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Amid the Voters’ Mahagathbandhan, Who Will Become the CM of UP?

The Congress alliance with Samajwadi Party, some experts hold, has ensured that the Muslim vote is now theirs.

Updated
Amid the Voters’  Mahagathbandhan, Who Will Become the CM of UP?

Political pundits, opinion polls and the satta bazaar (illegal betting business) are unanimous in their view that the three-way electoral battle for UP makes the chances of a winner-takes-all party slim to none. According to these predictions, the winning party or a coalition of parties will likely grab 160-170 seats, the runner-up will end up with 130 and the third position will be taken by a party with about 80 in its kitty.

These numbers are based on an older logic which flowed from the 2015 Bihar assembly polls which constituted a straightforward tussle between the RJD-JD(U)-Congress grand alliance and the BJP. The SP-Congress tie-up in UP, far from being comparable, is really a minigathbandhan.

With Mayawati’s BSP no mean contender, the battle for UP will be three-cornered and could potentially throw up a hung assembly. However, another argument maintains that there is no clear inclination among voters this time around for any particular party. The UP election results, far from being foregone, will be fluid.

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What is, however, indisputable is that the UP elections will determine the country’s political future, which throws the polls open to analyses from several angles. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation announcement, made slightly over a month before elections to five state assemblies were declared, was undoubtedly a political weapon that sought to polarise voters along economic rather than religious and/or caste faultlines.

The majoritarian sentiment on demonetisation continues to be on the BJP’s side, although there are regular reports of the move’s adverse impact on the people and the economy. This makes the resurgence of potentially polarising issues such as Ram temple and triple talaq in the BJP’s election manifesto inexplicable.

UP’s incumbent Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav, in what many consider to be a masterstroke, has rid himself of the spectre of anti-incumbency by publicly taking up arms against his dad, the patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav. But Mulayam’s pendulous oscillation in his support for and condemnation of his Akhilesh is a threat the CM must yet neutralise.

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In UP’s caste-ridden political tradition, the Samajwadi Party’s real rival is the BSP, but the state is rife with reports that Mayawati’s hold on some parts of the state, especially the western, has been eroding of late.

The veracity of the reports will be determined when the poll results are declared. On the other hand, the BJP has always had an uneasy relationship with the Muslim voters and attempts are on in full swing to divide the minority votes, which will ensure that the community does not throw its weight behind either the Yadavs or the Dalits.

The Congress might be a weak political entity by itself but its alliance with the Samajwadi Party, some political observers claims, has ensured that the Muslim vote is now theirs. 

It was in this backdrop that Modi’s secular, political weapon – the note ban – was launched. The BJP is hoping that even if it loses its traditional bania vote, it will gain five poor votes in the process.

Voter behaviour will depend on whether they buy into the PM’s personal appeal and the popular perception of him as He-Man battling widespread corruption and internal dissent, or whether they are mindful that they are voting for a chief minister.

The factors that influence a voter’s decision are always numerous and idiosyncratic; experts seek to neatly categorise and label them according to caste or religion, but this reductionism rarely works.
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The Real Mahagatbandhan is in the Voters’ Mind

It often happens that political alliances fail in the face of elections but voter coalitions stand strong. It could be that UP will be witness to such dynamics this time.

Whatever the result, it is evident that there is a clear polarisation of votes in UP. The voter’s mind is made up; the fate of all political parties is in his hands.

It is possible that a voter mahagatbandhan might emerge in these elections. 

If UP’s voters are pleased with brand Modi, the question, who gets to be the CM, may sound irrelevant, and the BJP will be assured of victory. A youth-driven election or one decided on caste considerations will propel either the SP-Congress alliance or the BSP to power.

(Photo: PTI)
During the 2015 Bihar polls, Nitish Kumar told me that the voter not only chooses the government but also the opposition. If UP’s electorate were to follow this dictum, the result is bound to be different.

The foundational assumptions of the UP elections have undergone much change, so much so that all predictions might be proved wrong in the end.

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While we should be cautious about the pitfalls of predictions, one could still be made before the first phase of polling gets underway in western UP: there will be no hung assembly and there will be a voter mahagathbandhan.

In other words, the winning party or coalition will grab 225+ seats with the party in third position only 75.

We will also tell you the names of the winning and losing parties much before the results are announced. Till then, keep reading The Quint.

One last point: The BJP’s habit of exhuming old issues, the Yadav family feud, and the BSP’s brand dilution (a case in point being Mukhtar Ansari’s inclusion) has caused considerable confusion on the ground and might shake things up as far as a voter mahagatbandhan is concerned.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Topics:  Narendra Modi   BJP   Congress 

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