[This is part 1 of the two part Uttar Pradesh election analysis based on Team 5Forty3’s survey conducted between June 28th and July 14th]

Today I am an independent woman who can take care of her children” says Prema Devi, a young Dalit Jatav ‘social worker’ near Kanpur who then goes on to add, “Mayawati ji gave us self-respect no doubt, but that is not enough to sustain our day-to-day lives; we learnt sustenance at our neighbourhood Swavalambi Seva Karya”. That Seva Karya is run by RSS in a nearby Seva Basti – In fact, we are told that there are more than 22000 Swavalambi Seva Karyas across the state of Uttar Pradesh operating in hundreds of Seva Bastis that cater especially to the downtrodden backward and Dalit groups in the slums where no governments dare to go. “Our votes are definitely for Modi, he is trying so hard (sic) and must be given a full chance to change our lives” her friend joins in our conversation even while Prema Devi is checking WhatsApp messages on her smart phone.

These young Dalit women who should have otherwise been the natural constituency of BSP and Maya are the representatives of the new Uttar Pradesh where even rural conversations with perfect strangers can involve terms like “4G”, “WhatsApp”, “GST”, “Parliament logjam” and even “ISIS”. It is in this Uttar Pradesh that RSS stands out with its quiet, under-the-radar groundwork to bring about change. For instance, apart from the Swavalambi Seva Karyas, RSS also runs some 19000 health-care camps come dispensary units and nearly 80000 education programmes across the state under the aegis of Seva Bastis. It is these tireless activities that endear vast sections of UP society, cutting across caste-lines, to the Sangh philosophy. Contrary to what many in the media and social media universe believe, RSS and other Sangh bodies are not merely BJP’s election agents, but they are actual agents of change holding together disparate units of Hindu society. But yes, when these tireless foot soldiers take an “active interest” during the election season, they can make a huge impact to BJP’s fortunes.

This taking of “active interest” by the Sangh ecosystem is a vital link in BJP’s electoral clog, especially in this most populous state of India which is a country within a country. In the summer of 2014 (and a couple of years preceding that), RSS had shown unprecedented interest in not only creating a massive campaign against the national ruling party, the Congress, but also in building a groundswell of support for BJP which reflected in the unmatched results of May 2014. The fact that RSS held its weeklong meet of Pracharaks from all over India in a private college in Kanpur last week is ample indication of how much importance the Sangh has attached to the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections. “The ability of the Sangh to evolve vital demographic outreach strategies in complete confidence with zero leaks to the media or the outside world despite involving tens and thousands of Pracharaks is what makes its electoral strategies so successful” observes a former Swayamsevak from the Kanpur region. “In fact, even BJP (which often leaks too much information) is mostly unaware of the details of the current RSS session in Maharana Pratap college”, he adds in good measure.

Away from the media glare and beyond the political pundits’ (pseudo) intellectual reach, the most crucial factor that would decide who rules Uttar Pradesh for the next 5 years depends on how best can BJP strategically align with the RSS ecosystem. Contrary to general perceptions, the Sarsanghchalak (Mohan ji Bahgwat in this case) is not the most important strategic institution in the RSS scheme of things. Instead, it is the Sarakaryavah or the General Secretaries who hold more power in strategic political matters. It is in this context that the return of Suresh Soni, the Joint General Secretary (Sah-Sarakaryavah), to manage the UP elections in the place of a more traditionalist Krishna Gopal assumes such vital importance.

“Krishna Gopal ji was a wrong man for Uttar Pradesh in the first place, he simply never fully grasped the caste dynamics of the state” avers the same former Swayamsevak from Kanpur. “Suresh Soni understands the realpolitik needs of the myriad caste calculations of Uttar Pradesh and is a lot more practical in his approach unlike other RSS ideologues who are uncompromising in their attitudes”, he concluded.

The ratings game

Whatever the reason, the drift after the humungous BJP performance of 2014 has been distinctly visible for some time now. Until just a few months ago one could clearly discern the disenchantment of ordinary voters in UP with BJP. The Modi government and a large number of its sitting MPs had accumulated a lot of anti-incumbency in a very short span of 2 years – this is indeed a feature of the post-tech, social-media and internet generation voters of India which is marked by abundant quantities of restless energy and gargantuan expectations. In the last 3 months, this drift seems to have been reversed to a large extent as is borne by our first set of ratings and approval data numbers of sitting governments.


