Any election trend analysis of Uttar Pradesh would be incomplete without a visit to Bahraich. This is a constituency with a strong bell-weather credentials – in 1977, Janata candidate won here, but in the next two elections Congress emerged the winner while 1989 saw Janata Dal’s victory. In the more recent elections, Bahraich elected BJP in 1999, SP in 2004, Congress in 2009 and BJP again in 2014 (must be remembered here that Vajpayee formed the government in 1999 while 2004 saw a completely split verdict and a large coalition of parties forming a government, but when Congress & UPA won an unexpected victory in 2009, Bahraich also went with Congress).
Of course, there is more to Bahraich than merely representing national political trend. In the 2019 election, Bahraich is caught between a cross-section of demographic and political currents and countercurrents. It is here that Congress adopted a Hindutva spawning, saffron clad Dalit Sadhvi from BJP and put her as its candidate, while the Mahagathbandhan has put up a Valmiki SC who goes by a Muslim name. The political landscape of UP doesn’t get more labyrinthine than this – there is Hindutva riding on secularism, there is a Dalit disguise to a Muslim identity, there is EBC vote consolidation and Muslim vote confusion – almost every political and demographic complexity of Uttar Pradesh seems to have found its way here.
Quite a few Muslims here were angry with MP Savitri Bai Phule because of her alleged bias after the Nanpara riots of 2017 when Muslims and Dalits clashed during the Prophet Mohammad anniversary procession, but are now baffled that Congress has made her the candidate. On Monday last, our trackers surprisingly found Muslim vote being divided here between Congress and Mahagathbandhan. There is an interesting insight we got from Muslim voters from here. A substantial number of them feel that Hindus here will not vote for the MGB candidate because of his name – Shabbir Ahmed Valmiki, who was born in a Valmiki family but raised by a Muslim family during childhood. Therefore, quite a few Muslims here believed that Congress as a national party stands a better chance of defeating the BJP and consequently they have voted for the hand symbol despite the anger against its candidate.
This is a new form of questionnaire design and statistical model we have developed recently wherein we ask voters as to who do they think “others” are voting for in their constituency, and then we weight the responses accordingly (will write a detailed paper someday on how to statistically model this new way of assessing voting trends). This gives an interesting picture of the underlying geography, because it paints weighted picture of various currents and countercurrents.
The situation was so acute in Bahraich that even among Valmiki and Pasi community to which SP and Congress candidate belong, the number one choice was BJP’s Akshayvarlal Gond, a five time MLA. In fact, many voters did not even know the name of the candidate and were simply voting lotus due to Prime Minister Modi. Be it Valmikis, Pasis, Nishads, Vishwakarmas or even Yadavs, everybody was talking about being a “Labharthi” (beneficiary of Modi schemes) across the constituency.
Travel some 300 kilometers from here to the backward Chitrakoot region where Banda was the last of Bundelkhand seat that went to polls on Monday and you would find the situation no different at all. Large number of OBC, EBC and non-Jatav SC voters were seen voting for R.K. Singh Patel of the BJP, a sitting MLA who had defeated Dadua’s son Vir Singh in the 2017 elections. In this Kurmi dominated seat all three contestants have been former associates of the dreaded Kurmi dacoit Dadua who was killed in 2007 – in fact, Congress party’s Balkumar Patel is the late Dadua’s brother.
Mahagathbandhan had fielded sitting Allahabd MP from BJP, Shyama Charan Gupta who left the saffron party as he was denied the ticket. This beedi baron is a known party hopper and was seen to be trailing on Monday because of this, even though the Kurmi vote was split at nearly 60:40 levels because of Congress party. Even in Chitrakoot, we met a few Labharthi Pramukhs who were all assigned some 10-odd polling booths each and all of them carried a list of families who have benefited from various Modi schemes.
We could see firsthand that in each polling booth there were at least some 30 families (in some the number would be as high as 80) who had availed one or the other of the central government schemes. There were a surprisingly large number of farmers who had already got two installments of the PMKISAN yojana or 4000 rupees. “There are 75 lakh farmers in Uttar Pradesh who have benefited from the PMKISAN scheme, these are the people who are our goodwill ambassadors” explained a Pramukh to us. “4000 rupees may not mean much to you, but it makes a world of difference in these parts of India”, he further emphasized.
This is why the rainbow Modi coalition of NY-OBCs, EBCs and NJ-SCs has sustained so well in Uttar Pradesh. Modi is literally a messiah for the poor and the marginalized sections, just like Indira Gandhi once was – even today, many slums in different parts of urban and suburban India are named as Indira Nagar to symbolize that bond. What happened in the high profile Barabanki constituency on Monday best demonstrates this USHV – United Spectrum of Hindu Votes – phenomenon.
