The BJP is winning UP – according to the India Today-Axis survey released on 4 January. Riding on a strong Modi wave, the BJP would be doing better than the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), if the survey done from October to December is to be believed. On the other hand, ABP News-Lokniti-CSDS poll released on the same day projected a hung Assembly, giving 141-151 seats to the Samajwadi Party, 129-139 to the BJP, and 93-103 to the BSP.
The vote percentage for the Axis Survey for the BJP, the SP and the BSP is projected at 33 percent, 26 percent and 26 percent respectively. The same being projected by the CSDS-Lokniti was 27 percent, 30 percent and 22 percent respectively for the three parties – leaving the Congress irrelevant. Huffington post-C Voter survey, released on 7 January, had also predicted that the BJP would be gaining due to the split in the Samajwadi Party.
Although both the surveys differed on who would win a majority of seats, they both agreed that the real fight was between the BJP and the SP, and the BSP would finish a poor third.
Can We Rely on the Opinion Polls?
Drawing any conclusion based on the above opinion polls could be suicidal before checking how the two polling agencies fared when it came to the Bihar pre-poll surveys ahead of the 2015 state elections in Bihar. The India Today survey had projected 125 seats for the NDA, but it actually won only 58. That is 50 percent less than the projection.
The CSDS-Lokniti survey done exclusively for the Indian Express gave the NDA a 4 percent lead over the RJD-JDU alliance. When the results came out, the NDA had lost badly to the RJD-JDU alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav winning the highest number of seats.
To see how the survey went wrong horribly, one needs to look at the popularity survey conducted by CSDS, where Lalu Prasad had featured in the negative.
It is no secret that Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mayawati – two of the tallest leaders of north India – have never been exactly a favourite of the mainstream media or pollsters, often showing them in a negative light even in the surveys.
It may be recalled that during the 2007 elections in UP, which the BSP had won pretty decently, no pollster had projected a majority for the BSP – neither in the surveys nor in the exit polls. So looking at the current surveys, relegating the BSP to the second or third spot should give Mayawati a cause to worry. Or maybe not!
Tussle Within the Samajwadi Parivar
The timing of the survey, from October to December, does not seem to assess the detailed impact if the Samajwadi Party heads for a split. Also, the surveys do not seem to gauge the impact of freezing of the party's symbol of cycle. At the time of writing this article, a truce was still not achieved and the only respite for the SP workers was reports of Shivpal Yadav meeting Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who claims support of most of the MLAs with him.
Since the split is yet not confirmed officially, let us assume that the SP manages to come together and fights on the cycle symbol. This is precisely what the opinion polls may have assumed. The survey indicates that the SP is not going to form the government even in the best of the scenarios. Irrespective of the credibility of the surveys, reports of the BJP having a real chance of coming to power in the state on its own after a long time would be a cause of worry for the Muslim electorate.
The Muslim Factor
Return of the Kalyan Singh-kind of Mandir politics is the last thing they would want. Despite severe criticism of the SP government for its failure to contain the Shamali-Muzaffarnagar and other innumerable riots, a majority of Muslims still supported the SP during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But the BSP has been making steady inroads into this vote bank over the years.
While the Samajwadi Party’s support base among Muslims has fallen from 45 percent in 2007 to 39 percent in 2012, the same for the BSP has gone up from 18 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012.
During the 2009 UP elections, Muslims turned in hordes to the Congress party with 25 percent supporting it, while only 30 percent voted for the SP, thereby enabling the Congress to win 19 seats from the state, to the surprise of many.
This means that the Samajwadi Party's Muslim base is far from rock solid. A recent trend indicated that it could tilt towards the Congress or the BSP. The Congress is in tatters and the only hope they have now is an alliance with Akhilesh – should he break away from his father.
Azam Khan's Warning
This is precisely why Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party is desperately trying to forge a solution to break the impasse in the party. He reportedly met Mulayam Singh Yadav and told in no uncertain terms that he can’t choose between a father and son, and if there is any split in the party, the majority of traditional Muslim support could move towards Mayawati.
Although the Muslims had been angry with Mayawati for siding with the BJP in the past, very few would disagree that all her previous stints had one good thing – an improved law and order and fairly riot-free rule. This factor could be a huge bonus for the BSP, which is looking to bounce back after a dismal performance in the general elections, where it drew blank for the first time since 1989.
An analysis done by Amitabh Tiwari and Subhash Chandra on a possible Muslim shift towards the BSP in the upcoming UP polls confirms this. According to this article, the BSP may get around 30-50 percent of the Muslim vote-share in the 2017 elections and Dalits, and votes from other sections will take the BSP to around 30 percent share, which is a winning formula in UP. Arguing that security is the priority for Muslims, the analysts wrote, "Muslims have been unhappy over the SP's handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The Dadri incident has further alienated the community from the SP. Besides, Muslims' voting behaviour in the recent past has been BJP-centric – 'negative voting' – as they have voted for a party that could defeat the BJP".
A 10-15 percent shift of Muslim votes towards the BSP could change the fortunes of the party. That is why Mayawati has been heavily banking on the Dalit-Muslim combination this time. While announcing 97 tickets to Muslims out of 403, she reiterated that the Muslims should not waste their votes on the SP or the Congress, lest it will benefit the BJP.
Mayawati to Benefit from SP ‘Pari-War’
It appears imminent that even if the Samajwadi Party stops short of splitting and a last-minute compromise is reached, it could be dogged by rebel candidates in at least 100 constituencies. This was clear from the separate list released by CM Akhilesh Yadav and party president Mulayam Singh Yadav before the saga of expulsion began in late December. In the fight for supremacy, warring factions are likely to work underground to cut other faction to size, despite the patch-up.
Therefore, regardless of whether the SP splits or not, Muslims looking up to Mayawati appears very likely. Incessant infighting in the SP, an irrelevant Congress – combined with a trove of opinion polls and channels giving BJP the edge – may well lead Muslims to coalesce into the BSP en masse.
This is why the opinion polls showing the BJP doing well in UP may not be a bad thing for Mayawati.
(The author is an independent writer and commentator on socio-political issues. He can be reached @scribe_it. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)