Seen from the vantage point of Uttar Pradesh, the 2019 elections are about the Modi factor rather than a Modi wave. In fact, the ground sentiment suggests that it’s a wave-less election. Rather, a new permutation and combination of caste-community arithmetic and corresponding political loyalties have emerged as the determinant of the electoral choices. Hence, understanding demography holds key to the political fortunes of both the BJP and the Mahagathbandhan.
While the first phase in Uttar Pradesh is popularly expected to brighten up the chances of the opposition alliance on account of a positive interplay of social and political factors, wherein the Ajit Singh-led RLD added a thick section of Jats to the social base of SP and BSP—the Muslims and Jatav Dalits, constituting a demographic majority in the second phase in Braj region of western Uttar Pradesh—the demography is evenly distributed in favour of both alliances, with BJP expected to do better than the first phase.
However, in the third phase, when voting takes place for 10 seats on April 23, the demographic preponderance of Yadavs and Muslims in combination with Jatav Dalits spells trouble for the saffron party. The constituencies of Firozabad, Mainpuri, Eta, Badayun, Aonla and Sambhal have thick Yadav, Jatav and Muslim presence, while Moradabad, Rampur, Bareilly and Pilibhit have a large Muslim and Dalit base.
Despite the Modi wave in 2014, the Samajwadi Party retained Firozabad, Mainpuri and Badayun seats on account of conducive demography.
The BJP faces imminent defeat in Firozabad, Mainpuri, Badayun, Sambhal, Moradabad and Rampur, while in Eta, Aonla and Bareilly, a close contest is expected, with Pilibhit being the only comfortable seat, where Varun Gandhi is contesting after shifting from Sultanpur.
More than the demographic arithmetic, it’s the positive chemistry between the social support base of SP and BSP that is giving the alliance momentum. In debates on whether the decades-old socio-political antagonism between the core support bases of SP and the BSP-dominant intermediary caste of Yadavs and politically assertive Dalits and Jatav-Chamars would respond to the alliance between Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, the assumption was that while BSP has the ability to transfer its Dalit vote to the ally, the same isn’t true of SP.
But I found in my fieldwork that not only are Yadavs and Jatav Dalits transferring each other’s vote to the alliance candidates, they are even spirited in their support to each other. In many villages in the region with a mixed population of both castes, a newly emerged bonhomie was witnessed. The primary reason behind this was a shared sense of tangible loss in the wake of BJP’s prominence. To both Jatav Dalits and Yadavs, the two and a half decades of political dominance of SP and BSP signified their centrality in the power configuration in UP.
This political psychology had its tangible dimension wherein during SP rule, institutions of state like the profile of SHOs at police stations, and members of various government committees and commissions etc, hailed from the Yadav caste in good numbers. Also, the community’s share in local governmental contracts was also substantial. Similarly, during BSP’s rule, the Jatav Dalits enjoyed a sense of relatedness to the corridors of power. Besides, despite the electoral decline of the Congress in UP, Muslims felt comfortable with either. This led to a sense of political marginalisation among a section of upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits.
With the BJP assuming political preponderance since 2014, while the support base of SP-BSP nurtured a sense of marginalisation, the upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits feel a sense of proximity to power as they have more representation in the legislature, the executive and other bodies. It is this sense of loss that has created positive chemistry between the Yadavs, Jatav Dalits, and Muslims to offer support to alliance candidates. This bonhomie between the Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims has counterbalanced similar chemistry between upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and a section of non-Jatav Dalits.
Since the Lok Sabha constituencies going to polls in the third phase have demographic dominance of Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims, the opposition alliance is placed better. The BJP would find it hard to match the demographic weight behind the Mahagathbandhan. However, any hasty conclusion about the electoral fate of the BJP in the third phase in UP would be erroneous, as in the fourth and fifth phases, when 27 constituencies will vote, the demographic configuration will be in favour of the saffron party.