The BJP falls short of a clear ma­jor­ity in Lucknow, yet is a fron­trun­ner in three out of four states, pre­dicts the In­dia Today-Axis pre-poll sur­vey. The Con­gress is poised for a ma­jor­ity in Pun­jab

India Today - - STATES - By Ajit Ku­mar Jha

De­scribe it as a per­sonal chem­istry be­tween the 43­year­old Ut­tar Pradesh Chief Min­is­ter Akhilesh Yadav and the 46­year­old Con­gress vice­pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi, or ex­plain it as the geo­met­ric pro­gres­sion of the pre­poll Sa­ma­jwadi Party­Con­gress al­liance. But the truth is the al­liance be­tween the two par­ties is rapidly re­duc­ing the ad­van­tage the Bharatiya Janata Party en­joyed till re­cently, buoyed by the pub­lic re­sponse to the sur­gi­cal strike across the LoC and de­mon­eti­sa­tion be­ing sold as a pro­poor ini­tia­tive. As UP heads to vote, the in­dia today­Axis pre­poll sur­vey re­veals that what started as a three­cornered con­test—be­tween the BJP, BSP and SP­Con­gress al­liance—is end­ing up as a fiercely com­pet­i­tive bipo­lar fight be­tween the BJP, as the sin­gle largest party, and the surg­ing SP­Con­gress al­liance.

The sur­vey shows that the edge held by the BJP in the sur­veys in Oc­to­ber and De­cem­ber 2016 has be­gun to give way. In the Jan­uary 2017 sur­vey, the seats pro­jected for the BJP have re­duced to a range of 180­191 (out of 403) from 206­216 in De­cem­ber. This de­spite the party’s pop­u­lar vote share in­creas­ing by 1.6 per cent, from 33.2 per cent in De­cem­ber to 34.8 per cent now. Since opin­ion polls usu­ally have a mar­gin of er­ror of up to 3 per cent, the BJP’s mar­ginal lead in In­dia’s bell­wether state could turn ei­ther way in a closely con­tested elec­tion. The SPCongress al­liance is pro­jected to get 168 to 179 seats, com­pared to just 92 to 97 seats for the SP and 5 to 7 for the Con­gress in De­cem­ber.

The im­pli­ca­tions of this late surge by the al­liance will surely change po­lit­i­cal equa­tions in Lucknow af­ter March 11, the vote­count day. With a slen­der lead, the BJP is likely to end up as the sin­gle largest party, pre­vented by the SP­Con­gress al­liance from form­ing a gov­ern­ment on its own. Or else, the al­liance, with 33.2 per cent pop­u­lar vote, will not only close the 1.6 per­cent­age point gap with the BJP but snatch the num­ber one po­si­tion from it. The po­ten­tial of the al­liance cross­ing the fin­ish­ing line is also in­di­cated by the choice of chief min­is­ter among the re­spon­dents, 45 per cent of who con­sider devel­op­ment as the main elec­toral is­sue. In­cum­bent CM Akhilesh Yadav, who has an­nounced a slew of devel­op­ment projects in the state, en­joys 35 per cent pop­u­lar­ity

as the next CM. His near­est ri­val, BJP vet­eran Rajnath Singh, is way be­hind at 21 per cent.

While it is prac­ti­cally neck-and-neck be­tween the BJP and SP-Con­gress al­liance, the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party is a dis­tant third with 20 per cent pop­u­lar vote share but pro­jected seats as few as 39-43. Sur­veys fre­quently un­der­es­ti­mate the BSP, de­spite the silent sup­port it en­joys among the masses. The ques­tion is whether the BSP’s ap­par­ent losses will trans­late into gains for the BJP or the SP-Con­gress al­liance. The an­swer partly lies in how far the al­liance is able to pa­per over the con­tra­dic­tions in seat ar­range­ments on the ground dur­ing the next six weeks of the cam­paign and how much the Naren­dra Modi-led NDA gov­ern­ment is able to sell Bud­get 2017 to the vot­ers in In­dia’s most pop­u­lous and po­lit­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant state.

In Pun­jab’s tri­an­gu­lar con­test, the sur­vey shows the Con­gress con­tin­u­ing to ride a strong an­ti­in­cum­bency wave against the 10-year-old Shi­ro­mani Akali Dal-BJP gov­ern­ment. With a 37 per cent pop­u­lar vote share and seats pro­jected in the range of 60 to 65 (out of 117), the Con­gress looks to be in a po­si­tion to form the gov­ern­ment. How­ever, the Aam Aadmi Party is poised to make big gains and fin­ish a close run­ner-up, with only a 3 per­cent­age point gap with the Con­gress and a pro­jec­tion of as many as 41-44 seats. The SAD-BJP al­liance is hope­lessly be­hind, with 24 per cent voter sup­port and just 11-15 seats.

In both Goa and Ut­tarak­hand, says the sur­vey, the BJP ap­pears to en­joy an edge

over its chal­lengers. The BJP’s ad­van­tage in the 70-seat Ut­tarak­hand is be­cause of the strong an­ti­in­cum­bency against the Con­gress. In con­trast, the BJP, as the in­cum­bent in Goa, is ben­e­fit­ting from the split in the op­po­si­tion vote be­tween the Con­gress and new player AAP. The sur­vey projects the BJP’s seats in Goa in the range of 22-25 out of 40 and the Con­gress’s at 12-14. In Ut­tarak­hand, there is a yawn­ing gap be­tween the pop­u­lar vote shares of the BJP (44 per cent) and the Con­gress (35 per cent). The BJP could bag 40-44 seats, re­strict­ing the Con­gress to 23-27.

The fierce bat­tle for the throne in UP is the re­sult of a bipo­lar so­ci­o­log­i­cal di­vide across com­mu­ni­ties. Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, while the BJP has 68 per cent sup­port among the up­per castes and 56 per cent across the back­ward castes, bar­ring the Ya­davs, the SPCongress al­liance draws 82 per cent sup­port from Ya­davs and 74 per cent from Mus­lims. The BSP gets 60 per cent sup­port from the Dal­its. De­spite 99 tick­ets dis­trib­uted among Mus­lims, the party has only se­cured 12 per cent sup­port from the com­mu­nity, down from 20 per cent in 2012. In Pun­jab, the Con­gress is more pop­u­lar among the back­ward castes and Dal­its among Hin­dus. The AAP draws greater sup­port from the back­ward castes and Dal­its among Sikhs. The Con­gress is more pop­u­lar among the ur­ban vot­ers while the AAP finds greater ap­peal in the coun­try­side.

Vic­to­ries in UP, Ut­tarak­hand and Goa are likely to give the BJP a boost coun­try­wide. But a Con­gress win in Pun­jab and the pos­si­bil­ity of the SP-Con­gress al­liance in UP beat­ing the BJP could turn the tide. Af­ter de­feats in the po­lit­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant Delhi and Bi­har as­sem­bly polls, po­ten­tial losses in ma­jor states like Pun­jab and UP could dent PM Modi’s image as the main vote-get­ter for the BJP. An ad­van­tage for the SPCongress al­liance in UP could def­i­nitely change the for­tunes of Akhilesh and Rahul for a big­ger na­tional role in 2019.

JOINT VEN­TURE: SP and Con­gress sup­port­ers dur­ing a road­show by Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi in Lucknow on Jan­uary 29

CAP­TAIN COM­MAND: Con­gress leader Amarinder Singh speaks to the me­dia while cam­paign­ing in Am­rit­sar on Jan­uary 19

CENTRESTAGE: BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah, flanked by party lead­ers, at a rally in Dehradun on Novem­ber 13 last year

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