Head-on | Is Uttar Pradesh still an 80:20 contest, as Yogi Adityanath says, or have the odds shortened?

The Samajwadi Party hopes to build a Yadav-Muslim-OBC rainbow coalition, unravelling Yogi Adityanath’s 80:20 formula

Minhaz Merchant January 18, 2022 11:21:16 IST
Head-on | Is Uttar Pradesh still an 80:20 contest, as Yogi Adityanath says, or have the odds shortened?

Yogi Adityanath (left) and Akhilesh Yadav. Image courtesy News18

Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav has a spring in his stride. The defection of senior BJP leaders to the SP couldn’t have come at a better time for him, weeks before the first phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh on 10 February. The SP hopes to build a Yadav-Muslim-OBC rainbow coalition, unravelling Yogi Adityanath’s 80:20 formula.

But have things really changed on the ground? How will BSP leader Mayawati’s decision not to contest the election as a candidate but campaign across the state for the party affect the poll math?

The Uttar Pradesh Assembly election was initially set to be a triangular contest between the BJP, SP and BSP. The Congress and regional outfits would play marginal roles. The permutation has changed with Mayawati’s calculated absence, converting the election into a binary battle between BJP and SP.

There’s a caveat though. Mayawati’s absence as a candidate frees her to campaign and consolidate the Dalit vote across Uttar Pradesh. BSP’s vote share may fall but the drift of its Dalit vote-bank will be muted and, in any event, divided between BJP and SP. The BSP’s vote share could dip from 22.23 percent in the 2017 Assembly election but is unlikely to fall below 15 percent.

The SP’s vote share in 2017 was 21.82 percent. That could rise to over 30 percent if it catches some of the migratory vote from OBCs and MBCs disaffected by the BJP’s supposed neglect. The Congress meanwhile is likely to see its vote share slide from 6.25 per cent in 2017 to below 5 percent.

What about the incumbent BJP? It fought the 2017 UP Assembly election without a chief ministerial face. Yogi Adityanath was handpicked later by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and (then) party chief Amit Shah.

In the 2022 Assembly election, Adityanath is not only the party’s chief ministerial face but the leader around whom the campaign is being fought. Modi remains the crowd puller, party mascot and mentor. Adityanath is careful to defer to him at all times, walking two steps behind him and ensuring that Modi’s photograph is significantly larger than his in Uttar Pradesh government publicity material.

As a monk-turned-chief minister, saffron-robed Yogi polarises the electorate both subliminally and explicitly. His campaign pitch that the 2022 election will be an 80:20 fight is a clear attempt to brand the poll a Hindu-Muslim battle.

Will the 80 percent Hindu vote in Uttar Pradesh coalesce around the BJP? The Hindu vote is too disparate across caste, sub-caste and province to coagulate in favour of one party. Yogi’s strategy is to get a little over half the 80 percent Hindu vote, including some Dalit drift from the BSP.

Vote shares are notoriously hard to predict. Even large on-ground surveys get them wrong. But the trendlines indicate that while SP (21.82 percent) and BJP (39.67 percent) together accounted for under 62 percent of the total Uttar Pradesh Assembly vote share in 2017, they will likely account for 75-80 per cent vote share in a quasi-binary 2022 contest.

The exodus of senior BJP ministers and MLAs to the SP has enabled Akhilesh to assemble a social coalition of non-Yadav OBCs, non-Jatav Dalits and MBCs. This has helped him boast of his own 80:20 formula — quite different from Yogi’s. It refers to the 80 percent vote share the BJP and SP could split between themselves in a binary contest. That would leave the balance 20 percent for BSP (around 15 percent) and Congress and others (5 percent). The more crucial question is: In what ratio will this 80 percent vote share be split between BJP and SP?

While candidate selection plays an important role, winning 42-45 percent vote share will hand the NDA a comfortable majority in the 403-seat Assembly. Anything less than 40 percent vote share — with SP going up to 30-35 percent — will result in a smaller majority. Given its well-deserved reputation as a party in bed with local mafias, SP could at best end up as the main Opposition party in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, converting India’s largest state into a two-party ideological laboratory.

Apart from his original 80:20 polarisation formula, Yogi has two aces up his sleeve: Law and order and infrastructure development. During the SP’s 2012-17 regime, law and order were replaced by lawlessness and disorder. The mafia created a reign of terror. Kidnappings and extortion were rampant, riots frequent. The Muslim-Jat riot in Muzaffarnargar in 2013 was only one example of toxic communalism in the state under SP rule.

The SP’s Muslim vote-bank regarded Akhilesh Yadav’s victory in 2012 as carte blanche for establishing mafia rule. Akhilesh has pledged a cleaner government if SP wins office in March 2022. Few believe him. The party’s record over the years has been malignant: Riots, lawlessness and patchy development.

Yogi’s development record is empirically better. In the past five years, the state’s gross domestic product (SGDP) has leapfrogged over Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Uttar Pradesh now has India’s second-largest SGDP after Maharashtra. Foreign and domestic investment, encouraged by improved law and order and infrastructure, has risen steadily.

For BJP, winning Uttar Pradesh is critical for two key reasons: First, to set a positive narrative for the 2024 Lok Sabha election; and second, to ensure a large enough number of elected MLAs for the presidential poll scheduled for July 2022.

To achieve that outcome, Yogi is mixing an electoral cocktail of welfare and Hindutva. Over 14 million homes have been given free electricity connections. Nearly 17 million households have received free gas connections. Along with that comes Yogi’s promise that, after the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, it will be the turn of Kashi and Mathura. That is a potent mix.

The writer is editor, author and publisher. Views expressed here are personal.

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