  • An overwhelming majority of voters (72%) approve of Narendra Modi the Prime Minister – when given a straight choice – which is a stellar performance considering the severe lack of attention spans and brand loyalties in this era of frivolousness. Furthermore, a breakdown analysis of the approval numbers shows that the PM retains a very high percentage of Dalit-OBC support along with BJP’s core upper-caste voters of UP whereas his disapproval comes maximum from minorities. Even more interestingly, 3 out of every 4 BSP supporters and 2 out of every 3 SP supporters gave positive ratings for BJP while less than 1 out of every 4 Congress voters were positive – this clearly shows that BJP’s incremental vote is likely to come from the non-Muslim vote-banks of the two regional parties rather than the Congress which used to be the traditional poaching base for BJP as the sole national alternative.
  • The constant and vicious attacks by the media-intellectual clique and unnecessary dramas like the award-wapasi campaigns and, more importantly, the JNU fracas, seem to have belatedly backfired on the Lutyens intelligentsia as voters have begun to empathise with Modi. One of the regular refrains one heard across UP was that “Modi is not being allowed to work (inside and outside parliament)” which has also unwittingly attained class-caste connotations wherein the “traditional establishment” is seen to be putting up deliberate obstacles on a “backward” PM’s development pathway. This is also the reason why an unusually large 33% of voters (every 3rd voter) are willing to give more time to the central government.
  • The sheer contrast in ratings of the state and central governments is also a clear indication of the magnitude of anti-incumbency that the Akhilesh Yadav government is facing while the central government has still retained some of its aura. As a general rule, we have seen in the past that any sitting government which has an approval rating below 50% tends to suffer from big ticket anti-incumbency and invariably loses the ensuing election. While 49% of the voters believe that the SP government is either bad or worst, only 21% voters have given a positive rating of “good” or “excellent”. What this essentially means is that the ruling Samajwadi Party will find it extremely difficult to get any incremental vote beyond its diehard support base. In sharp contrast, the central government still gets a positive rating of 64% and only 16% of the voters give it a negative rating.

Five key issues

What goes through voters’ minds when they judge a sitting government? This is a classic question that many psephologists ask themselves without often getting a clear answer. Classically, voters have an intrinsic understanding of how much their lives have changed under the sitting government as compared to previous governments, but it is for us psephologists to mathematically quantify it. For instance, why do BJP governments of say Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh keep getting re-elected continuously while in a state like UP there seems to be a constant see-saw?

When Mayawati took over Uttar Pradesh in 2007, the state’s GDP stood at 74.5 billion dollars and when she exited office in 2012 it had virtually doubled to 146.2 billion dollars. In the last 3 odd years (we have clear data till 2014-15), under Akhilesh Yadav, UP’s GDP has grown by an abysmal 10% only. On the other hand, RTI data reveals that while the previous BSP government had managed to control communal riots to reasonable proportions, riots and deaths have seen a sharp increase in the Akhilesh era. This is a classic case of poor economic growth coupled with increased lawlessness as compared to the previous government. Thus, essentially UP voters have no reason to vote back the sitting government and these high levels of anti-incumbency are reflected in our survey numbers.


In India whenever we ask any subset of population at any given point of time about what is their biggest complaint about any sitting government, two issues invariably crop up – inflation and corruption. Since these two issues are a constant problem area for the voting populace, both are psephologically insignificant unless there are specific immediate underlying concerns (like the sudden spike in Dal prices during last year’s Bihar election). Beyond the headline numbers of seat-shares, almost all pollsters in India gloss over all other findings by either not investing in asking important questions while designing the questionnaire or by neglecting the collected data which is why most of them invariably go wrong in their projections. Over the years, we at 5Forty3 have developed significantly improved methodologies to gauge voters’ moods which also involves giving utmost importance to people’s key problems and issues by eliminating the “noise” of corruption and inflation and digging deeper to unearth more specific areas.