Here SP had fielded its veteran leader Ram Sagar Rawat, but a vast number of SCs, including Chamars, voted for the Lotus because they couldn’t find the elephant symbol. BJP has managed to virtually retain its votes in this seat, despite of the fact that opposition had made the “awara pashu” (stray cattle) a major campaign theme here. Even if BJP gets a small chunk of the roughly 1.2 lakh “unsure/swing” votes, it should easily retain this seat, as Congress has clearly hurt the opposition by eating into the MGB votes.
Mohanlalganj in Lucknow was another classic example of how Congress was hurting the opposition cause. The grand old party had fielded former associate of Kanshi Ram and one of the founding fathers of the BSP, R.K. Chaudhary here and he was clearly hurting the official BSP candidate as not only the Chamar voters, but even the Muslims seem to have given a split verdict. The Pasis who are about 20% of the voters in this seat have stuck to Kaushal Kishore of the BJP at the rate of almost 3:1. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Yadav vote here has also gone substantially in favor of the lotus which once again shows how the vote transfer between SP & BSP has been quite erratic throughout this election season.
Meanwhile, in Dhaurhara, the opposition vote split was in three ways as the Yadav vote was also partially accruing to former dacoit Malkhan Singh who had been fielded by Shivpal Yadav’s party. The hapless Jitin Prasad of the Congress may once again end up being a distant third in this contest, even as Rekha Verma seems to have retained a big chunk of Kurmi votes which matter the most here. Muslim vote was split here too, despite of the fact that MGB had put up a Muslim candidate – a section of UP Muslims still strongly believe that only Congress can take on the BJP in the national elections and consequently end up voting for the hand symbol. This is indeed coming as a surprise to us, for it now looks increasingly possible that Congress is doing much better than expected in Uttar Pradesh and may end up hurting the MGB alliance far more than they first believed.
Yet, Dhaurhara is one of the seats that has been classified as “tossup” by MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – because of a larger number of unsure votes and swing polling booths. Kaushambi too has been classified as another tossup seat because MAPi could not correctly track the votes and polling booths leaning towards the newly formed party of Raja Bhaiya who could be the key to Vinod Kumar Sonkar’s (BJP sitting MP) victory here. Lucknow, Faizabad and Gonda were virtually no contests for the BJP. Rajnath Singh is once again likely to win by over 2 lakh votes as almost 30% Muslims too have voted for him in Lucknow. Both Amethi and Rae Bareli should stay with Congress, although local BJP cadre strongly believes that Smriti Irani has caused a huge upset in the former. Our models still think the chance of an upset in Amethi is only 32% and Rahul Gandhi is the odds-on favorite.
Overall, BJP is clearly ahead in 9 seats in this phase, while 3 seats have been classified as “tossups”. The Mahagatbandhan, as per MAPi, doesn’t have clear lead in any seat and the Congress is ahead in 2. The saffron party should be quite happy with the performance on Monday as it seems to have nearly retained the same strength as 2014. This should come as a sigh of relief for BJP supporters too, especially because of the scare that had been put up after the SP, BSP alliance.
The situation in Madhya Pradesh though is slightly worrying. The secular 10% jump in turnout is something that should be taken a serious note of, although turnout increase or decrease do not have any psephological significance on their own. As we keep stressing, what matters more is the turnout differential of different sub-groups. Interestingly, in Madhya Pradesh there is another x factor of the sub-regions in this election as different parts are voting a bit differently – uniform swing theory is still at work, but a little subdued.
BJP is facing tougher headwinds in the eastern parts of the state – those districts closer to Chhattisgarh where the saffron party suffered a humiliating defeat in the assembly elections of last November. Whereas in other parts of the state, the lotus is doing much better. We saw similar trends on Monday too as Vindhyachal division tended to give BJP a tough time, while Bundelkhand and Narmadapuram divisions were more supportive to Modi’s bid for reelection.
In Hoshangabad for instance, known as the Narmada umbilical cord of the RSS, MAPi – Micro Analytical Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – consistently showed leads for the BJP on Monday, despite Congress putting up herculean efforts to cause an upset. Uday Pratap Singh, the two time MP from here has won both on Congress and BJP tickets because he has his own pockets of influence across the district. His victory margin in 2014 was a whopping 3.8 lakh votes which is a difficult obstacle to beat for the Congress party in just one election cycle. In the neighboring Betul LS seat though, the story changed a bit as both Congress and BJP were seen to be neck-to-neck on Monday. There was a lot of localized anti-incumbency in this tribal dominated seat which is why BJP had to change its sitting MP, but that doesn’t seem to have fully negated people’s anger.
