Son set, BJP rise, and the silent vote in U.P.

The Bharatiya Janata Party could well topple the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party to emerge as the top vote puller in Uttar Pradesh in the next general election, judging by the CNN-IBN-The Hindu-CSDS Election Tracker for the State.

The survey shows a resurgent BJP pulling ahead of the regional giants to poll 27 per cent of the votes.

All the parties, barring the BJP, are on a downward trend — the SP from 23 per cent in 2009 to 22 per cent now; the Congress down two percentage points to 16 per cent, and the BSP taking the worst hit with a seven percentage point dip — from being at the top of the vote chart with 28 per cent to 21 per cent now.

The survey suggests that the BJP’s recovery is being powered by the upper castes, who had migrated to the BSP and to a lesser extent to the SP in recent years.

A second strong reason appears to be deep voter disillusionment with the Akhilesh Yadav government, with 67 per cent of the SP’s own voters fully or partially favouring Akhilesh’s replacement by his father and party veteran Mulayam Singh.

However, a huge chunk of respondents, 23 per cent, did not disclose their vote preference, underscoring the need to view the survey results with some caution. Also, the Muslim vote seems to be in a flux currently, which situation could change depending on how the BJP plays the Narendra Modi card.

Ulta Pradesh

It is not without reason that Uttar Pradesh is called “Ulta Pradesh.” With as many political parties as there are castes and sub-castes, the State is truly a psephologist’s nightmare. The results of recent elections in the State, both for the legislative Assembly and the Lok Sabha, confirm U.P.’s reputation for throwing googlies at analysts.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress both polled 18 per cent of the votes. But the BJP got 10 seats while the Congress walked away with 21 seats, emerging second only to the Samajwadi Party (SP) which secured 23 seats for a vote share of 23 per cent. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which topped the vote share table with 28 per cent, finished third behind the Congress with 20 seats.

In the 2012 Assembly election, the SP won a massive 224 of the total 403 seats with a vote share of 29.13 per cent. The BSP, which was a mere three percentage points behind, ended with 80 seats. So which way will the vote go in the 2014 general election? CNN-IBN-The Hindu-CSDS Election Tracker, 2013, shows a dip in vote shares across the board as compared to 2009, except in the case of the BJP, which is shown to have increased its vote share from 18 per cent to 27 per cent — a leap of nine percentage points. Indeed, the BJP emerges right on top in the percentage chart, toppling the SP and the BSP as U.P.’s top vote pullers.

This is extraordinary because since 1993 in the Assembly, and 2002 in the Lok Sabha, political power and leadership in U.P. have been slowly but decisively shifting lower down the caste ladder. If anything, the SP and the BSP co-opted the upper castes into their vote bases, lording over the once hegemonic caste groups. The Congress had already declined by the late 1980s and the BJP too was on a rapid downward spiral.

Two factors for shift

The 2013 shift away from the subaltern parties, as indicated by the survey, appears to have been triggered by two factors: voter disillusionment with the Akhilesh Yadav government and upper caste reconsolidation around the BJP. U.P. was placed 13th in a list of 18 States measured for performance by the survey. Overall, 29 per cent respondents saw the BSP as providing a better government compared to 26 per cent for the SP, though Yadav junior had taken charge to high expectations just over a year earlier. The SP’s cadre wanted Mulayam Singh to gracefully accept that a generational change had taken place in the party.

In the survey, respondents rated Akhilesh poorly on most fronts — 51 per cent of those surveyed said hooliganism had increased under the new Chief Minister; 45 per cent said incidents of crime, murder and kidnapping were on the rise; 42 per cent saw no change in the pace of development.

Not surprisingly, more than half the respondents overall either fully agreed or somewhat agreed that it was time the son was replaced by the father. Significantly, 42 per cent of SP voters were fully in favour of a change while another 25 per cent were inclined towards it.

Akhilesh scored a mixed bag on his laptop distribution freebie: a huge 80 per cent were aware of the scheme and 42 per cent agreed it was a good scheme. However, almost an equal number, or 41 per cent, saw it as a waste of government money.

As for the second factor, the survey indicates that upper castes are retracing their steps towards the BJP which had lost this constituency mostly to the BSP and in part to the SP. The survey is silent on this but some questions arise: is Narendra Modi the inspiration for the upper caste’s return to the BJP’s fold? Mr. Modi is still to show up in U.P. but his confidant Amit Shah has upped the ante with his sharp Hindutva rhetoric. The survey also shows that in the opinion of 28 per cent, forming the largest group, the BJP is the best party to govern U.P. while 25 per cent say it is the best party to maintain law and order.

So going by the survey, it could be a return to the past for U.P.: Yadav senior preferred over rookie junior and a national party, the BJP, going back a decade to become the top vote-getter.

Tilt towards BJP

Of course, knowing U.P., none of this need happen. Secondly, opinion polls in U.P. tend to show a bias in favour of the BJP. Add to this the fact that the BJP’s PR machinery is the best in the State, and the party has the look of a forever winner. The one time this did not happen was in the 2012 Assembly election. The pundits’ favourite in this election was the Congress, which outshouted all other parties only to finish at the bottom of the pile.

Caveats are in order for other reasons too: 23 per cent of the respondents were undecided about who they would vote. BSP supporters are usually silent, and in the event of their forming a sizeable part of this crucial section, the results could be very different. The survey makes no mention of the numerous small parties. The critical Muslim vote is currently badly split. Whether the vote remains fragmented or starts tending towards consolidation will depend on how the BJP plays the Modi card. That in turn will decide how the rest of the players stack up against the BJP.

vidya.s@thehindu.co.in