only thing that is uniting this section of voters is this idea to defeat Modi.

We have seen in the past that whenever a campaign is purely built on a negative theme, it hardly succeeds. The most recent example of this was Rajasthan. The whole world, including every Swayam Sevak and BJP Karyakarta was expecting a massive sweep for the Congress party, but the average voter got disinterested in the end because the Congress party’s campaign of the last few weeks was simply built on the sole premise of “defeat Vasundhara Raje”. What was supposed to be a wave election ended in a whimper with Congress winning just 99 seats. Let me give you three better examples to elucidate this point further (no, that doesn’t include the obvious example of 2014 elections where the entire opposition/media campaign was built on the idea that “this man cannot be Prime Minister of India” and the voter responded back in kind).

  • In the Delhi assembly elections of 2015, BJP ran a heavily negative campaign against Arvind Kejriwal which backfired in a big way, just months after Modi had won all 7 MP seats in the national capital. In fact, BJP’s campaign was so negative in Delhi that the party actually brought in Kiran Bedi and virtually told the Delhi voters, “hey, don’t vote for Kejriwal, we will give you an alternative that looks and feels like Kejriwal”. This was a marketing blunder, for Indian public hates buying stripped down versions of premiere products, they always want more for less, not less for less – the classic example of this was the super failure of the self-proclaimed “world’s cheapest car”, the Tata Nano.
  • The 2007 Gujarat campaign by Congress was another example that ended up as a disaster because of its highly negative tones. There was some amount of rural distress in Gujarat then, and since Modi as CM had refused to give free power to farmers, they were up in arms against the state government. Then the high priestess of the Congress party descended down to make her now infamous “Maut ke Saudagar” speech and the entire opposition campaign turned negative, eventually giving Modi a famous victory in the face of adversity.
  • The 2015 Bihar campaign was also built on a negative theme of “return of Gundaraj” which failed to find traction. Had Modi focused more on governance and development instead of attacking Nitish and Lalu in every speech, perhaps it would have been a tighter race.

 

The impact of this negative campaign was visible the most in Uttar Pradesh in the fourth phase of Monday last. It can be argued that the first three phases saw a much tougher contest, but on Monday, it looked like the 2014 sweep of BJP. In Every seat, seat after seat, we saw massive consolidation of most castes for the BJP. This was the phase which showed the most traction for the good governance of Modi government and the countercurrent of caste consolidation was quite limited for the Mahagathbandhan. 

Take the case of Farrukhabad, for instance, where former union minister and loyalist Congressman, Salman Khursheed ran a very aggressive campaign which attracted quite a few Muslim voters on Monday hurting the BSP’s Manoj Agarwal. This is one constituency which has equal number of Lodh, Yadav, Muslim and SC voters – all segments have around 12-15% votes here. What we observed on Monday was that all the segments, barring Muslims voted for Modi and BJP with equal enthusiasm. Even about 41% Yadavs (highest so far in this election) here voted for the BJP. Again, a vast majority of them (about 86%) gave “Modi” as the reason for their vote this time. Overall, only about 12% of the BJP vote here was due to the local candidate which goes on to show how much momentum the Modi wave is gathering in the state.

About 70 kilometers from there is Hardoi, a deeply rural pocket with many potato growers. We were specifically tracking the rural farming community voters here to see if there was any significant shift among these voters as the national media has made a big hue and cry about farm crisis in rural India. Hardoi is also an example of how BJP has meticulously planned this election. Generally, people are voting in the name of Modi everywhere unless there is high localized anti-incumbency – here the local BJP MP, Anshul Verma was known throughout the constituency as the “MP of Chandigarh” as he was accused of spending “90%” time in Chandigarh & Delhi rather than in his constituency. Understanding this phenomenon, especially in Hardoi which has a history of not repeating its sitting MPs, party president, Amit Shah, took a bold decision under the express guidance of Naresh Agarwal who has recently joined the party from being a founder-member of the SP and enjoys large pockets of influence in the district. The Agarwal factor has worked for the BJP, even as the Pasi community vote was seen to be splitting between BJP & BSP. Consequently, Hardoi too saw very high consolidation of other castes in favour of the BJP.

The story was similar in the neighbouring Misrikh, where once again BJP has replaced a sitting Pasi MP with another Pasi. This pattern is likely to get repeated almost everywhere as BJP has replaced a lot of sitting Pasi MPs due to non-performance. The consolidation of “other castes” is what is helping BJP the most.