When we asked the sample populace of Uttar Pradesh to identify key issues which were going to impact their voting decisions, 5 broad issues arose out of our survey. While a host of agrarian issues and lack of employment opportunities are the primary concerns of UP voters at 41%, the deteriorating law & order and communal situation are important to almost every 3rd voter in the state. Health care related issues coming in at 5th place with 14% voters picking that as their primary concern is a surprise new inclusion in the list – this, in our view, indicates a slowly maturing economy which is now moving up in the value chain of demanding better health care.

When asked to identify political parties which according to the voters were best placed to solve each of these problems, there emerged significant divergence in their preferences indicating a very intelligent set of voters who are carefully weighing their options – in my experience, we have never seen such deep divergence in voters’ opinions.

Apart from the fact that the ruling Samajwadi Party has generally got very low preferential vote to solve any of the key problem areas, there seem to be a wide range of options that the voters have chosen. BSP’s performance in these key indices is consistent with its core vote base which believes that the party is the sole alternative to the other regional party. BJP’s strength areas are obviously in the law & order field and as a counter to the blatantly communal politics practised by the ruling party. Also, rural voters seem to be distressed beyond normal levels to reach a hopeless level of despondence which is reflected in the choice of 36% of the voters opting for the “none” option when asked who is best placed to solve their agrarian distress. There are 2 factors at play in this agrarian distress syndrome of Uttar Pradesh;

  1. Successive drought years in combination with low realized prices for agricultural produce has meant that not only was the yield poor but the farmer also got a lower incremental value for his produce
  2. A subpar performance by the agriculture ministry at the centre (for instance, the considerably long time that the central govt. took to sort the sugar mess and thereby angering the whole of west Uttar Pradesh which had overwhelmingly voted for Modi in 2014 by foregoing their traditional leaders). Prime Minister Modi seemed to have realized this and the govt. did give a rural heavy Budget this March, but the effects of many of those policies may only kick in by the end of this year (in time for the elections)

Clearly, there is a market gap of expectations from the voters on the two central factors of jobs and agrarian crisis which by the way can potentially impact the voting decision of 4 out of every 10 voters. These are crucial swing factors on which the BJP government and Narendra Bhai need to work with new vigour in the next 5-6 months.

The personality test

A political party can address all the issues that concern the voters through a manifesto of the highest standards and yet it won’t be able to attract the votes. An inanimate piece of document can stir the passions of neither a Yadav nor a Jatav; nor can the votes of Mishras and Singhs be altered merely by the abstract act of governance delivery without apportioning the credit through personification. Ideological persuasions, organizational infrastructure and party workers on the ground are all vital clogs in the electoral machinery no doubt, but what that machine truly needs – to attain mobility – is a competent driver.

An in depth understanding of mass markets of today’s India is a primary requisite to decipher the trajectory of electoral politics of this generation. One of the misconceptions that most mass-market business models have propagated over the years is that Indian consumers are very poor and are therefore extremely cost conscious. As a result, most MNCs have been busy selling stripped down versions of their products to a “poor India”. The massive failure of Tata Nano over the last decade proved to be an eye opener for these mass market theories. To put it mildly, the western educated big business honchos were taken aback by the failure of Nano – how could poor Indians say no to “the world’s cheapest” car made especially for them, so what if it was a totally stripped down version of a car?

As marketing Guru Dheeraj Sinha so eloquently explains, “Indians, even if poor, don’t want less for less, but they want more for (slightly) less”. This is in fact the mantra of success of Patanjali products. Baba Ramdev doesn’t offer “cheap” alternatives for various FMCG products of MNCs, instead he offers a lot more than what the MNC products offer at a very competitive price point – take for example, Patanjali’s Aloe Vera gel, which is quite expensive but is still selling like hot cakes in the poor backwaters of UP.

In many ways, India’s electoral landscape too mirrors our mass market behaviour. All the political parties in India were simply offering the same old stuff in the same belief that poor Indian masses cannot be discerning about their choices. Thus there was hardly any differentiation among political parties all offering “secularism” and “social-welfare schemes” as their primary wares to the voters. In 2014, Modi revolutionized that in totality by offering a completely differentiated political product to the voters. Similarly, even Kejriwal did achieve success by offering a differentiated product (at least on paper) to Dilliwallahs.

