With polls in five states, we are faced again with the vexed question of whether the electorate votes the same way in state and general elections. Nowhere is this more relevant than in Uttar Pradesh, where assembly elections are under way. In the 2014 general elections, a Modi wave swept across UP. The BJP grabbed 71 of 80 seats with a 43 per cent vote share. This, if overlaid onto an assembly poll, would mean wins in 328 of 403 seats. In contrast, in 2012, in the last assembly election, the BJP, pitted against the same opponents, got a mere 15 per cent vote share and 47 seats. The difference? Clearly, 2014 was an overwhelming mandate for Candidate Modi.
Five years later, the scenario has changed. Candidate Modi is now PM Modi who, midway through his tenure, detonated the D-bomb. Also, two of the BJP’s rivals in UP are now allies—Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, currently in power, and Rahul Gandhi’s Congress, which was humiliated in the state in 2014, winning just two Lok Sabha seats. The two hope to reach out to not only the traditional SP-Congress vote bank of Yadavs and Muslims but also to young people, cutting across conventional ties. There is also four-time chief minister Mayawati and her BSP, which is strong among the Dalits and with 100 Muslim candidates, hopes to make a powerful play for that community. She has already addressed 35 rallies.
The question is who to elect as CM. Therein lies the rub. The BJP campaign has been headlined by PM Modi, who has addressed six rallies in the state so far. The party, however, has not projected a strong local candidate. Though this strategy worked in polls in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand, wherever they have faced strong local rivals, such as in Delhi and Bihar, they have faltered. Where they put up a strong local candidate, such as in Assam, they did well.
It’s worth remembering that in the absence of a ‘wave’, UP’s electorate is far from monolithic. In western UP, the Jats and RLD may be an element cutting into the BJP’s loyal Hindu base. In eastern UP, the dominance of extremely backward castes has meant a plethora of candidates from that section in all party lists. Will Akhilesh emerge victorious for a second term and beat anti-incumbency? His ready-to-market bromance with Rahul and their relative youth (Akhilesh is 43, Rahul 46) seem to have energised voters as was evident in their three joint roadshows and his 80 solo rallies so far. Akhilesh seems confident of victory. Group Editorial Director (Publishing) Raj Chengappa and India Today (Hindi) Editor Anshuman Tiwari, who interviewed him in Lucknow, say Akhilesh avoids clichéd rhetoric on Dalits and minorities and prefers to talk about roads, cities, markets and electricity.
There is a lot at stake for each contender—for the PM, his prestige; for the young CM, his record sans his father; for Mayawati, her hold over her vote bank; and for Rahul Gandhi, the revival of a moribund Congress. Given all this, March 11 is going to be one stressful day for everyone. I can only hope the winner gets a clear mandate to avoid messy coalitions and chaotic horse-trading.
(From left) India Today’s Ashish Misra, Anshuman Tiwari and Raj Chengappa with UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav