Will BJP bite the dust in UP like it did in West Bengal, or make a comeback against the odds like in Bihar?

Few expect BJP’s tally to fall below 150 or SP’s tally to go much beyond 200. Lack of enthusiasm among voters, with low polling in urban areas compared to rural areas, has also foxed poll pundits

Will BJP bite the dust in UP like it did in West Bengal, or make a comeback against the odds like in Bihar?

Shalini Sahay

Cops are generally adept at divining election outcomes. In 2017, the ones I met in Bahraich jigged and chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram. This time in Allahabad’s Triveni, an initially reluctant cop opened up. Said a wave is building up. For Modiji? No, for one who’s promised to restore old pension scheme,” read a tweet last week by a veteran journalist.

The fourth and fifth phase of polling in UP were marked by sporadic cases of violence by supporters of the ruling party. Poll violence almost always is a desperate measure, a last resort at intimidation of voters, to drive away hostile voters or keep hostile voters away from the booth.

Even before the polling former minister Swami Prasad Maurya’s motorcade was attacked, provoking his daughter, BJP MP Sanghamitra Maurya, to publicly accuse BJP of engineering the attack and call upon voters to cast their vote against the party. Violence was earlier reported from Pratapgarh in UP in the constituency of the ‘Kunda ka Goonda’ fame Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya on the polling day.

A sitting BJP MLA in Robertsganj was seen in a video holding his ears doing sit-ups on the stage at an election rally. He possibly is the first candidate in the history of elections to do so voluntarily on the dias.

Another veteran took to chatting up UP transport corporation’s drivers and conductors. It is not known if he had disclosed his name because the smart voters of UP could change their opinion depending on who is asking. Indeed, it was reported that a voter told a pro-opposition TV channel that there was no doubt that Akhilesh Yadav was storming back to power. The same voter, however, told a proBJP channel, that BJP was the ‘sure shot’ winner. The drivers and conductors, driving buses and picking up passengers across the state and thus privy to political gossip and conversation, seemed equally divided between the Baba and Akhilesh, between Kamal and the cycle.

What is clear is that the election in UP this time is not as one-sided as in 2017. BJP’s tally will fall, Samajwadi Party’s will rise. But few expect BJP’s tally to fall below 150 in the House of 403 (it had won 312 in 2017) or SP’s tally to go much beyond 200. The lack of enthusiasm among voters, with low polling in urban areas compared to rural areas, has also foxed poll pundits. Whose supporters did not come out to vote?

Congress and the BSP are both dark horses. While Modi or Amit Shah are predictably dismissive about the Congress, Shah’s effusive endorsement of the BSP and Mayawati’s graceful acknowledgment of the home minister’s large heart, has fuelled speculation. The Congress campaign across the state was visible on the ground. Priyanka Gandhi’s rallies and road shows drew large gatherings and her speeches went down well. After 30 years Congress seemed to be battle ready. But neither is seen as the main adversary, as a result of which Samajwadi Party has emerged the main contender by default. It will reap the resentment among people against the incumbent.

Violence in some places by BJP supporters also indicate that the ruling party is on a sticky wicket. ‘Kante Ka Takkar’ or a see-saw battle is on the cards at the very least in the ‘wave less’ election. Poll pundits are unanimous in saying that BJP’s tally will decline but nobody naturally knows by how many. It is estimated that the party dropped around 80 of its sitting MLAs instead of the 150 it had planned to drop at one time. Unnerved by defections as the election was announced and crowds thronging election rallies of Akhilesh Yadav, it developed cold feet.

With most sitting MLAs being reduced to a number, the Prime Minister and the chief minister hogging all the credit and the Baba berating them in public, the MLAs were said to be unpopular. A journalist visiting Varanasi quoted a disgruntled resident complaining that he had not seen the sitting MLA even once in five years. He would frequently read about the Prime Minister’s visit to the city, would even hear him or attend events where he was present. If the PM could visit his constituency so frequently, why couldn’t the MLA?

Although the comparison is possibly unfair, the conclusion is that most sitting BJP MLAs had become faceless and could lose. How many elections can the BJP win with the Prime Minister as its face? Indeed, even in Gorakhpur, home turf of chief minister Adityanath where he is expected to win, BJP in the last minute has dropped his photographs in favour of the PM in posters and buntings.

So, how many of the 220 and odd sitting MLAs re-nominated by the BJP can win in an election being fought on a string of issues. The Ram temple has taken a back seat even in Ayodhya. Attempts to inflame passions in Mathura and Kashi have not succeeded as much as the leaders had expected.

BJP, however, is banking on ‘free rations’ and the aura of the Prime Minister to help it sail past the majority mark. Even if the party falls short by 20 or 30 seats, it has immense faith in union home minister Amit Shah’s talent in manufacturing a majority.

In close contests, the role of the Returning Officers and postal ballots will be crucial. Most observers agree that there are a number of tricks like recounting etc. which can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

But the pundits have also noticed a sudden urge among IAS and IPS officers to call on Akhilesh Yadav. A photograph ostensibly showing the colour of a signboard to the residence of the District Magistrate in Ayodhya being changed from saffron to green is also being held out as proof that the officials are preparing for change.

Views are personal

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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