Primarily because that was a Modi wave election and all non-BJP parties were fighting to plug the leaks in their respective votebanks. To define the BJP’s floor, the 2012 UP Assembly results can serve as a realistic reference point.
In 2012, the saffron party returned to the lowest level – 15 percent – in a trend line comprising several consecutive elections. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which scored a duck in terms of seats in Lok Sabha 2014, yet managed to secure a 20 per cent vote share. The Congress managed to poll barely 8 per cent in 2014, which is over 3 per cent lower than what they polled in the 2012 Assembly elections. The Samajwadi Party (SP) too scored only 23 percent in 2014.
First, the big picture. Common sense dictates that those parties which have touched their lowest or highest performance, will now begin their return journey towards the middle, call it the equilibrium, in the absence of 2014-like circumstances.
In bare terms, the BJP will shed from its unprecedented vote share of 43 per cent, to the advantage of the rest. Unlike in a Lok Sabha poll, UP’s local politics is every bit dominated by regional parties like the SP, BSP and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
In a parliamentary poll, the voters tend to consider the regional parties as marginal players. Also, the constituencies are far bigger and, therefore, relatively less manageable due to lack of a closer connect with the candidates. The Assembly polls are a different story. This puts added pressure on the BJP to shed from its vote share.
Finally, the lack of a viable state-centric leader to helm the campaign for the BJP – and that too when faced with a four-time chief minister like Mayawati or a youthful incumbent like Akhilesh Yadav, who is no less formidable – mars the chances substantially, if not completely.
Now the specifics. A majority of those Dalits who had substantially contributed to the BJP’s sweep in 2014 have largely returned to the BSP. The sub-caste level division to scoop out Valmikis is overstated.
Only Sonkars/Khateeks, who have usually been breaking ranks to vote for the BJP in urban areas, may stay with the BJP. This offers a major solace to Mayawati. Her headache is the reluctant Muslim vote. This segment is not moving en masse to her as in the past.
In places, Mayawati will get the Muslim votes because only the BSP is in a position to stop the BJP.
Prime examples are like Bijnor in western UP, pockets in Meerut, Agra and Ghaziabad and several districts in Terai and Poorvanchal.
The Muslim vote, particularly in western UP, has consolidated around the SP-Congress combine.
This consolidation is such that the Hindu candidate of SP in Budhana, Pramod Tyagi, is taking most of the Muslim votes even when the BSP has fielded a strong Muslim candidate.
In Saharanpur, the BJP may draw a blank in the entire district despite winning the Lok Sabha seat.
Likewise, in Moradabad and Muzaffarnagar, the SP-Congress combine is sweeping most of the seats.
An average Muslim voter goes for a three-filter test. The first and the foremost filter is who can defeat the BJP. The second, a desirable but not mandatory condition, is if such a candidate is also a Muslim. The icing is, of course, if the party happens to be SP.
The trouble for the BJP isn’t that the Muslim vote is out to avenge a complete wipe-out of 2014. Their problem is that the non-Muslim vote is blissfully indifferent to this one-way polarisation. And the BJP has only itself to blame.
In western UP, the BJP, which took more than 50 percent vote share in 2014, is suffering essentially on account of the Jats. The Jats have gone jittery with the BJP and a bit remorseful for having let down Ajit Singh and his RLD.
This may not yield even half a dozen seats to the RLD, but will almost certainly cook the BJP goose.
The Jats have always played a major role in the BJP’s success. Over the years, the party groomed its own Jat leadership and also made them ministers. But, they have not moved about the khaps to create the grassroots connect and acquire the stature that can match up with Chaudhary Charan Singh’s legacy.
Another chink in the BJP’s armour is their traditional mainstay, the trader vote. The demonetisation drive has hit this section the hardest. The party may be flush enough to not bother for their money, but the indifference of the traders is going to cost them dearly in some close fights.
Even the high vote share of May 2014 will not prove to be a credible-enough insurance.
In fact, that vote may turn out to be just a one-time fairytale surge.
UP, this time, is settling down to business as usual. The BJP can count on Tyagis, Sainis, Lodhs, Thakurs, Punjabis, Brahmins, Telis, Nishads, Kurmis and a host of others, but then they don’t vote en block everywhere.
They often weigh their own candidate options and the local equation. The Yadav vote too, which had leaked a little to favour the BJP in 2014, has almost entirely moved back to the SP. This is because the BJP is unable to offer itself evocatively enough, even to its own core.
Akhilesh has emerged as an affable young face. He has managed to camouflage the harsh edges of the SP, and that too after it ran roughshod over UP for five years.
He also seems to have emerged almost unscathed from the clan feud that threatened to go out of control in the eleventh hour.
By stitching an alliance with the Congress, Akhilesh has created an opening in what has traditionally been the weakest region for the SP – western UP.
Most importantly, he has shrugged off the incumbent’s accountability factor, which always weighs down even the most seasoned of the campaigners.
Akhilesh, believe it or not, is palming himself off as a fresh – new and improved if you please – option. The atmospherics suggest that no one has been able to call his bluff yet.
The winner in the midst of all equations seems to be the Congress. A party, as if given up for dead, is rising from its funeral pyre. Clutching on to the “dhoti/pyjama” of SP, the Congress is all set for a revival.
It was the fear of this revival that made Mulayam resent such an alliance. In several urban pockets, the Congress is tugging at the votes alienated by the BJP.
The likely scenario: UP seems headed for a hung house. Nobody can stop Mayawati from crossing the three-digit score. The question is, how far will she go beyond that?
Will she race ahead of the SP-Congress combine, which very few are willing to concede as on date, and the BJP?
The party should be very lucky to get even close to a 25 percent vote share, down from the 43 per cent it cornered in 2014. This does not translate to a three-digit score in terms of seats.
BJP seems to be in for some more “kar seva” for Mayawati – that is if she can keep her flock together after the polls.