It’s not over yet, but already the outlines of what could happen in Uttar Pradesh are visible. Opinion polls, exit polls and post-poll surveys often tend to go wrong, especially when it comes to translating vote shares into seats in a first-past-the-post system. That, too, in a four-cornered contest, where margins of victories tend to be small.
But the broad trajectories cannot be denied. A CNN-IBN-The Week post-poll survey gives the Samajwadi party (SP) 34 percent of the vote and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 24 percent – a gap wide enough to withstand skepticism.
So, from all accounts, the Samajwadi Party looks likely to either emerge as the single largest party or even with a majority of its own. The BSP could be second, with a sharply depleted strength, the BJP third and the Congress fourth. Rahul Gandhi’s efforts have been in vain.
However, it is not the purpose of this article to focus on winners and losers, but to make broader points about long-term trends in the Indian polity – as reinforced by the Uttar Pradesh results, and likely trends in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
Trend 1: Class is emerging as a new factor and challenging caste and religion.
A big takeout from Uttar Pradesh could be that all castes – including the Dalits – are beginning to vote not only by caste, but also by their new-found class.
If Mayawati fails to come back to power, it means caste alone is not enough to get you through. Caste loyalties work when identity alone is overwhelmingly important and there is some existential threat to castes (or religions) for some reason.
Consider the numbers shown by the CNN-IBN-The Week poll. According to this post-poll survey, which took care to ask how castes and religious communities may have voted, Muslims did not vote more than usual for the Samajwadi Party at around 49 percent. Nor did they get too swayed by the Congress’ quota promise – even though they liked the idea. This suggests that the Muslim vote is a partial myth – since a majority of them (51 percent) votes for other parties, including Congress and BSP.
While Mulayam Singh’s so-called Yadav core vote remains with him, he seems to have lost some support even here (down from 73 percent to 68 percent), and has instead gained among Brahmins (up 11 percent to 21 percent).
Most surprising, Mayawati’s core vote of Jatavs actually seems to be willing to give SP a chance, with 21 percent of Jatavs (up 17 percent) voting for the party.
What all this suggests is that Dalits who have moved out of the identity phase of development and self-respect are now beginning to vote with their class interests – the so-called bijli-sadak-pani vote. Brahmins – once a solid vote bank for the Congress or the BJP – are willing to test the waters with SP.
We will have to await the final polling figures for a more detailed analysis, but the early results show that caste is no longer the overwhelming reason to vote for a particular party.
Trend 2: Shift towards the regionalisation of politics is clear – and inevitable.
The Uttar Pradesh elections emphasise the reality that national parties and causes are almost irrelevant in most state assembly elections. This is why the Congress and BJP are fighting for the bottom two slots – and not the first two.
The overwhelming majority of Indian states are now run either by regional parties, or national parties in combination with regional parties (Bihar, Maharashtra, Kerala). Alternatively, the choice is between a national party and a regional one (Assam).
Where national parties seem to rule – Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – the triumph, in fact, is not really that of the national parties, but strong regional leaders. Narendra Modi in Gujarat, BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan in MP, and YSR in Andhra Pradesh (in the last election) – were the real vote winners in their respective states. If the Congress wins Punjab this time, it will be because of strong local leadership in the form of Amarinder Singh.
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