The seven-phase assembly election in Uttar Pradesh has reached its last leg. So far, the fate of candidates in 349 seats has been sealed, with the final 54 seats going to the poll on Monday.
Yet political pundits are still wary of predictions, believing this could be a very close contest – similar to what we saw in the Bihar poll of 2020. The only difference is that Uttar Pradesh is almost double the size of Bihar in terms of population, and it has one and a half times more seats.
Two phases, 111 seats
The fight for the final 54 seats, spread across nine districts, has intensified due to deep divisions along caste lines. Phase six saw voting in 57 seats across 10 districts, and these 111 seats in total cover deep demographic belts influenced by leaders like Narendra Modi, Adityanath, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, all of whom have left no stone unturned to tilt the scales their way.
Gorakhpur, for instance, falls under the influence of Adityanath’s mutt while Modi camped out in Varanasi before the last phase of polling. Images of his roadshows and of the prime minister having “kulhad chai” dominated the media space in the last hours before the campaign formally ended.
Meanwhile, Akhilesh and Mayawati have significant influence in the districts of Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Mau, Ballia, Azamgarh and Ambedkar Nagar. In Mau and Ghazipur, strongman Mukhtar Ansari too has a role to play. His nephew is contesting on a Samajwadi Party ticket while his son Abbas Ansari is contesting for the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, which is in alliance with the SP.
Social benefits vs polarisation
Out of the 111 seats going to vote in the last two phases, the BJP, along with partners like the Apna Dal, had won 80 seats in the 2017 assembly election. The BSP got 11 and the SP-Congress alliance just 14.
This time, the BJP is touting its social benefit schemes like free housing, ration delivery and its “development projects”. In response, Akhilesh Yadav put a few things in a basket including 300 units free electricity, a promise to revive the pension scheme and recruitment of teachers, and providing new jobs to the youth. But caste and religion remain important considerations for voters. The BJP knows that social benefit schemes like pensions and free laptops did not benefit Akhilesh last time. So, since the campaign began, BJP leaders have tried to polarise the election, hoping to break the Jat-Muslim bond in the west by distributing tickets to placate all caste leaders and electorates. In western UP, the Hindu-Muslim divide may work for the BJP while in the east, the caste card is the most important.
The results of the 2017 assembly poll help break down this story.
In 2017, the BJP-Apna Dal cornered 38.36 percent of the votes in phase six, while the SP-Congress alliance got a little over 26 percent and the BSP 23 percent. Of this, the BJP swept 47 seats, including one by the Apna Dal, leaving only three for the SP-Congress and five for the BSP.
In phase seven in 2017, the difference in vote percentage of the BJP-Apna Dal and SP-Congress was about five percent, but the BSP also took away around 25 percent, helping the BJP-Apna Dal clinch 33 of 54 seats. The SP only won 11, with the Congress scoring zero in phase seven, and the BSP six.
This data indicates that Muslim votes in 2017 got divided between the BSP and SP-Congress alliance. Akhilesh could not tap into the votes of OBCs while the BJP found support across sections, including non-Yadav OBCs. A section of the Yadav community even shunned its loyalty towards the SP to drift towards the BJP.
Now, after witnessing the results of the Bihar and Bengal assembly polls, Muslims seem to have decided to vote tactically and en bloc for one party. This is why the “Owaisi factor” does not seem to be working in UP unlike Bihar in 2020. Also, Akhilesh has tried to rectify the mistakes made in 2017 by giving tickets to a lot of other caste candidates, particularly non-Yadav backwards and Brahmins.
The “Brahmin-Thakur” faultline will play a conspicuous and crucial role in the last two phases. The Gorakhnath peeth has a Thakur leadership, with Adityanath leading it now, and the traditional rivalry between Thakurs and Brahmins is well-known in these parts. The BJP’s challenge is to deal with this rift while keeping the upper caste vote intact.
During Adityanath’s five-year tenure as chief minister, Brahmin communities have accused the state government of promoting “Thakurvaad” while complaining about their own victimhood. The mistrust widened after the of gangster Vikas Dubey last year. The BJP accordingly to mollify the community and remove these “misconceptions”. Party leaders have said that despite these grievances, Brahmins will vote for the lotus as they want to prove the BJP is “their own party” and not a party of “Thakur supremacy”. In the final two phases, the BJP has given tickets to more than 20 Brahmin candidates.
However, opposition parties including the SP, BSP and Congress have spotted this chink in the Modi-Yogi armour and have correspondingly fielded a number of Brahmin candidates – more than 50 in phases six and seven. The BSP, for instance, has fielded Aman Mani Tripathi, the son of former minister Amar Mani Tripathi, in Maharajganj’s Nautanwa seat, while in Gorakhpur’s Chillupar, the SP gave a ticket to Vinay Shankar Tiwari, son of former MLA, minister and strongman Hari Shankar Tiwari.
The stage is also set for an interesting fight in Varanasi South, where the SP has fielded Mahant Kameshwar alias Kishen Dixit, the chief priest of the Maha Mrityunjaya Mahadev temple, against the BJP’s Neelkanth Tiwari. Many see this move as a challenge to the BJP’s Brahmin base.