Thus in 2017 elections of Uttar Pradesh too voters will likely go for a differentiated political product than fall for the same old gimmickry of secular-socialism. It is also obvious that no political party can fight an election today under the guise of “collective leadership” which is only construed as a weak and confused party by the average populace – the one aspect that the Indian masses absolutely abhor is a confused product. Thus in our survey we elicited voter response in a 2-stage format to discover their preferred CM candidate;

  1. In the 1st stage we let the respondents choose a random candidate of their choice for the most preferred CM candidate
  2. In the 2nd stage we gave the respondents a total of 12 top leaders to choose from
  3. We then collated both sets of data but gave higher weightage to stage 1 – as that was a self-volunteered response – to arrive at the final numbers



One of the innovations we created for this round of survey was assessing the support base of each of the leaders. The idea behind this innovation was to get an insight from the support base of what they consider as the strengths and weaknesses of their preferred CM by asking the respondents to choose – A] 1 big positive of the particular leader they have voted for and B] 1 big negative of the same leader. This exercise provides some very interesting insights on why people choose a particular leader or personality to lead them. Here, the one obvious finding was that in the case of both Mayawati and Yogi Adityanath (the 2 frontrunners), their support base is almost harmonious in picking their strengths and weaknesses whereas in the case of Akhilesh Yadav and others, the negatives far outweigh the positives which indicates the severity of nervousness among even the support base.

Yogi as the saffron CM face

“It is absolutely certain that the party will announce a CM face before the elections, we are just waiting for the opportune time” says a highly placed source in the BJP. This is indeed a good sign. The fact that Sarbananda Sonowal was anointed as the CM  face of BJP in Assam after the Bihar fiasco tells us that the party leadership is extremely agile in this era of fast changing political climates and is willing to alter itself as per the needs of the electorate. There are rumours in Lucknow that there are at least 3 frontrunners in the BJP scheme of things for the upcoming state elections. Whatever the veracity of these rumours, our survey has clearly – and if I may add, surprisingly – shown that the Gorakhpur MP is the choice of BJP supporters. Let us consider what Yogi as the face of the BJP means to UP elections in a five point SWOT analysis;

Firstly, Yogi Adityanath enthuses the base like no other among the current crop of leaders in UP, there is no doubt about it. Furthermore, Yogi’s ascendancy will create similar political conditions as that of Modi’s ascendancy of 2013 vis-à-vis BJP’s reverse osmotic relationship with the intelligentsia. The fact is that whenever the intelligentsia, especially of the Lutyens variety, gets angry at BJP and starts a campaign of vilification against its leaders, it creates a much stronger opposite reaction from the party workers and supporters. Yogi Adityanath is bound to create some very angry editorial and TV studio creatures in Delhi which in turn would bring the best out of BJP-Sangh karyakarta brigade.

Secondly, Yogi has had an uneasy relationship with the Brahmins of UP who form nearly 10% of the state’s vote-weightage and also a core support base of the BJP which adds up to the historically competitive demographic space between the two powerful upper castes of UP – the Brahmins and the Thakurs. Probably sensing this as an opportunity area, PK has forced the Congress party to nominate a Khatri-Brahmin, Sheila Dixit as the Congress leader for the state, but then, Modi seems to have pre-empted this to a large extent by giving adequate weightage to UP Brahmins in the central cabinet which has generally been positively received by locals – as was evident in the last week’s national Brahmin convention of Allahabad.

Thirdly, we have always argued that BJP operates at its best in UP when it has an OBC leader at its helm – Kalyan Singh in the 90’s and Modi in 2014 as examples – and even for 2017, ideally a suave young OBC BJP leader would have made the best possible choice for the party to keep the USHV (United Spectrum of Hindu Votes) intact. BJP has already nominated an OBC as the state party president and is also building other caste coalitions which should blunt some of these OBC concerns. Even more importantly, Narendra Bhai has now entered the psyche of the OBC masses in Uttar Pradesh as the tallest OBC leader of India today (he is also the sitting MP of the state, a simple truth often glossed over), despite of the fact that he has never overtly deployed his ‘backward’ status politically. It all now depends on how best BJP creatively leverages the Prime Minister unlike it did in neighbouring Bihar with only large public rallies.

