Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections, Ground Zero Varanasi
PM Modi campaigns for the BJP during a roadshow in Varanasi on March 4. Photograph: (AFP)
Elections in Uttar Pradesh have entered the final phase. In fact, it has entered the lion’s den.
The last phase includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi. Of the 40 seats, the last assembly elections held in 2012 saw the Samajwadi Party running away with 23 seats and the rest got divided between BJP, BSP, Congress and independents. This time around, the BJP wants to change the picture in the eastern corner of the state by increasing its tally from five odd seats. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigning like an ordinary MP for three days, BJP desires to consolidate the lead it acquired after the third phase of the elections when identity politics set aside development as the main electoral theme.
The naysayers may accuse PM Modi of communalising the elections but it ultimately ended in drawing both Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi in unchartered water. Though the Congress fell short of filing a complaint, the agenda of development took a beating pushing the BJP ahead. It is the harvest of this development that the BJP wants to reap in the last phase.
The new-found confidence of BJP also rests on the performance of the BSP in the state whose candidates are consistently cutting into the SP-Congress alliance vote. The bifurcation of Muslim vote coupled with personalised campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made the election truly triangular this time after a hiatus of 15 years. What makes it even more interesting is that despite high profile campaign of BJP and Congress-SP alliance, BSP continues to pull along even in the last phase making a clean sweep impossible for any one party. This has happened despite BJP treating UP like a prestige election.
It is for this reason that the PM had to intensify the campaign so the message goes out that the BJP is going to fight for every seat, till the end. It is in this context Varanasi becomes extremely important for all the three parties. For SP-Congress, it is about retaining what they have and for BJP and BSP, this phase is an attempt to spectacularly beef up the numbers. BSP doesn’t have catchy slogans but what it has is a web of strong local candidates who were given tickets 6 months in advance making every seat difficult for both BJP and BSP.
Another important development which has gone unnoticed is that in all the eastern Uttar Pradesh elections, including the last phase, BJP seems to have been doing well in the rural areas. The resurgence for the BJP is not only coming from urban areas but rural pockets dominated by non-Yadav and Other Backward Castes. It is this development which should worry the Samajwadi Party-Congress combine which has most to lose in this phase.
Though rallies and road shows have been packed for both of them but silent realignment cannot be ignored. The way BJP got surprised in the western Uttar Pradesh, the electorate is all set to surprise New Delhi in the eastern corner of the state which is all set to vote more for BJP. The sympathy which Ajit Singh received from the Jat community is all set to be compensated by a silent upsurge from marginal OBC groups in the eastern part.
Lastly, the worst mistake which the SP-Congress made was that the Muslim vote would pull them through. Despite continuous commitment to the word “kaam bolta hai”, the sub text of Muslim vote remained dominant creating a silent majority polarisation. The only problem for BJP in Uttar Pradesh is not alliance but BSP which has worked assiduously post 2014 to work on the message that Dalits aren’t a part of Hinduism as they have a different identity opposed to what is projected through Hindutva. If BJP wins or even does well, it will finish Mayawati in short term as non Jatav Dalits would finally become part of the Hindutva project. And in case she is able to either win or retain her constituency with added heft, the Hindutva project would remain an unfinished business for BJP.