Polling in the fourth phase of the Uttar Pradesh elections will decide who will form the next government in the state. This round will either give the BJP a huge advantage over its rivals or bring it at par with the two other major contenders. The consensus within analysts, observers and politicians is that the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance did not live up to expectations in the third phase of polling that was supposed to give it a clear advantage.
Polling for the third phase was held in areas considered Samajwadi bastions. In the 2012 elections, the SP had swept the region, winning 55 out of the 67 seats that were part of the third phase. But, this year the BJP seems to have done much better than in 2012 when it won just 10 seats. So, the SP alliance is unlikely to come close to the 2012 tally.
The reason behind the below-expectation performance of the SP alliance is the shift in voting pattern. Unlike in 2012 when urban voters gravitated towards Akhilesh Yadav, this year they are rooting for the BJP. Trends indicate the BJP has retained the urban voters it had snared in 2014.
So, with the SP not running away with the third phase, the ongoing round (February 23) becomes vital for the election. After this round, polling moves to neutral territory in the fifth phase and then the BJP strongholds in Purvanchal, where it is expected to notch up a decent strike rate, bagging a majority of the seats. How the three major parties perform today will decide whether the BJP goes into the next round with a lead, at par or with a deficit.
In off-the-record conversations, SP and Congress poll managers concede that the election has not gone according to the script. A very senior leader Congress leader told Firstpost that the best-case scenario for the party would now be to win 175 seats, down from the 225 they were eyeing a few weeks ago.
He said out of the 219 seats that have gone to polls so far (till phase 3), the alliance has a chance of winning 75-80, the BJP and the BSP 50-60 each and the RLD around 12-15. If this lead gets wiped out by the BJP in the fourth phase, it will race away from the competition. If seats in the fourth round are evenly split, the likely outcome would be a hung assembly.
Contrary to the popular narrative and the surround sound in the Delhi media, the BSP is doing better than expected in the polls. On every seat it is giving a tough fight either to the SP alliance or the BJP. Its strong presence is harming both the BJP and the SP-Cong alliance. While the split in Muslim votes is harming the alliance, Mayawati's attempts to retain the non-Jatav SC votes is hurting the BJP.
Aware of the possibility of losing Hindu voters to the BSP, the top leadership of the BJP has now unleashed its Hindutva politics, its brahmastra for polarising an election. The thinking within the BJP is that since it has not fielded even a single Muslim candidate, its stock has risen among Hindu voters. With a communally-loaded narrative (Shamshan vs Kabristan) and through egregious acronyms comparing the rivals with terrorist Ajmal Kasab, the BJP is making a last-gasp effort to keep Hindus away from the BSP and the SP-Cong alliance.
If it succeeds in the fourth phase, the BJP might just win the biggest election of the year.
Updated Date: Feb 23, 2017 16:16 PM