In Kanpur and Unnao, the two constituencies which made a lot of headlines for various reasons, there was a triangular contest because of stronger Congress presence here. As is always the case, whenever BJP faces a divided opposition, the margin of victory just keeps improving because of the huge base effect that BJP enjoys all over India today, especially more so in UP and the heartland. In almost every constituency of UP, BJP’s core base is locked at 40% and it tends to get a minimum of 2-3% incremental vote – this increases in a direct contest – which is why a divided opposition means a foregone victory conclusion for the BJP in today’s circumstances.

In Bundelkhand, BJP did face some resistance, probably owing to continuing drought in the region, but the party’s margins are pretty big for the opponent to reverse. MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – models here have now put Jhansi and Hamirpur in the BJP column while Jalaun has been classified as “tossup” after Monday’s voting. All in all, a 3 out of 4 overall haul in Bundelkhand should be seen as a good result for the BJP considering the fact that the party has not been able to solve the water crisis in the area and the tallest Bundelkhandi leader, Uma Bharati is missing in action this time around.

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So, in the end analysis, MAPi tracker has awarded this round to BJP with full marks. Of the 13 seats that went to polls on Monday, BJP is ahead in 11, while the SP is leading by a small margin in Kannauj. Jalaun is the one seat that is the tossup in this round. This kind of a performance by BJP in a supposedly tough contest where both your rivals have united to defeat you, means something is really clicking with the voters on the ground. The sheer absence of localized corruption for various Modi government schemes seems to be a major driving force behind this success.

Before the election began, it was widely believed that the first 3 phases of the UP battle would be the toughest contest because of very high Muslim vote concentration in western UP and also because one of these phases (the 3rd phase) would be traversing through the Yadav heartland where the M-Y combo is at its most lethal. The saffron party seems to have negotiated the tougher part of the battle with little losses, and as we can see from the projections of Monday’s polling, BJP is now entering into areas where its performance has improved dramatically. As electioneering moves towards Poorvanchal, the territory where both Modi and Yogi hold sway, and also, the territory where Hindutva has greater roots, BJP will most likely grow from strength to strength.

Before we enter Poorvanchal, let us take stock of the UP battle so far as we have reached the midpoint with 39 seats having already voted. As we have already seen, in the 4th phase, BJP managed to get an additional 2% swing from its 2014 peak, even as both the Congress as well as the MGB declined by a similar percentage. This is becoming the feature of the 2019 election in Uttar Pradesh. There is a small transmission glitch among SP-BSP voters as a few of the traditional voters are refusing to vote for the other party in the alliance – a small but significant number of Yadavs not voting for BSP candidates and similar behavior of Jatav voters with regards to SP candidates. Congress is losing a small portion of its vote simply because it is not seen as a serious contender by the voters. Then there are five factors which are helping BJP increase its vote-share due to a positive swing.

  1. Modi is seen as the only contender for the Prime Minister which is why a lot of swing voters and fence sitters are choosing to vote for the lotus.
  2. All other castes are consolidating behind Modi and BJP, even as there are minor shifts among Yadav and Jatav voters in favor of the saffron party.
  3. Good governance, Modi’s performance and lack of corruption are creating an undercurrent in favour of the ruling party.
  4. Amit Shah’s better micro-management at the candidate level is giving BJP a stronger local game than expected.
  5. Kahaan pada hai chakkar mein, koi nahi hai takkar mein” (loosely translated as “what are you confused about? There is simply no competition”) is an often used phrase in UP. It is working this time for BJP as the perception that Modi is winning everywhere else is gaining much currency with each passing phase. In galis and nukkads everybody is talking about how BJP is sweeping Bengal or Rajasthan and what and what not. This is creating a sense that one should not waste their votes unnecessarily, leading to even greater traction for Modi.

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Thus, after four phases, MAPi trackers have enough data to classify 27 seats for the BJP, while the MGB has been given only 5 leads. The remaining 7 seats are in the “Tossup” column still, but as the momentum keeps shifting, a few of these too may start leaning towards BJP. With 41 seats yet to go, a solid 60+ seat haul for BJP looks very much on the cards as of today. If we have underestimated the Modi factor by even as little as 2 points, then expect a repeat of 2014, despite an alliance. These trends will once again teach the political parties that negative campaigns seldom yield results in India.