Rivers and Rajbhar
In the 2012 assembly poll, the SP formed the government after winning 224 seats. However, it only got a vote share of 29.15 percent. Since it was a multi-cornered fight with all players holding their key vote shares, Akhilesh only reached the majority mark with less than 30 percent of the votes. (The BSP got 25.91 percent, Congress 11.63 percent and BJP 15 percent.)
Ten years later, the assembly poll is almost a direct fight between the SP and BJP, so Akhilesh desperately needs to increase his catchment of votes, particularly given the BJP’s rise after Modi became prime minister in 2014.
The 111 seats in the last two phases are situated in the Gangetic plains, crisscrossed by big and small rivers with abundant water bodies. Therefore, the Nishad community, who are traditionally boatmen, are an important factor in many districts and pockets of UP.
Early in the 1990s, Mulayam Singh Yadav had recognised the electoral potential of the Nishads and got “Bandit Queen” Phoolan Devi elected to the Lok Sabha in 1996 on his party’s ticket. Mulayam continued to try mobilising the Nishads – known as Mallahs, Kevats and Binds in other parts of UP – and form a block. The community has vacillated between the SP and BSP over the last two decades before the BJP formed an alliance with the Nishad Party in 2019. The Nishad Party’s head is Sanjay Nishad, whose son Sarvan is now contesting for the BJP from Chauri Chaura.
Now, Akhilesh Yadav’s hopes are pinned on Mukesh Sahni, a member of the Vikassheel Insaan Party , which has been active predominantly in Bihar until now. Interestingly, Sahni has leapt into the UP election battle and has given tickets to BJP rebels. He has formed no alliance with other parties but is appealing to the boatmen community to vote for him. His candidates are even contesting under a boat symbol, which might disrupt equations in a couple of seats.
Akhilesh has also joined hands with leaders Om Prakash Rajbhar and Dara Singh Chauhan to fill the vote deficit to reach the halfway mark. Chauhan is contesting from Ghosi and Rajbhar from Zahoorabad, and both seats will go to poll on Monday. The fight is on such deep caste lines that the BJP has given a ticket to the son of Bihar governor Fagu Chauhan because he is from Madhuban, a constituency that abuts Ghosi.
Rajbhar’s party, the SBSP, is contesting in over 15 seats in eastern UP, which also votes in the last two phases. Rajbhars comprise three to four percent of the state population and can make an impact in at least a dozen seats where they are in sizable numbers. To top up its vote bank, the SP has taken in leaders who have defected from the BSP, including Ram Achal Rajbhar and Lalji Verma. Achal is a five-time MLA and state president of the BSP while Verma, a Kurmi, was the BSP’s legislative party leader in the assembly. Both were cabinet ministers in the BSP government and are now contesting on SP tickets from Akbarpur and Katehari, respectively.
The impact of such manoeuvrings and defections to rival camps will also be tested as this fiercely fought election reaches its grand finale.
This story is part of the NL Sena project which our readers contributed to. It was made possible by Abel Sajaykumar, Devaki Khanna, Subhrajit Chakraborty, Somok Gupta Roy, Sathya, Shubhankar Mondal, Sourav Agrawal, Karthik, Sudarshana Mukhopadhyay, Uma Rajagopalan, HS Kahlon, Shreya Sethuraman, Vinod Gubbala, Anirban Bhattacharjee, Rahul Gupta, Rejith Rajan, Abhishek Thakur, Rathindranath Das, Farzana Hasan, Animesh Narayan, A J, Nidhi Manchanda, Rahul Bhardwaj, Kirti Mishra, Sachin Tomar, Raghav Nayak, Rupa Banerjee, Akash Mishra, Sachin Chaudhary, Udayan Anand, Karan Mujoo, Gaurab S Dutta, Jayanta Basu, Abhijnan Jha, Ashutosh Mittal, Sahit Koganti, Ankur, Sindhu Kasukurthy, Manas, Akshay Sharma, Mangesh Sharma, Vivek Maan, Sandeep Kumar, Rupa Mukundan, P Anand, Nilkanth Kumar, Noor Mohammed, Shashi