Elections Tracker: Why the trend in UP will be music to BJP's ears

If a General Election were to be held today, the BJP would win between 29 and 33 seats in Uttar Pradesh. (View chart here.) This significant finding of the CNN-IBN Election Tracker poll will be music to the ears of Narendra Modi, BJP’s Campaign Committee Chief and presumptive Prime Ministerial candidate. The BJP’s path to power in Delhi has always routed through Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state with 80 Lok Sabha seats. In 1996, when Atal Behari Vajpayee became prime Minister for 13 days, the party won 52 seats in UP (of a total of 165). In 1998, when Vajpayee became Prime Minister for 13 months, his party won 57 seats in UP (out of 179 in all). In 1999, when the BJP began its first and only full term in Government, it won 29 seats in UP (out of 183 in all).

When the party has lost UP, it has lost India. In 2004, the BJP won just 10 seats in UP, and fell behind the Congress as the single largest party in a closely fought race between the two national parties. In the more humiliating defeat of 2009, BJP failed to improve its UP tally from 10 and for the first time since the 1980s was relegated to fourth place in the state.

 Elections Tracker: Why the trend in UP will be music to BJPs ears

BJP flags are seen in this file photo. AFP

A tally between 29 and 33 may yet not be enough to catapult either the party to power or Modi to 7, Race Course Road. Unlike 1998 and 1999, the BJP does not have a wide array of allies, which could help it pick up seats in states where it doesn’t have a strong presence (say Orissa, Andhra and Tamil Nadu). Needless to say, with the NDA reduced to a 3 party alliance, the challenge of crossing the magic figure of 272 in the Lok Sabha is much greater. In terms of its loneliness the BJP is in a 1996-type situation when it was the largest party but couldn’t sustain a Government. Remember, it had 52 seats from UP in its bag then.

What would, however, encourage the BJP is the trend in UP. It is the only party of the four major parties in the fray (the others being SP, BSP and Congress) which is showing an increase in vote share from the General Election of 2009. The BJP polled just 18 percent of the vote in UP in 2009.

According to the opinion poll, its vote share is set to rise to 27 percent, a massive 9 percentage points (or 50 percent) rise. All the other parties seem to be losing ground. Compared to 2009, the SP is set to lose 1 percentage point, the BSP 7 percentage points, the Congress 2 percentage points and the RLD (not an insignificant fifth party) also loses 2 percentage points in vote share. Clearly, the BJP is the party on the ascendant in UP. But it needs to rise even more, in rapid time. Its target must be at least 45 seats, especially when the party accounts for the likelihood of losing heavily in its once southern stronghold of Karnataka, the only state which helped it salvage some pride in 2009.

Narendra Modi fully understands the importance of winning UP big for his own Prime Ministerial ambitions. He has not denied constant rumours that he may contest a Lok Sabha seat, possibly Varanasi, from the state. Modi forced party president Rajnath Singh to appoint his close confidante and electoral mastermind, Amit Shah as General Secretary in charge of the state. Interestingly, comparisons are often drawn between Shah and Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s chief strategist who helped deliver two successive Presidential election wins to a contentious political figure.

What is not absolutely clear at this stage is the exact nature of the campaign Modi and his team intends to run. Will it be focused on Hindutva, or on governance and corruption, or a mix of the two? Shah created a flutter in some quarters when he resurrected the dormant Ram Temple issue on a visit to Ayodhya in the first week of July. According to some analysts, Modi too has been playing the Hindutva card mostly through phraseology what with the “puppy” remark or the “burqa of secularism” analogy. It would be reasonable to suggest that the BJP is testing the electoral waters in Uttar Pradesh.

What is clear is that the party is being viewed positively by an increasing percentage of the electorate. This is a turnaround after almost 14 years – the party has done poorly in both Lok Sabha and assembly elections between after 1999, right up will the assembly elections of 2012. Amit Shah and co need to figure out is why. How much is because of Narendra Modi’s rise to the top? There must be something about the man, because the highest number of voters now want the BJP to run a government in UP, a party they so completely rejected just one and a half years ago. No local leader has emerged since then who could explain the change. What is it about Modi that attracts people in UP, his Hindu Hriday Samrat image or an icon of governance?

There is no doubt that the party is benefitting from a double anti-incumbency. The CNN-IBN poll shows that the UPA Government is deeply unpopular at the Centre and the Akhilesh Yadav government is already quite unpopular in the state. Mayawati, the only other person likely to gain from this, isn’t showing an increase in popularity. The memory of the corruption of her Government is perhaps too recent.

Chart_UP_BJP

The BJP has to tread a fine line to capture the anti-incumbency vote. VP Singh swept 72 seats in UP in 1989 with a single agenda: corruption. But the politics of India and UP have changed since then – UP has been a cauldron of caste and religion: a faultlines-based politics. Modi and his team could try and exploit that or stick to corruption and governance. On evidence, they are trying to find out which will work better. Crucially, the CNN-IBN poll shows that 23 percent of UPA’s voters are still undecided. These are unlikely to be the partisan supporters of one party or the other. The BJP needs a coherent strategy to capture these “independent” voters.

On the strategy hinges the fate of the BJP and a potential Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Updated Date: Jul 26, 2013 19:20:50 IST