The latest survey by ABP News and CVoter has predicted that the electoral race might be tightening in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
CVoter's tracker for November has projected that the ruling NDA could be heading towards around 217 seats, a fall of a hundred seats from 2017 while the Samajwadi Party-led alliance comprising the Rashtriya Lok Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party could get around 156 seats. The survey puts the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress far behind at a projection of 18 and 8 seats respectively.
Significantly, the gap between the BJP and SP is said to have reduced in the last one month. CVoter's October tracker had predicted 245 seats for the NDA and 134 for the SP-led alliance, a gap of 111 seats. The projected gap is now 61, a reduction of 50 seats in the last one month.
This reduction also comes at a time when there is buzz of a divide within the BJP - between the Yogi Adityanath government on one hand and the party organisation backed by a section of the central leadership on the other.
Curiously, this reduction of gap between the BJP and SP isn't reflected in the vote share. In fact, the projected vote share of the BJP and SP has gone down marginally in the last one month, while it is the Congress that has been the main gainer. Its projected vote share has gone up by three percentage points between October and November.
So what explains BJP's reducing lead in Uttar Pradesh? Is it in any real danger of an electoral upset?
WHAT EXPLAINS BJP'S REDUCING LEAD IN UP?
There are broadly three regions in UP where the BJP is facing trouble - West UP, Rohilkhand and East UP - and the pushback in each of these regions began at different points of time.
Barring a few seats in Saharanpur district, the BJP had done very well in this region in 2017 buoyed by a near complete shift of Jat votes following the 2013 Muzaffarnagar violence. According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, the Jat support for NDA strengthened in 2019 general elections and it got 91 percent of the community's votes.
However, the farm laws and the subsequent protests seem to have turned a major chunk of the Jat community against the BJP. Along with farmers from Punjab, Jat farmers of West UP have been at the forefront of the protests, with Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union emerging as an importance face of the movement.
Psephologist and CVoter founder, Yashwant Deshmukh, says that the farm laws are only one part of the story.
There is a feeling among Jats of UP that they have lost access to power, that there is no one to speak on their behalf.Yashwant Deshmukh, CVoter founder
This may explain the traction that Tikait and RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary seem to be getting in the community.
For the past few months, it has been clear that much of the BJP's losses in UP are coming from this region.
However, the November tracker has revealed losses in another region, one which hadn't been as negative for the BJP a couple of months ago - East UP.
The caste divide is very strong in this region and a number of factors could be contributing to some losses for the BJP - from Yogi Adityanath's image of promoting only Thakurs to the new alliance between the SP and the SBSP.
There's another issue here.
The map clearly shows that in 2017, in many seats in East UP, the NDA's margin was under 10 percentage points. Therefore, even small swings could lead to a loss of seats for the NDA.
The map also shows that there are only two areas where the Opposition managed some kind of a resistance in the 2017 Assembly elections - Rohilkhand and some pockets in East UP like Azamgarh, Jaunpur and Ghazipur districts.
Even in the Lok Sabha elections, these were the main regions that held out against the BJP wave in UP.
In the Moradabad administrative division, which broadly corresponds to the Rohilkhand region, the BJP was completely wiped out in the Lok Sabha elections. It lost all six seats to the Mahagathbandhan - Moradabad, Rampur, Sambhal, Amroha, Bijnor and Nagina.
These also happen to be areas with a high concentration of Muslims. The creation of the SP-BSP Mahagathbandhan received overwhelming support from the community. Reports suggest that despite the break-up of the alliance, Muslims' support for SP is said to have grown, especially with the BSP supporting the BJP on a number of key issues. Compared to Rohilkhand and East UP, where the BJP's weaknesses began showing even in 2019, the party remains in a dominant position across the Bundelkhand, Awadh and Bagelkhand regions. Even in West UP, the BJP may retain its hold in places like Hathras, Etah, Kasganj, Aligarh, Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddhh Nagar while it is likely to lose ground in districts like Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Saharanpur, Shamli, Baghpat and Hapur.
WHAT EXPLAINS DECLINE IN SEAT PROJECTION DESPITE NO MAJOR FALL IN VOTE SHARE?
The CVoter's survey has shown a significant decline in the BJP's seats but the reduction in its vote share has only been marginal.
This is a Gujarat-like phenomena - the BJP has huge leads in some areas while in other areas it is marginally behind its opponents, therefore it's projected number of seats is slightly less than what it should be at that vote share.Yashwant Deshmukh
A similar case was that of the Congress-led alliance in Assam, which got more or less the same proportion of votes as BJP but less seats as its votes were more concentrated in some areas.
In UP, another thing seems to have happened - a comparatively higher degree of bipolarity than previous elections. Through much of the 1990s and 2000s the combined vote share of the top two parties in UP has been just about 50-55 percent.
It reached 62 percent in 2017. If CVoter's prediction is anything to go by, the combined vote share of BJP and SP may touch 70 percent, indicating that both, especially SP, may be growing at the expense of others.
With SP capturing a larger share of the anti-BJP vote, many seats that were lost due to a vote split between non-BJP parties, have now become increasingly competitive.
IS BJP IN ANY REAL DANGER?
There is no doubt that the BJP has lost some ground and is facing a strong challenge in the three regions mentioned above. The party may also be suffering due to the internal tussle between the Yogi government and the party organisation.
But despite these issues, the BJP remains dominant in the state. It would require a very substantial swing against the BJP and in favour of SP for it to be defeated.
To give an idea of how big a swing is required, let's take a look at the nature of the BJP's victory in 2017.
Out of the 325 seats that the NDA won, 93 seats were won with a margin of over 20 percentage points. This is more than all the seats won by the entire Opposition. Then another 123 seats were won by a margin of 10-20 percentage points. This means that in 222 seats, the NDA's margin was over 10 percentage points.
This means, it would require a swing of at least five percent against the BJP and in favour of its main rival in each of these to begin turning them.
A bit easier for the Opposition would be the 103 seats that the NDA won by a margin of less than 10 percentage points. However, even if the Opposition retains all its seats and turns each of these 103 seats, the NDA would still be above the majority mark unless there is a bigger swing against the BJP.
This should give an idea of how difficult it would be for the Opposition to dislodge the BJP.
Now, the question is: can such big swings take place?
Such swings do take place when there's massive anti-incumbency or if entire social groups shift from one party to another. A big swing can be expected from among Jat voters of West UP, though even this may be far from an en masse shift.
However, other than a shift of Jats to the RLD, consolidation of Muslims behind the SP-led alliance the possible impact of the SBSP's entry, there aren't reports of a major shift of any other social group. There are rumours of Brahmins being upset with BJP in East UP and of some Jatavs contemplating tactically voting for SP to defeat the BJP. But it is not clear whether these would amount to a larger change.
Yes, there will be some leakage from the BJP - a chunk of disgruntled people across social groups may choose to shift to SP as the main Opposition or stay away from the election completely affecting the BJP's support base.
However, such shifts may not be enough .
The SP may have just about done enough to cross 30 percent votes in UP, something it hasn't achieved on its own in the state. It may hope that as elections draw close, it would be able to consolidate more Opposition votes.
On the other hand, the BJP may end up dropping a lot of sitting MLAs to deal with anti-incumbency. This could possibly help it stem further damage.