An unbiased constituency-wise review of polling in each of the five completed rounds in Uttar Pradesh indicates that the BJP might lose 6 out of 8 in the first round, 4 out of 8 in the second, 6 out of 10 in the third round, 10 out of 13 in the fourth and 5 out of 14 in the just concluded fifth round on May 6.
In all, BJP might not be able to win 31 seats out of 53 seats for which polling is over. At this rate, it can be safely predicted that the loss of seats for BJP in UP alone would easily cross the 40 mark out of 73 seats in its kitty presently (BJP 71 and 2 won by its ally Apna Dal in 2014).
These five rounds might have reaffirmed BJP’s dominance over urban UP except in Kanpur. But the SP-BSP alliance is a force to reckon with in rural UP, and that too in all regions that have gone to polls so far. It is clearly causing substantial damage to the BJP in UP.
Even local BJP leaders concede that not only their votes would come down but even seats too would fall by 20–25 compared to their 2014 tally. The strongest proponents of the theory of prevalence of a strong undercurrent in favour of Modi among journalists also cite similar figures. However, if you speak to SP-BSP activists, they put BJP’s decline at 40–45 seats. The truth to be known on 23 May would hover between these two extremes.
Undercurrents in elections are dicey categories difficult to gauge and how to cross check whether there is such an undercurrent in favour of Modi personally and, if it exists, how to measure it and how to track its conversion to voting patterns ultimately?
A specific probe with these queries in mind in those regions yet to go to polls in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds revealed the striking fact that undercurrents also have some counter currents as well.
It is true that there is a feeling that there is no credible authoritative alternative to Modi among some sections. But a disaggregated probe among different social groups reveals that they are concentrated more among urban voters and upper caste voters and some non-committal non-Yadav OBCs in rural areas. Why is it so?
What strikes the dispassionate observer at first sight during these polls is a lack of enthusiasm among the BJP ranks. Part of it is due to the fact that for some reason comparable big money is not flowing from Amit Shah’s coffers as it did in 2014.
More than that, the commercial classes and the local business community, who comprise one of the biggest sources of poll funding for local leaders and organisers, have tightened their purse strings to the BJP not only because of the anger at demonetisation and GST but also because business has become dull in any case and income flow is not as it used to be five-ten years back.
So the money flow has thinned down to a trickle. While not working very vigorously as in the past, this dampened enthusiasm among the BJP followers and traditional BJP voters themselves reflects as the above undercurrent as they are the ones who pin their hopes on the TINA factor even as they are not quite forthcoming to spend money out of their own pockets.
If the undercurrent that there is no alternative to Modi is so widespread, why is it not transforming into a wave and how can it explain low voter turnout and visible lack of enthusiasm among the voters? Probing a bit deeper, we find that there are differential responses among different upper castes themselves.
The conventional Bania voters like Aggarwals-Guptas and even some upwardly mobile OBCs like Kushwahas and Mauryas who are now taking to business, who had borne the brunt of demonetisation and GST, even while granting that there is no powerful alternative to Modi, are sounding so fed-up when they say they would not vote for any party this time and a few informed ones among them even say they would vote for NOTA.
The upper castes already constitute a confirmed BJP vote bank and no undercurrent among them is going to alter the final outcome in any case. It is already clear that this election has turned out to be a low voter turnout election and later 23 May might reveal that this is also a high-NOTA poll as well.
Another uncertainty in the Lok Sabha polls in UP this time is the possible impact of what appears to be a low index of opposition unity. SP-BSP excluding the Congress from their alliance would harm the anti-BJP opposition in how many seats? But there are also reports of a tacit understanding between Congress and the gathbandhan in Fatehpur Sikri, Amroha, Meerut, Agra and so on in Western UP and Bundelkhand.
The seats with such understanding may be less in other regions. Some local Congress leaders say that in all about 12–15 seats the Congress is bound to affect gathbandhan’s chances out of which Congress might win 8–10 and the actual advantage to the BJP might be a maximum of 5–6 or at the most 8–10.
Surprisingly, there is no sharp communal polarisation in UP even to the extent it prevails in Bihar. Nobody remembers Ayodhya, neither BJP nor opposition. Yet nationalism has some appeal.
Another strong point of Modi and BJP however is a set of policy measures like free gas stoves, rural roads, Pradhanmantri Awas Yojana and direct cash transfers. In a conspiratorial move, the UP administration first credited ₹2000 to many small farmers having bank accounts with Kisan Credit Cards as the first instalment of Modi’s ₹6000 per annum promise but blocked its withdrawal and took back the money in a couple of days under the pretext of Model Code of Conduct of the Election Commission being in force. It has created a mixed impact.
Opposition supporters see that as a deliberate ploy to blackmail farmers indirectly saying that they would get the money only if they voted for the BJP. Among some it has generated hope and they see it as tangible item in the hand than Rahul’s promise of ₹72,000 which is akin a bird in hand being worth two in the bush.
It still remains a promise, people do appreciate Naya but Congress is not able to convey the credible impression that it can come to power riding on that promise. This is the reason why BJP still has an edge in half the number of seats and in many seats it is close triangular contest. Like the rest of India, UP too eagerly awaits 23 May 2019.