UP Election 2017: Four reasons for the Samajwadi Party's impending downfall in the state

During a recent TV interview, the anchor asked Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav what would he do after the votes are counted.

"In 2007, your father said he would go to Maleehabad and eat mangoes after the results. Will you do the same?" the anchor quizzed. If fruit is really on the young chief minister's mind, he better think of grapes, particularly the sour variety. Just like the proverbial fox that went for the grapes, Yadav too might find the chief minister's chair out of his reach on 11 March. Just a few days ago, around the first phase of polling, Yadav seemed destined to win Uttar Pradesh with a comfortable majority. But now, even his most staunch loyalists believe the BJP has the momentum and the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance is trying hard to hold on to its base that is wilting under the BJP onslaught.

Within Samajwadi Party-Congress circles, the consensus is that the alliance will win around 160 to 180 seats, down from the initial estimates of around 220. Remember, this is the best-case scenario according to party insiders and comes with a natural upward bias. Obviously, the downside could be a much lower number. And if reports from the ground are any indication, the alliance's total haul may fall below 100.

The alliance appeared to be on track around the first phase of polling. The buzz then was that the Jats were deserting the BJP and the minority-OBC vote was favouring the alliance. But, the narrative changed around the third phase of polling when it seemed voters were being polarised on communal lines, setting aside the caste divisions that usually decide the outcome in Uttar Pradesh and giving the BJP major momentum.

So, what went wrong for the Samajwadi Party?

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav addressing an election rally. PTI

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav addressing an election rally. PTI

Too many seats for the Congress

Even hardcore Congress supporters believe they are not even in the reckoning in around 30 to 40 seats. The Congress is in the contest only in 60 to 70 seats and for the alliance to do well, it needs a strike rate of over 70 percent in these constituencies in order to win half the seats it is contesting. This looks like a daunting task for a party that has no presence on the ground and has been losing its vote share with every election.

In fact, in many places, the Congress voter is not even voting for the Samajwadi Party. Its upper caste base — even though almost negligible — has shifted to the BJP. According to many Samajwadi Party leaders, the party now rues aligning with the Congress. And the reason for this is that in a quadrangular contest, it would have taken away a small portion of the BJP vote. But now this is not happening.

BJP not fielding Muslim candidates

Whatever the perception in Delhi, the reality on the ground is traders were not happy with demonetisation. Stung by its impact on their business, they had decided to vote against the BJP. But, the BSP and Samajwadi Party focus on Muslim votes pushed them back into the BJP fold. The talk within upper caste voters in Uttar Pradesh now is that the BJP is the only party that doesn't care about minority voters and thus it is their "moral responsibility" to support it. To add to the woes of the Samajwadi Party alliance, the propaganda around Kabristan, Eid and 'Kuchh ka vikaas, kuchh ka saath' has worked among voters, creating a wave of support for the BJP because of its Hindutva line.

Massive shift of non-Yadav voters towards BJP

The Samajwadi Party was counting on the support of the majority of 38 percent OBC and Muslim voters in the election. But except for the Yadavs, almost every segment is either divided or voting en masse for the rival parties. The BJP has the undivided support of Rajbhars, Mauryas, Lunias and Kurmis — castes that had voted the BSP and Samajwadi Party to power in the two previous elections — and the support of Thakurs, Banias and Brahmins. In the reserved constituencies, the upper castes have thrown their weight behind the BJP. Since Scheduled Caste votes are being divided, the BJP is likely to sweep most of the reserved constituencies.

The alliance, on the other hand, is watching helplessly as Muslim voters are divided between its candidates and the BSP. In the end, it may be left with just around 10 percent of the OBCs, mostly Yadavs, and voters from the minority community, bringing its vote share down by at least five percent compared to 2012.

Anti-incumbency and infighting

By the time Akhilesh hit the campaign trail after his war with uncle Shivpal Yadav and father Mulayam Singh Yadav, the BJP had already adjusted its caste arithmetic. To counter that, the chief minister needed an extended campaign throughout Uttar Pradesh. But, with very little time available, he could barely find time to visit even half the constituencies, leaving the field open to the BJP.

To complicate matters, some of his MLAs are facing an undercurrent of anti-incumbency, turning them into liabilities instead of assets. Many of his ministers are likely to lose by huge margins, indicating the extent of dissatisfaction with their performance.

In the final analysis, the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance appears to be headed for a massive setback. The BJP seems set to sweep all the phases from the third phase onwards.

It is for these reasons that on 11 March, Akhilesh is unlikely to think of mangoes. His could be a story of sour grapes.

Updated Date: Mar 06, 2017 16:19 PM

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