Ghosh, Vijesh Chandera, Rahul Kohli, Janhavi G, Dr Prakhar Kumar, Ashutosh Singh, Saikat Goswami, Sesha Sai T V, Srikant Shukla, Abhishek Thakur, Nagarjuna Reddy, Jijo George, Abhijit, Rahul Dixit, Praveen Surendra, Madhav Kaushish, Varsha Chidambaram, Pankaj, Mandeep Kaur Samra, Dibyendu Tapadar, Hitesh Vekariya, Akshit Kumar, Devvart Poddar, Amit Yadav, Harshit Raj, Lakshmi Srinivasan, Atinderpal Singh, Jaya Mitra, Raj Parab, Ashraf Jamal, Asif Khan, Manish Kumar Yadav, Saumya Parashar, Naveen Kumar Prabhakar, Lezo, Sanjay Dey, Ahmad Zaman, Mohsin Jabir, Sabina, Suresh Uppalapati, Bhaskar Dasgupta, Pradyut Kumar, Sai Sindhuja, Swapnil Dey, Sooraj, Aparajit Varkey, Brendon Joseph D’souza, Zainab Jabri, Tanay Arora, Jyoti Singh, M Mitra, Aashray Agur, Imran, Dr. Anand Kulkarni, Sagar Kumar, Sandeep Banik, Mohd Salman, Sakshi, Navanshu Wadhwani, Arvind Bhanumurthy, Dhiren Maheshwari, Sanjeev Menon, Anjali Dandekar, Farina Ali Kurabarwala, Abeera Dubey, Ramesh Jha, Namrata, Pranav Kumar, Amar Nath, Anchal, Sahiba Lal, Jugraj Singh, Nagesh Hebbar, Ashutosh Mhapne, Sai Krishna, Deepam Gupta, Anju Chauhan, Siddhartha Jain, Avanish Dureha, Varun Singhal, Akshay, Sainath Jadhav, Shreyas Singh, Ranjeet Samad, Vini Nair, Vatsal Mishra, Aditya Chaudhary, Jasween, Pradeep, Nilesh Vairagade, Manohar Raj, Tanya Dhir, Shaleen Kumar Sharma, Prashant Kalvapalle, Ashutosh Jha, Aaron D'Souza, Shakti Verma, Sanyukta, Pant, Ashwini, Firdaus Qureshi, Soham Joshi, Ankita Bosco, Arjun Kaluri, Rohit Sharma, Betty Rachel Mathew, Sushanta Tudu, Pardeep Kumar Punia, Dileep Kumar Yadav, Neha Khan, Omkar, Vandana Bhalla, Surendra Kumar, Sanjay Chacko, Abdullah, Aayush Garg, Mukarram Sultan, Abhishek Bhatia, Tajuddin Khan, Vishwas Deshpande, Mohammed Ashraf, Jayati Sood, Aditya Garg, Nitin Joshi, Partha Patashani, Anton Vinny, Sagar Rout, Vivek Chandak, Deep Chudasama, Khushboo Matwani, Virender Bagga, Keyur Gokhale, Shelly Singh, Goldwin Fonseca, Upasana Gupta, Leslie Isaac, Stephen, Anupam Kumar, Nishanth Perathara, Sudin, Bhavin Ved, Sriram Arthanari, Sanjit Mehta, Shashank Shekhar, Somsubhro Chaudhuri, Pallavi Das, Animesh Chaudhary, Dr Avishek Ghosh, Bharat Kumar, Renain Safi, Kanhu Kishore Nanda, Shubham Wankhede, Jagbir Lehl, Bharadwaj Upadyaya, Mohamed Suhair, Keith Rebelo, Saurabh, Aman Seth, Himanshu Singh, Malwika Chitale, Mohit Chelani, Abhishek Thakur, Utpal Kar, Abdul Aziz Abdul Gafoor, Aditya Kumar Tiwari, Chanchal K Mitra, Subhojit Bakshi, Jitendra Kumar, Subhransu Panda, Vaibhav V, Neerja Jain, Muzamil, Parminder Randhawa, Aishwarya Ghaisas, Siddharth Kulkarni, Fadil Sherrif, Jomy Mathew, Asim, Senthil Kumar Sakthivel, Abhimanyu Sinha, Srinivas Addepalli, Pratul Nema, Varun B Kothamachu, Aarushi Mittal, Sushil Gulati, George Isaac, Sameer Naik, Saurabh Naik, Ragesh Vyas, Vishal Sodani, Muhammad Shafeeque, Vivek Ashokan, Rachita Dutta, Sayani Dasgupta, Ashutosh Singh, Shrinjay, Siju Mathew, Paul Lazarus, Thufir Hawat, Kruttika Samant, Shireesh Vasupalli, Kanwarjit Singh, Deepak Keshri, Venkateshwar Rangala, Nagarjuna Reddy, Ashutosh Tripathi, Umesh Chander, Sandeep Kalyanasundaram, Abhishek Thakur, Pratyush Adhwaryu, Janhavi G, Siddhant Agarwal, Rajnish Thanekar, Amol Jadhav, Sunny Sureja, Jotinder Singh, Chinmay Sharma, Roderick Anthony, Krutik Arekar, Bharat Thakur, Gaurav Kolekar, SS Marmat, Umesh Pai, Anupam Patra, Vedant Chavan, Abhishek Sharma, Harsha Shettigar, Simranpreet Kaur, Sudarshan K M, Prerna Tyagi, Anshul Sahni, Fadil Sherrif, Yashvardhan Didwania, Ameya Apte, Inderpreet Singh, Goa Go, Abhishek Thakur, Khaleeq Sharif, Rajani Raman, Saurabh, Deepak Sharma, Sasi Inguva, Amyth Paddy, Aviral Tiwari, Nitesh Pandey, Mohideen Abdul Khadir, Abhishek Thakur, Jagrit Biswas, Pradeep M, Dr Prakhar Kumar, Rajitha Juvvala, Saumya Gupta, Pawan Singh, Dhir Pratap, Rahul Grover, Sowmya K, and other NL Sena members.
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