POLITICS

X Factor BSP Makes Uttar Pradesh Anybody's Guess

Who will BSP hurt more, and by how much?

10/03/2017 12:57 AM IST | Updated 10/03/2017 8:29 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
LUCKNOW, INDIA - FEBRUARY 19: Bahujan Samaj Party Chief Mayawati after casting her vote at Lucknow Mont. Inter College, Purana Qila, on February 19, 2017 in Lucknow, India. The third phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh ended on Sunday in 69 assembly constituencies. (Photo by Dheeraj Dhawan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The month-long Uttar Pradesh election has been marked by several ironies. One such has been the BSP's failure in winning over Muslim votes. As a pre-poll alliance consolidated Muslim votes for the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, it was clear which way Muslims were going.

There could be an argument over numbers, but everyone agrees the SP-Congress was more popular with Muslims than the BSP.

The failure of the Dalit-Muslim alliance meant the BSP wasn't seen as having swept the first two phases, which were Muslim-dominated. It may still have its best strike rate in the first phase, but for the BSP to actually win this election, it needed to sweep it.

Before the election, it was the BSP which was seeking to become the Muslim pole of Hindu-Muslim polarisation, and the SP hoped to keep polarization politics away, so as to keep consistent its core message of Akhilesh Yadav's development work. But the Congress alliance and resulting Muslim consolidation turned the SP-Congress into the Muslim pole, driving away many potential Hindu voters. This was especially the case amongst those upper castes who were unhappy with the BJP for one reason or another.

In many constituencies, this reporter saw people speak of the BSP as they didn't want to vote for the BJP or SP/INC for whatever reason. Those who had nobody, had the BSP. The BSP thus became a catch-all party that Brahmins and Muslims and Kurmis were willing to vote for, depending on perceived constituency-level arithmetic. For instance, in Barabanki district near Lucknow, one saw Kurmis vote for BSP as they were annoyed over denial of tickets to Kurmis by both the BJP and the SP.

Those who had nobody, had the BSP. The BSP thus became a catch-all party.

In Gauriganj constituency, part of the Amethi parliamentary seat, a group of first-time voters hung around a shop as they requested to not be named. They were from different castes and communities, Brahmin and Yadav included. They said they were afraid of violence and retribution by the SP candidate, Rakesh Singh, a Thakur, whom they accused of Thakurvaad – caring only for Thakur constituents. They said only Thakurs were getting jobs and positions in local government institutions. They wanted to get rid of Thakur domination.

The Congress was also contesting the seat – one of those legacies of the messy alliance. But the Congress candidate was a Muslim so they didn't want to vote for him. The BJP candidate was a Brahmin, but he was singularly the most unpopular Brahmin in the area, they said. The only reason he had got a ticket, they complained, was that he was close to Smriti Irani.

This left them with only one option, the BSP, which had a good Brahmin candidate. Good candidates who were given tickets much in advance, was the BSP's USP this election. Voters in many constituencies complained of the poor candidates put up by both the BJP and the SP/INC.

In phases 6 and 7 in particular, eastern UP voters are said to have looked at the BSP quite favourably. The BSP failed to have any over-arching narrative this election. Its Dalit-Muslim alliance flopped. Its main USP over the Samajwadi Party, that of law and order, was owned by the BJP. But not having any narrative became an advantage as the phases progressed in a waveless, caste-arithmetic, seat-by-seat election. Since voters know the BSP has a fixed and formidable Dalit votebank, the BSP seemed to be in the race in many places, although not as many as the BJP or the SP-Congress alliance.

The BSP failed to have any over-arching narrative this election. Its Dalit-Muslim alliance flopped. Its main USP over the Samajwadi Party, that of law and order, was owned by the BJP.

Funnily, both the BJP and the SP encouraged the BSP. The BJP did so openly, by attacking the SP and not the BSP. Amit Shah, the BJP's national president, openly said in a press conference the BSP had considerable jan-adhar, public support. Meanwhile, in seats where the contest seemed to be between the BSP and the BJP, the Samajwadi Party was secretively helping build public mood for the BSP.

Muslim voters who think the SP-Congress wasn't going to win in their seat, went to BSP. Trading community voters upset with the BJP, went to BSP. And so on and so forth.

The BSP's revival after the initial sense that it was essentially an SP vs BJP election, made it a complex three-way fight. For the first time in about 15 years, UP is seeing a proper three-way contest like the '90s.

Funnily, both the BJP and the SP encouraged the BSP. The BJP did so openly, by attacking the SP and not the BSP.

In such an election, the BSP is the X factor. It is the BSP's performance that is the most unpredictable, and the most fortuitous. The more votes the BSP took away, the more it hurt the BJP, though in many places it seemed to be hurting the SP-Congress too.

More than how many seats the BSP wins, the deciding factor will be the seats where the BSP doesn't win. Whose votes the BSP has managed to divide in those constituencies where it comes second, will be the most interesting aspect to study in the actual results. As for the BSP's performance itself, most do not expect it to cross 100. But the three-way matrix, seat by seat, has been so complex, nothing is impossible.

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