The fourth paradigm that really matters in UP’s electoral landscape is the depth of reverse Hindu vote polarization which is the only effective counter measure to overcome the tactically antagonistic Muslim vote-bank. As in 2014, there exist the right socio-political conditions in the state for BJP to take advantage of a reverse polarization due to the SP government’s blatantly Muslim pandering politics and also because of the proposed multi-party alliance of Muslim organizations including AIMIM, Peace Party and QED (Quami Ekta Dal). With the Mahant of Goraknath Math at the helm of affairs in the BJP and his Hindu Yuva Vahini working parallel with the BJP and the Sangh, it is indeed the best possible recipe for reverse polarization.


The fifth and possibly the most important aspect of Yogi-as-the-CM phenomenon is the way his campaign is designed. Even his support base agrees that Yogi’s big drawback is a perceived lack of a tangible development agenda. Unlike the 80’s and 90’s, the average Hindu voter today needs something more than purely Hindutva – in fact, this is a unique Hindu trait wherein Hindus often give more importance to mundane day-to-day economic well-being rather than pure religious identity unlike say the Muslims. Here Yogi must realize the same marketing mantra of giving “more for less”. The campaign of Yogi must be designed purely on a reformative economic agenda because his Hindutva iconography is already attached to him in any case. Especially more importance should be given to the twin agendas of job creation and agrarian distress which have emerged as the primary issues affecting UP voters. Can the Yogi from Gorakhpur reinvent himself beyond his Hindutva image? The answer to that question will also decide the long term trajectory of USHV in the largest and the most populous state of India.

A brief note on the Uttar Pradesh poll survey

This UP poll survey was conducted between June 28th and July 14th spread across 145 polling station areas covering 51 specially chosen assembly segments of all the different electoral zones of the state. Our survey covered 196 geographic locations of 23 districts and had a target sample size of 4680, giving adequately weighted representation to various castes and socio-economic groups of both the rural and urban populace (see the below tables).

Table 01

Table 02

This 5Forty3 survey has a statistical error margin of 3.1% and a historic error margin of 2.7% (based on our past record). Our polls are especially accurate because of our path-breaking swing polling booth surveys based on indigenously developed tool RSSI (Randomized Social Swing Impact) which gave us near 100% accurate results during the Bihar elections where every other pollster failed. Based on our long experience we can say that there are three main error zones for political poll surveys in India;

  • Selection bias: Our methodology has possibly a near perfect selection probability, therefore this poll survey has produced one of the most robust results.
  • Random Sampling Error: Since we have used a controlled random sampling methodology this problem has been almost completely negated; for instance, most pollsters simply use a randomized sample across the geography to arrive at findings, but our system has extensively used electoral rolls in conjecture with our own ethnic (caste) database as the sampling frame.
  • Non-Response evaluation error: Most poll surveys completely ignore “no responses” and simply concentrate on the positive responses, which artificially inflates findings. Our system actually treats “no responses” as positive findings and assigns value to them, which adds a whole new dimension to understanding people’s choices.

Clear and precise questionnaires containing 65 different questions based on 3 criteria – preferences, opinions and factual information – were prepared in Hindi/English/Urdu which were used to elicit the opinion of the respondents by carefully trained fieldworkers. The entire survey was conducted by direct face-to-face interviews without employing any CATI surveys or phone surveys. The cost of our first survey escalated due to a larger sample size necessitated by the dynamics of a large state like Uttar Pradesh – while originally we had planned a survey capped with a sample-size of 3600, the same was redesigned to expand up to 4680. We achieved an extremely frugal hit-rate of 111 rupees per response which is a new record even for the historically cost effective team 5Forty3 (industry standard rates in India are roughly 200 to 270 rupees per response).

[Tomorrow we shall analyze the headline numbers of UP poill in our 2nd and concluding part of this series]