The up election is essentially a triangular contest among BSP, BJP and SP with Muslims (19.3 per cent of the population) holding the key in the elections to the Assembly. Their equation with Dalits and with Yadavs will decide which of the three parties will win power. Our field work among this section, conducted just before the current drama in the Samajwadi Party, provided us important insights. We found that an overwhelming majority of them are willing to wait till the final declaration of candidates by the three contender parties.
Objectively, a positive correlation indeed exists between the Muslim vote and the Samajwadi Party’s chances, a factor that is compounded by the positive image of Akhilesh Yadav. If one asks Muslims about which party’s victory they desire most, SP unambiguously emerges as the most preferred option. However, appreciation of a party and a leader cannot be treated as an automatic vote for the same.
Multiple factors like constituency-level demographic composition, the candidate’s profile, knowledge of the shifting social base of the core voters of various candidates, the permutations and combinations of perceived floating voters intervene in this decision. This gap between the Muslims’ ideal political choice and context-specific actual electoral choice is something that many questionnaire-based election studies tend to miss, leading to the Samajvadi Party getting more credence at the cost of the BSP.
A narrative method-based field study, despite limited a sample size, has the cognitive advantage of delving deeper into the complicated and layered articulations of the respondents.
Our field work revealed that Muslims, divided, along the lines of sects
(Deobandi and Barelvi; Shia and Sunni) and castes (Ashraf and Pasmanda), are divided in their politico-electoral preferences and yet are united in one way: that is, their preference for a non-BJP party may differs from region to region and constituency to constituency. Therefore, Muslims are likely to give more weightage to a candidate than to a party. The candidate may be from either SP or BSP; despite they sympathy for the Congress, that party’s candidates, barring rare exceptions, do not stand a fair chance on account of the winnability factor.
The essence of this Muslim electoral thinking was captured in the responses of two respondents, a Yadav and a Muslim, at Orai and Bareilly. The former a formulaic remark, “Jiska danda hai wahi bada bhai.” The latter remarked, “Between SP and BSP, we’ll support the candidate that enjoys the bigger support so that our vote leads to their victory.”
Besides the traditional reluctance of Muslims to vote for the BJP, there are additional factors why they do not pay heed to the developmental rhetoric of the party. The rise in instances like ‘cow vigilantism, ‘love-jihad’, ‘low-intensity riots’, the ‘triple talaq’ issue has convinced Muslims about the hostility of the BJP towards the community and an overwhelming majority of them see this as interference in the internal matters of the community. In fact, an old Muslim respondent at Amethi said, “Today the BJP is raising the talaq issue, tomorrow they will question our namaaz.”
Similarly, at Ghazipur in Poorvanchal region, a Muslim had a witty take on the issue: “BJP got its first divorce from the the voters of Delhi, the second from the voters of Bihar. It will get its third and final divorce from the voters of UP.”
The crucial question is which party will be the biggest beneficiary of the context-specific candidate and winnability factors vis a vis the Muslim vote. A significant majority of the community’s vote is likely to veer towards BSP on account of two factors: the party has fielded more Muslim candidates (about 100) than the SP, and the consolidation of Dalits behind the party gives it an advantage on the winnability count. Thus, compared to the 2012 election, the BSP’s gain of Muslim votes would be a direct loss to the SP even if the latter ends up getting relatively more Muslim votes.
The bottom line as regards the Muslim vote in UP is the primacy of a candidate’s winnability.
(Sajjan Kumar, a PhD from Centre for Political Studies, JNU is associated with Peoples Pulse, a Hyderabad-based research organization that specializes in field work based political and electoral studies).