Zulfiqar Ali, mufti of Muzaffarnagar, had said prior to the 2012 assembly polls: “Jo hawa purab ke kheton khaliyano se chali hai, woh ab ganne ke kheton tak pahunch gayi hai (The wind blowing from the agriculture fields of eastern Uttar Pradesh has now reached the cane fields of the west).”
It was a prophecy for the Samajwadi Party, but the mufti could have meant the scheduling of the poll phases.
The polling in 2012 had moved, in seven phases, from the east to the west. Before the seventh phase, SP’s star campaigner Akhilesh Yadav wrapped up his campaign at Bareilly with an appeal: “SP has been ahead of others in all the six phases. Now you vote to give us a clear majority.” SP formed the government by getting a majority for the first time.
Mandate 2014 for UP is in six phases but the direction has changed – from west to east. This has made Bharatiya Janata Party supporters optimistic about a saffron surge, particularly as the riot-torn Muzaffarnagar belt, polarised on communal lines, goes to polls in the first phase.
And as in the past, the first two phases will be the most critical in the state that will decide the fate of several heavyweights including Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.
Going by past results riding the movement of poll phases in UP, Ali felt the writing is on the wall for non-BJP parties. “Sitting in Muzaffarnagar, I don’t see Muslims voting tactically despite accounting for 30-40% of the electorate. They are largely divided between SP and Bahujan Samaj Party to the advantage of the BJP,” he says.
Political scientist Aqeel Ahmad is disturbed by replay of the Babri/Ram temple saga ahead of the polls to polarise the electors. History reveals that whenever elections were fought on intense communal lines, the propaganda machinery went into overdrive. It spread like wildfire across the state with a cascading effect on the voting pattern of both the religious blocs as witnessed during the peak of the temple movement.
“We will know which way the election is going after the first phase of polling,” said a senior SP leader who felt the voting trend set in the first phase doesn’t change much till the end.
Maulana Khalid Rashid of Firangi Mahal admits that in today’s era of fast communication it’s not difficult to know instantly where the vote went. “Sitting in Lucknow we know whom the Muslims are supporting in the east and the west as we are in constant touch,” he says. He, however, adds that the drone-wise polling impacts the assembly elections more than the parliamentary polls.
Surendra Bahadur Singh ‘Dadi’, senior BJP leader in Rae Bareli, says: “The candidates get to know they are losing the seat a week in advance as the flags and workers start disappearing from the scene. Technology has reduced the distances.”
Agra-based political analyst KS Rana agrees. “Like in the 2012 polls, the 2007 assembly elections saw the Brahmins start deserting other parties in favour of the BSP after they came to know it was leading the poll show.”
The stakes of BSP and BJP are higher in the first phase of polling. The result would largely depend on how far the BJP will penetrate the Jat and the Jatav votes of Rashtriya Lok Dal and BSP. This phase will also decide which way the Muslims will go in their endeavour to defeat the BJP.