In the three seats of Bundelkhand, BJP was ahead in two while one was classified as “tossup”. Khajuraho is the lone tossup seat here because it is seeing a strong contest from the Congress candidate who happens to be the Maharani of Chhattarpur whose husband is also a sitting MLA. The delay in BJP ticket allocation and the dissidence after that may have also hurt the party. It must be remembered here that Uma Bharati has a strong connect in this district and the entire region, but her campaign was lackluster this time around.
The other two seats of Vindhyachal region seem to be worrying BJP the most. The bottomline is that BJP will most likely suffer a few losses in this round of MP elections as it had swept all the 7 seats last time. MAPi is suggesting only 3 straightforward leads for BJP on Monday last. Therefore, the losses could go up to 4 seats, but if the saffron party manages to win 2 of the tossup seats, then it could still end up giving good showing this time too. The good news for the BJP is that as the election moves in a more westward direction towards the Malwa belt, the saffron party’s chances will improve significantly. Whatever said and done, unlike Rajasthan where BJP reversed the assembly election trend fairly easily and managed to literally sweep the state, Madhya Pradesh led by Kamalnath is giving a tough fight.
After UP and MP, let us look at the other heartland state of Bihar which gives a completely contrasting picture when compared to Madhya Pradesh. All the five seats that voted on Monday in Bihar have shown clear leads for the NDA. This one state that has consistently shown sweep like leads for the saffron alliance throughout the 2019 election season. BJP was in contest in three seats here on Monday – Rajiv Pratap Rudy in the Saran seat, Ajay Nishad in Muzaffarpur and Ashok Yadav, the son of Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav in Madhubani – all three of them should retain the seats pretty comfortably.
LJP and JDU were in contest in the other two seats and they too should easily make it through. The rainbow coalition of strong upper castes, Kurmis, Mahadalits, SC voters and EBCs represented by the BJP-JDU-LJP combo is demographically so strong that it should lead to a landslide just purely based on the arithmetic. When you add the general pro-incumbency mood in favor of Modi and the strong presence of cadres everywhere to that already powerful arithmetic, this alliance becomes virtually undefeatable. On the other-hand, the problems for the RJD led UPA alliance were multifold.
In the neighbouring Jharkhand too, the situation is similar for the BJP. Here, the opposition has come together to form a grand alliance of four parties – Congress, RJD, JMM and JVM – which should have been a formidable opposition for the BJP, at least on paper, but it is not turning out to be the case in reality. There are many factors for the continuing hegemony of BJP in this highly mineral rich, largely tribal state, but two are of utmost importance.
Firstly, the grand alliance of opposition did not include the Communists which was a mistake as the Left has put up strong candidates in a few pockets, making it a triangular contest and dividing opposition votes in crucial seats. Take the case of Koderma for instance, where JVM’s Babulal Marandi, the first CM of the state is contesting as the grand alliance candidate while BJP made a smart decision of bringing in four time RJD legislator, Annapurna Devi to the contest. Here the Rajdhanwar Communist MLA, Rajkumar Yadav is the CPI-ML candidate and he is eating into the opposition vote leading to BJP going ahead in the triangular contest.
Secondly, there is a mini-Modi wave here among the OBC-Tribal-Upper caste voters who are all coming together to give the Prime Minister another chance. The reasons for these are not far to seek. Literally hundreds of villages in Jharkhand have got electricity for the very first time in 70 years and all of them are getting “bijlee” for nearly 20 hours a day. This has had a huge socio-economic impact on the poorer, rural sections of the Jharkhand society.
Of the 4 seats that went to polls on Monday, MAPi has classified three seats into saffron territory – Khunti and Hazaribagh are BJP strongholds in any case, the former represented by Karia Munda for 8 times in the Lok Sabha and this time BJP has put up, ex CM Arjun Munda. The sole seat of capital Ranchi has been classified as a tossup, though it could also end up leaning towards BJP on counting day, despite Congress having put its strongest face, Subodhkant Sahay.
As already reported on Monday, BJP is leading in two seats of Bengal and TMC in three, while 2 seats are in the tossup category. The saffron party is definitely headed for a double-digit tally in this former Left bastion, but whether it will breach the 15-seat mark remains to be seen. In Rajasthan, apart from two tossup seats, BJP has lead in all others that went to polls on Monday. It is quite possible that the national ruling party may well repeat the total sweep of 2014 in this western state which could potentially spell trouble to the Congress state government that is standing on a wafer-thin majority.