Keeping up with UP | A bruising election has come to an end in UP and it seems neck and neck between the NDA, INDIA - Hindustan Times

Keeping up with UP | A bruising election has come to an end in UP and it seems neck and neck between the NDA, INDIA

BySunita Aron
Jun 01, 2024 08:30 AM IST

At best, speculations end with predictions of narrow victory margins on majority of the seats unlike in 2019 when the BJP won about 50% of the seats

The seven-phase polling for 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh has ended with the common catchphrases: “Yeh seat phansi hai” (too close to call), “kuch bhi ho sakta hai” (anything may happen) and “kante ki ladai hai” (neck and neck fight) echoing across the length and breadth of the state.

Uttar Pradesh, May 31 (ANI): A polling official carrying Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and other election-related materials leave for their respective polling booths for the 7th Phase of General Elections 2024, in Uttar Pradesh on Friday. (ANI Photo) (ECISVEEP-X) PREMIUM
Uttar Pradesh, May 31 (ANI): A polling official carrying Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and other election-related materials leave for their respective polling booths for the 7th Phase of General Elections 2024, in Uttar Pradesh on Friday. (ANI Photo) (ECISVEEP-X)

Barring a few seats like Varanasi and Lucknow, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Rajnath Singh are in the fray, all seats are locked in tight contests with the pollsters refusing to stick their necks out and declare their prediction.

At best, all speculations end with predictions of narrow victory margins on the majority of the seats unlike in 2019 when the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) had won about 50% of the seats with a margin of above two lakh votes. The argument is: “Yes, the opposition has given a good fight but can they cover the huge gap in the votes polled for them and the BJP?”

There are several reasons for the palpable suspense over the election results but the one, which is clearly visible on the surface, is that there is no wave, in favour or against any party or leader. Second, caste is back eclipsing other issues and every seat will be decided by the local equations, combinations and permutations.

It is not without reason that the BJP leadership solicited the support of Samajwadi Party's prominent Bhumihar leader Narad Rai, who quit the party three days before the last phase of polling on June 1. The party hopes that Rai will bail out Neeraj Shekhar, former prime minister the late Chandra Shekhar’s son, who is facing stiff competition from opposition leader Sanatan Pandey, who had lost the seat by a narrow margin of 15,000 seats earlier in Ballia.

Ballia has a sizeable number of Bhumihar voters, who can easily offset the BJP’s loss of Brahmin votes. After the BJP managed to build a winning caste combination, the refrain now is: “The BJP has an edge in a tough contest.”

Most interesting is the case of Sultanpur, where Union minister Maneka Gandhi fought a lonely battle with no senior BJP leader campaigning for her in the constituency. However, as she remained accessible to her voters through her five-year tenure, an expert, when asked about her electoral prospects, said: “The caste equations are with the Samajwadi Party, the popular candidate is with the BJP.”

The BJP’s decision to retain 55 sitting MPs may boomerang as anti-incumbency is more with two-term MPs than the 10-year-old Modi government.

On the other hand, the opposition has been smarter in ticket distribution and Akhilesh Yadav’s PDA strategy (Pichra, dalit, alpasankhyak) seems to have clicked with the voters.

What went in favour of the NDA and the INDIA bloc?


Modi’s popularity continues to work in many constituencies despite the anger against sitting MPs. Yogi’s image as a firm administrator, who improved law and order in the state, has added to the party’s vote base.

Women have largely favoured the BJP because of the Yogi and Modi factors. They voted for ration, shashan and prashashan (ration, governance and administration); Hindutva, the consecration of the Ram temple and anti -Muslim rhetoric continue to help the BJP.

There was a poll blitzkrieg with Yogi holding over 200 rallies and Modi covering almost every constituency in two months of intensive campaigning. Their roadshows were spectacular.

Poll management, both micro and macro, has helped the party leadership in taking suitable remedial measures almost in every constituency. Senior BJP leader Vijay Pathak said: “The party machinery works 24 hours round the year, unlike the opposition’s sporadic campaigning. Also, from senior party ministers to ‘panna pramukhs’, all have to deliver duties assigned to them.”

The BJP with 62 seats of its own and two of its ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) had polled nearly 50% votes in 2019 against which the SP, along with the Congress, stands at about 25%.

INDIA bloc

The SP-Congress alliance clicked as it enthused their cadres. The chemistry between the leaders- Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi, Dimple and Priyanka Gandhi gave confidence to the party workers about their sincerity and seriousness in defeating the BJP, despite the odds in terms of the Congress’s political health and the SP’s sharp regional character. In this part, the ruling party has often gained in a multi-party or triangular contest. But the election narrowed down to a straight battle between the BJP and the INDIA bloc.

Consolidation of Muslim votes

Muslims, ignoring their poor representation in ticket distribution or the presence of Muslim candidates, consolidated in favour of the INDIA bloc and did not divide.

Ticket distribution worked in their favour. The SP thrice changed its candidate in Meerut where the BJP fielded the “small-screen Ram” Arun Govil to give a fillip to the temple movement. But the SP’s decision to field a Dalit woman candidate Sunita Verma from Mayawati’s caste turned out to be a masterstroke.

First, the election did not polarise on communal lines. Second, the SP sent an alluring message to Dalits, especially Jatavs who softened against the Yadav-dominated party in various parts of the state, also because it was a poll partner of the Congress. Dalits have been traditional voters of Congress.

Take the case of Kushinagar in eastern UP.

The Sainthwars, a dominant community in nine Lok Sabha constituencies of Gorakhpur and Basti divisions, had demanded a ticket in one constituency but the BJP did not oblige. Instead, the ruling party fielded sitting MP Vijay Kumar Dubey while SP picked up a Saithwar, Ajay Pratap Singh, in Kushinagar which has four lakh Sainthwars, thereby throwing up an interesting contest.

Issues like the amendment of the Constitution, quota, unemployment and inflation became their rallying points. Their rallies were well attended as well.

But will they, too, vote as a bloc? Generally, the crowds convert into votes when the organisational machinery is well-oiled. The SP cadre is wide and vigilant, but the Congress is perhaps depending on the public.

Campaign: They put up a spirited fight and hammered on issues that sharpened anti-incumbency against the Modi government. Priyanka did about 80 rallies, and Akhilesh close to that besides the road shows.

Mayawati’s absence: The BSP launched an aggressive campaign under Mayawati’s successor Akash Anand. But her decision to withdraw him mid-way into the elections confirmed the BJP’s pressure on her. She campaigned alone, held a few rallies, and drew crowds but the rallies were lacklustre. Though senior party leader SC Mishra was one of the star campaigners, he was conspicuously absent from her rallies or campaign. Her core voters were disappointed.

Anecdotal evidence says a chunk of BSP’s voters could have voted for INDIA and some for Modi and the NDA’s welfare schemes.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal’s forecast that Yogi Adityanath will be removed from the chief ministership after the elections also became an issue briefly. Strangely, no party leader strongly contradicted it though they know Yogi in this election is an asset for the party. It did not go down well with Yogi’s supporters. The prime minister, however, mentioned how he and Yogi will be in the state for five years to complete ongoing projects.

One reason for the “seat phansi hai” opinion is also the seemingly deepening lack of public faith in the electoral process. Quite often people displayed their lack of interest in the elections. The silence of the Election Commission on the undignified campaign, personal comments and the release of fresh voting data after 11 days have created doubts in the minds of voters about the sanctity of the electoral process.

Sunita Aron is a consulting editor with the HT based in Lucknow. You can find her on X as @overto. The weekly column, Keeping up with UP tackles everything from politics to social and cultural mores in the country's most populous state. The views expressed are personal.

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