The final round of voting on Wednesday will be another test of alliances that Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has stitched together to expand its social base for poll gains in Uttar Pradesh.
Forty assembly seats in Poorvanchal, or east UP will vote in the seventh round of polling and the BJP, looking to make a comeback in the state after 15 years, is expecting a good show.
Poorvanchal has 89 seats, 49 of these were voted for on March 4.
“We will sweep the region,” union minister Santosh Gangwar told HT. “There is an overwhelming support for the BJP among all sections of the society.”
The party has joined hands with the Apna Dal of union minister Anupriya Patel and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party of Om Prakash Rajbhar.
Both hold sway over the Kurmi and Rajbhar communities, which are among several other backward classes (OBC) with a significant presence in east Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP’s sweep of the state was instrumental in its victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election but the party has been marginalised by regional players in state politics.
The BJP’s winning formula rests on overwhelming support among upper castes, its traditional base, extremely backward communities and the non-Jatav Dalits, party sources say.
In 2012, the ruling Samajwadi Party bagged most of the seats except in Varanasi and Chandauli districts. The BJP, which was nowhere in the picture, is looking to reverse the performance this time, with the help of allies and new caste groups, whose support it hopes to get as Modi, too, is an OBC.
Modi held road shows, addressed several rallies and spent three days in his Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi in a final push for Poorvanchal.
The expectations are similar to ones the BJP had from the 2015 Bihar election, which ended horribly for the party.
It had formed a rainbow coalition with OBC leaders like Upendra Kushwaha and Dalit politicians like Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi but the arrangement didn’t work.
The BJP expects Uttar Pradesh to be different.
To avoid a Bihar-like embarrassment, the BJP needs to sweep Poorvanchal to make up for the first two rounds, party sources said.
As many as 140 seats in Muslim-majority districts of western Uttar Pradesh went to the polls in the opening rounds.
As election moved east, the concentration of the minority community, considered the vote base of the ruling Samajwadi Party, declined and that of OBC voters grew.
Perhaps that explains Modi’s “kabristan versus shamshan” remark, a blatant bid to polarise voters.
Addressing a rally on February 19, Modi said if a kabristaan (graveyard) was given to a village, a shamshaan (cremation ground), too, should be provided, a dig at the ruling SP, which the BJP accuses of being biased in favour of Muslims.
The aim was to consolidate party’s grip over the majority population, a party poll strategist said.
Though non-Yadav OBCs of Poorvanchal are known to back Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, a large section voted the BJP in the Lok Sabha election. The BJP had played on Modi’s caste, projecting him as the “son of a backward”.
The BJP expects the Modi magic to carry into the state election, but if it doesn’t happen, the party will struggle to get a majority on its own.