The BJP is winning UP—at least according to the India Today-Axis Survey released on 4 January. Riding on the Modi factor, the BJP will do better than the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), if the survey done from October to December is to be believed. On the other hand, the ABP News-Lokniti-CSDS poll released on same day projected a hung assembly, giving 141-151 seats to the Samajwadi Party, 129-139 to the BJP, and 93-103 to the BSP. The vote percentage for the Axis Survey for BJP, SP and BSP is projected as 33%, 26% and 26% respectively. The same projected by CSDS-Lokniti was 27%, 30% and 22% respectively for the three parties—leaving Congress irrelevant.
Although both surveys differed on who would win the majority of seats, they both agreed that the real fight was between the BJP and SP and the BSP would finish a poor third.
Lalu, Mayawati and opinion polls
Making any conclusions based on the above opinion polls would be ill-advised without first checking how the two polling agencies fared when it came to pre-poll surveys ahead of the 2015 state elections in Bihar. Back then, the India Today survey had projected 125 seats to the NDA, but it actually won only 58. That is 50% lower than the projection. The CSDS Lokniti survey done exclusively for Indian Express gave the NDA a 4% lead over the RJD-JDU alliance. When the results came out, though, the NDA lost badly to the RJD-JDU alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav winning the highest number of seats.
Ahead of the Bihar polls, the India Today survey had projected 125 seats to the NDA, but it won only 58. That is 50% less than the projection.
To see how horribly wrong the India Today survey went, one needs to look at a popularity survey conducted by CDDS where Lalu Prasad featured in the negative.
It is no secret that Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mayawati, two of the most popular leaders of North India have never been favourites of the mainstream media or pollsters, and are often shown in a negative light even in surveys.
It may be recalled that in the 2007 elections of UP, which the BSP won by a handsome margin, no pollster had projected a majority for it—neither in the surveys nor in the exit polls. So should Mayawati worry that the current surveys are relegating the BSP to second or third spot? Not necessarily.
Samajwadi Parivar climax
The timing of the survey from October to December does not seem to assess in detail the impact should the Samajwadi Party head for a split. Also, the surveys do not seem to gauge the impact of freezing of the party's cycle symbol. At the time of writing this, a truce was still not achieved and the only respite for the SP workers were reports of Shivpal Yadav meeting Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who has the support of most of the MLAs.
Since the split is yet not confirmed officially, let us assume that SP manages to come together and fights on the cycle symbol. This is precisely what the opinion polls may have assumed. The survey indicates that SP is not going to form the government even in the best case scenario. Irrespective of the credibility of the surveys, reports of the BJP having a real chance of coming to power in the state on its own after a long time are a cause of worry for the Muslim electorate. A return of the Kalyan Singh strain of Mandir politics is the last thing they will want. Despite its severe criticism of the SP government for its failure to contain Shamali-Muzaffarnagar and other riots, a majority of Muslims still supported SP during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But the BSP has also been making steady inroads with them over the years. While the Samajwadi Party's support base among Muslims has fallen from 45% in 2007 to 39% in 2012, the same for BSP has grown from 18% in 2007 to 20% in 2012.
Although Muslims had been angry with Mayawati for siding with the BJP in the past, her previous stints saw an improved law and order situation and a fairly riot-free rule.
It may be noted that during the 2009 UP elections, Muslims heavily shifted to the Congress, party with 25% supporting it; only 30% voted for SP, thereby enabling the Congress party to win 19 seats from the state, to the surprise of many.
This means that the Samajwadi Party's Muslim base is far from rock solid. It may tilt towards the Congress or BSP. The Congress party is in tatters and the only hope they have now is an alliance with Akhilesh, should he break away from his father.
The Muslim vote
This is precisely why Azam Khan of Samajwadi Party is trying desperately to forge a solution to the impasse in the party. He reportedly met Mulayam Singh Yadav and said in no uncertain terms that he could not choose between a father and son and if there is any split if the party, the majority of traditional Muslim support could move to Mayawati.
Although Muslims had been angry with Mayawati for siding with BJP in the past, very few would disagree that all her previous stints had one good outcome—an improved law and order and a fairly riot-free rule. This factor could be a huge bonus for BSP which is looking to bounce back after a dismal performance in the general elections where it drew blank for the first time since 1989.
An analysis done by Amitabh Tiwari and Subhash Chandra on a possible Muslim shift towards BSP in the upcoming UP polls supports this. According to this article, the BSP may get around 30-50% of Muslim vote share in the 2017 elections; Dalit and votes from other sections will take BSP to around 30% share—which is a winning formula for UP. Arguing that security is the priority for Muslims, the analysts wrote, "Muslims have been unhappy over SP's handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The Dadri incident has further alienated the community from the SP. Besides, Muslims' voting behaviour in the recent past has been BJP-centric — 'negative voting' — as they have voted for a party that could defeat BJP."
Incessant infighting in SP, an irrelevant Congress, combined with opinion polls and channels giving the BJP the edge, may well lead Muslims to extend their votes to the BSP.
A 10-15% shift of Muslims towards BSP could change the fortunes of the party. That is why Mayawati has been heavily banking on a Dalit-Muslim combination this time. While announcing 97 tickets to Muslims out of 403, she reiterated that this community should not waste their votes on SP or Congress, as it may benefit the BJP. It appears imminent that even if Samajwadi Party stops short of splitting and a last-minute compromise is reached, it could be dogged by rebel candidates in at least 100 constituencies. This was clear from the separate list released by CM Akhilesh Yadav and party president Mulayam Singh Yadav before the saga of expulsion began in late December. In the fight for supremacy, warring factions are likely to work underground to cut each other to size despite a patch up.
Therefore, regardless of whether SP splits or not, Muslims looking to Mayawati appears very likely. Incessant infighting in SP, an irrelevant Congress, combined with a bunch of opinion polls and channels giving the BJP the edge, may well lead Muslims to extend their votes to the BSP.
This is why opinion polls showing BJP doing well in UP may not be a bad thing for Mayawati.