The second phase of polling for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections is slated for Monday, 14 February. This phase covers 55 seats across nine districts, and a majority of them fall under the Rohilkhand region.
In the 2017 Assembly elections, while the BJP had dominated this area like the rest of the state, this was a relatively better region for the Samajwadi Party (SP). The party had won 15 seats, and its erstwhile ally, the Congress, had won two. Nearly one in three SP and Congress MLAs came from this region.
Here's a district-wise break-up of the seats won by different parties in 2017:
This time, the Congress is fighting separately, while the SP is contesting in alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, Pragatisheel Samaj Party (Lohia), Mahan Dal, Janvadi Party (Socialist), Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), and the Nationalist Congress Party.
The SP-RLD alliance claims to have made significant gains in the first phase of polling. While the extent of these gains may be unclear, it is true that the farmers' protest did wean a section of Jat voters off the BJP.
In the second phase, some of the factors we saw in the first phase may continue, but some things will be different.
1. INCREASING BIPOLARITY
By many accounts, the first-phase districts – especially the sugarcane belt of Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, and to some extent, Meerut, may have witnessed a greater degree of bipolarity, with the BJP and the SP-RLD alliance emerging as the two prominent players, and to some extent, sidelining the BSP and the Congress.
The BSP may still have been a strong Opposition in districts like Agra and Mathura that voted in the first phase.
It is possible that the second-phase areas could see a continuation of the first phase's bipolarity.
This could include the SP gaining some ground at the expense of the BSP and the Congress. One of the places where this could happen is Saharanpur, where both the BSP and the Congress used to be stronger.
But now, with increasing bipolarity and some new inductions like Imran Masood from the Congress and Dharam Singh Saini from the BJP, the SP's fortunes are on the rise.
Bijnor is another district to watch out for, as the BSP has a significant base here.
2. THIS IS PRIMARILY SP's PHASE
Barring a few areas in Bijnor, Saharanpur, and Amroha districts, the RLD isn't a player in this region. It's contesting only three seats out of 55 – two in Bijnor and one in Saharanpur.
This area would almost entirely be dependent on the might of the SP, and the party hopes to win over half the seats in this region and bring the BJP's tally down by at least 15 seats.
3. MUSLIMS, DALITS, AND NON-YADAV OBCs
Some of the districts voting in phase 2 have a sizable Muslim population: Rampur 50%, Moradabad 50%, Bijnor 43%, Saharanpur 42%, Amroha 41%, Bareilly 34%, Sambhal 33%, and Badaun 23%.
Last time, the BJP managed to win some of the seats that in these districts due to a split of Muslim votes between the SP and the BSP.
But when the two parties contested together in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, they managed to dominate this region, winning seven out of the 11 Lok Sabha seats that fall in these districts.
The question, this time, is: can the SP now consolidate this vote on its own? If it manages to do that, this phase may emerge as one of its best phases in the elections.
Now, if the SP ends up gaining due to a consolidation of minority votes, it would mean that it would largely be benefitting at the expense of the BSP and the Congress, as discussed earlier.
However, it's not just Muslims, this area also has a sizable presence of Dalits (especially Jatavs), upper-caste voters, and non-Yadav OBCs.
The Quint's ground report from Saharanpur revealed the churn among Jatav and Valmiki voters in the area.
Smaller OBC communities like Sainis and Khadgavanshis also have pockets of influence. Kurmis are more numerous and are especially influential in Bareilly district.
In some seats like Bilaspur, the contest is mainly between Punjabi candidates.
4. IS ANY VOTING BLOC JOINING THE SP FROM THE BJP?
The first phase may have been a bit different. While the SP-RLD alliance may have gained even in the first phase – due to a consolidation of minority votes – a crucial aspect is that the alliance was also staking claim to a sizable chunk of the BJP votes, especially Jat farmers.
In the second phase, it is a bit doubtful whether the SP alliance would succeed in winning over any major voting bloc from the BJP. Jats aren't present in large numbers in these areas, so the SP's main focus has been to win over non-Yadav OBC votes.
Winning over a voting bloc from the BJP is crucial for the SP to avoid washouts, like what happened in Bareilly district last time, with the BJP winning all nine seats.
Here are some of the heavyweight candidates and key constituencies in the second phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh:
Rampur - Mohammad Azam Khan, veteran SP leader and nine-term MLA
Suar - Abdullah Azam Khan, son of Azam Khan
Shahjahanpur - Finance Minister Suresh Khanna
Nakur - Dharam Singh Saini, BJP minister now contesting on an SP ticket
Bilaspur - Minister of State Baldev Raj Aulakh is up against senior Congress leader Sanjay Kapoor and SP's Sardar Amarjit Singh
Chandausi - Gulab Devi, Minister of state
Badaun - Mahesh Chandra Gupta, Minister of State
Baheri - Chhatrapal Gangwar, Minister of State
Kanth - Kamal Akhtar, senior SP leader and former minister
Amroha - Mehboob Ali, senior SP leader and 4-term MLA