UP elections 2017: All parties say they’re winning. Here’s how they reason
Voters in 209 of the 403 seats have got an opportunity to express their preferences - and this is a good time to look at how each party is internally evaluating its performance.assembly elections Updated: Feb 26, 2017 20:42 IST
Four of seven phases may still be left, but the UP election has crossed the midway mark.
Voters in 209 of the 403 seats have got an opportunity to express their preferences - and this is a good time to look at how each party is internally evaluating its performance.
No party admits defeat in the middle of elections. And in fact their success in future phases rests on how confidently they can project success till now. So it is no surprise that all three formations - the SP-Congress alliance, the BJP, and the BSP - are confident.
But what is their confidence based on? What are the calculations at play?
HT spoke to top strategists of the alliance and the BJP - and important activists of the BSP to piece together their narratives.
Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance
A top alliance strategist told HT that while the contest is tough, the coalition will make it past the majority mark.
This confidence was based on a simple calculation - the Yadavs and Muslims had consolidated. The votes that candidates belonging to other communities - upper castes, OBCs, Dalits - would bring in their respective seats would be an addition. “And there is an Akhilesh vote. One or two people in every second family will vote for him,” added another SP leader.
The sense in the alliance camp is that in the first phase of elections, where the SP was said to be weakest, they put up a credible performance. Out of 73 seats, they expect to win around 25 seats. According to the assessment, the BJP has suffered in this phase because of Jat desertion and would get stuck to 18-20 seats. One SP leader put the BSP figure at 18; another admitted they may have a slight edge and could go up to 25. The RLD would get five to seven seats.
In the second phase spread across 67 seats, alliance strategists claim that there was direct polarisation both on political lines between the BJP and the alliance and on religious lines in pockets - and the SP-Congress could get over 35 seats.
“We are absolutely confident that in this pocket, over 80% Muslims have voted for alliance. When polarisation happens in areas with high Muslim concentration, that’s fine with us. It will be a cause for worry if this polarisation extends to the east.” In this phase, the calculation is BSP has done badly.
In the third phase held on Sunday, there is acknowledgment that the SP’s peak performance of 2012 cannot be repeated. SP had won 55 of the 69 seats that went to polls. A combination of factors is sure to damage SP here - local anti incumbency against sitting MLAs, poor ticket distribution and Muslim votes shifting to BSP in pockets.
But SP leaders say they can absorb this loss. “Even if we lose 20 seats in this phase, we think we can compensate for it. And even if we don’t compensate for it, it is fine.” The argument is that even if SP comes down 40 seats or so from its 2012 tally of 225, it will still remain the single largest party and with the Congress, form the government.
So as it gets ready for Phase 4, here is the SP-Congress mood - one of cautious optimism but also a degree of concern and recognition that there is a close battle underway, a sense that the alliance has fulfilled its goal of consolidating the Muslims, that SP will score less than its 2012 tally yet cross the finish line.
The BJP was palpably low at the end of the first phase, but at the moment, is distinctly upbeat.
A top national office bearer of the party reiterated the strategy. “Count the Muslims, Yadavs, Jatavs out; we are focusing on the remaining 60% of the population in general, and upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits in particular. And it is paying off.”
But this strategy has existed on paper for a while. Politics is not that straightforward, is it? Are these consolidated voting blocks? How did they see the first three phases play out?
In the first phase, BJP publicly said it ‘won’ 51 seats. But its internal ‘best case’ report was 35 seats; other activists admitted that their tally was probably even lower, maybe even less than 20. The assessment was that BSP had done well.
In the second phase, BJP is confident that the polarisation has helped the party, especially in districts like Bareilly, Moradabad, Bijnor and Amroha.
And in the third phase, BJP feels that the SP’s dip has directly benefited them. This is because the Muslims, the party feels, have split right down the middle. “We are comfortable now because Muslims are thoroughly confused. That is why we are playing mind games with the community on who we are competing with. In some places, we say BSP and in others we are saying SP.”
A top leader of the party and a major campaign face told HT that they are focusing on the seats where Congress is competing. “We are really in a position to win 70-80 of the 105 seats Congress is contesting. They do not have popular candidates and SP votes will not get transferred to them easily. Yadavs have been politically socialised in an anti-Congress tradition.”
So here is what the BJP believes - it has improved on its disappointing performance of the first phase; its worker motivation is high; the Modi magic is working; the SP momentum is dissipating, its caste combination is fine; and that polarisation is happening in the east - where the PM’s controversial statement is helping; and Muslims are divided.
While HT was not able to speak to any top leader of the famously inscrutable BSP, two activists revealed the party’s assessment.
The party thinks it has done exceptionally well in the first phase - with Muslims consolidating in many seats where it put up Muslim candidates. This, in addition to the substantial Jatav votes, is enough to see them through.
It believes the second phase was not as weak as SP is projecting.
But its real surprise success, the activists claimed, has been in the third phase of central UP.
What is driving this perception of success?
“Total Dalit consolidation, and Muslims gravitating towards us in many seats because of local factors,” says an intellectual associated with the party. He adds that no one but Mayawati has a full picture of the electoral situation - but that excellent ticket distribution keeping in mind caste and local roots of the candidate, ground level campaigning, and the old formula of adding Dalit votes to the votes of the community of the candidate is working well.
“Mark it, media is underestimating us. We could be largest.”
So here is the BSP sense - a quiet confidence that it is doing well even in traditionally weak areas, continued focus on local equations and campaigning, and confidence it will do reasonably well in the fourth phase of the elections, especially the Bundelkhand areas.
This is a difficult election to call. And only one out of three assessments outlined above can be true. Only March 11 will tell who was right, and who was merely providing us spin.
First Published: Feb 21, 2017 19:06 IST