In multi-phase polls, which have become routine in bigger states or in states facing administrative challenges, the completion of phase one often brings an undercurrent for the next phases of the election campaign. This is also true for the ongoing seven-phase assembly election in Uttar Pradesh.
The first phase of polling ended in UP with 60.1 percent of votes cast in 58 constituencies spread over 11 districts in the western part of the state. In the next four weeks, the state will witness six more phases for the election to its 403-strong legislative assembly.
The nature of competition and political equations will have regional variants in the constituencies that will vote in the upcoming phases. But the campaign by rival alliances will look for a late push and a specific impetus to the canvassing done over the past few months. It’s a strategic tool that political parties have honed in states with multi-phase elections.
The fight to retain or add momentum to a campaign, to modify it or even bring in new albeit late entrants to electioneering, is likely to intensify in the next few days. It will anyway see a regional shift in emphasis after the second phase, when more parts of central and eastern UP come into the fray.
The BJP-led alliance campaign, led by incumbent UP chief minister Adityanath, has a strong line-up of star campaigners like prime minister Narendra Modi and union home minister Amit Shah. The alliance is already recalibrating its poll pitch as it advances through the phases.
Similarly, the Samajwadi Party alliance, led by Akhilesh Yadav, is finetuning its campaign with late adjustments.
The last few days have seen the return of full-fledged campaigning with a substantive relaxation in Covid curbs. As a result, mass rallies by star campaigners are back in business as the amplifier of key messaging. This, however, shouldn’t lead to deceptive inferences. There have been instances where massive rallies have flattered to deceive, and observers have stuck their necks out too early.
More significantly, it would be useful to see how the two key rivals are gearing up to woo floating voters – the undecided section of the electorate that is yet to take a call.
After the social matrix mathematics, stitching alliances, and weighing in the local political equations, both the alliances are searching for a meta-narrative to catch the non-committal voter. The rival alliances will treat this section as up for grabs, given they are able to demonstrate their winnability. It becomes important for parties to show to the undecided voter that they are ahead in the contest because a significant section of the floating electorate does not intend to waste their vote on a losing candidate.
In by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies on voting behaviour in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, it was observed that nearly a quarter of non-committal voters finally voted for the party which they perceived as winning the poll, and they were keen on not wasting their vote.
This awareness might partly explain the number projection exercises that parties resort to in massive rallies. However, there isn’t a lot to get carried away with by the size of rallies either. The same study by CSDS also found that nearly a third of those participating in the rally of a particular party might attend rallies of other parties too. To add to that, there is also the element of the “hired crowd” – nearly 25 percent of those attending rallies confirmed being brought by one party or the other based on some kind of promise (cash, kind, travel or merely an outing).
Along with the push to catch the attention of floating voters, both alliances are also now targeting the multiplier effect. That entails adding an incremental factor to the vote base they hope to get on other planks. The BJP, for instance – apart from a social alliance of marginalised caste groups, non-Jatav Dalits, non-Yadav OBCs and upper castes – has been campaigning on its tough stand on law and order, as well as its welfare schemes and developmental push under the Adityanath government. But in the final round of campaigning, it’s eyeing the Hindu interest vote across caste groups. Recent by Adityanath show signs of this late push.
Unlike the much circulated polarisation theories, the segment that could potentially vote on lines of religious interest isn’t readily identifiable and is often wooed only in vague rhetorics as a multiplier. It’s only after retaining the core support group – the labharthi groups (beneficiary groups), caste calculus, and the pitching development politics – that the BJP would eye the late incremental push of the Hindu interest vote.
In the same timeframe, the SP alliance’s late multiplier will hope to add to the anti-incumbency factor (given that UP has not seen a state government retaining power since 1985), as well as OBC-Muslim interest politics, particularly its attempts to allay the anxieties of its non-Yadav constituents. The alliance also has ambitions of foraying into the non-Jatav Dalit support base of the BJP and other parties.
This would, however, need a tightrope walk of not being seen as practising appeasement politics in the course of countering the BJP strongholds.
Along with massive events like rallies and their star attractions, the parties will also bank on their organisational spread and efficiency to contact their core and potential voters at their doorsteps. An even bigger challenge is the ability of parties to bring their voters to the polling booth. After all, the polling percentage could be decisive in a number of constituencies where the fight is expected to be close. As both key rivals have a number of parties as allies, the coordination, or the lack of it, among the cadres of different allies might be a significant factor in the campaign – and more so on polling day. In the case of the BJP, party workers and the workers of allies need a tripartite tuning with the ground presence of RSS workers too.
As the finetuning of late campaigning eyes the floating voters and seeks the edge of the multiplier effect, the canvassing strategies of rival alliances in UP will be as much tested as their organisational might and acumen. The multi-phase poll in the state will soon enter the slog overs, and the next few weeks will certainly be the pitch for power hitters and verbal volleys.
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