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UP Election 2017: Why the business of predictions is as maddening as the Bhool Bhoolaiyan

Varanasi: Hundreds of journalists — electronic as well as print, including the famous Limousine Liberal celebrities and foreign correspondents have descended on the Gangetic plains to witness and report the momentous Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. The past 48 hours have seen climactic displays in Varanasi with the magnificent roadshows by Narendra Modi and also by Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi. Mayawati has been organising massive and vociferous rallies, although the media has chosen to ignore them, as if she is not a contender. This has resulted in colourful crowds, high-decibel slogan-shouting, aggressive postures and massive traffic jams all over Varanasi — which has extremely narrow roads surrounded by temples, sadhus, cows, lumpen mobs and tourists who want to see the mystery of the Ganges and mayhem on the ghats!

 UP Election 2017: Why the business of predictions is as maddening as the Bhool Bhoolaiyan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his road show in Varanasi on Sunday. PTI

The electorate of 140 million (among a population of 200 million) is close to the the size of the whole of Pakistan's population (180 million) and will elect 403 legislators, mainly from a tight triangular contest. There is so much hype that the "prediction game" has attracted not only the satta bazaar, but also the entire media and the political classes. Everybody boasts of having a unique crystal ball!

But, the more one studies the largest state (243,286 square kilometres) of seven regions of East Uttar Pradesh (Purvanchal), West Uttar Pradesh, Awadh, Northeast Uttar Pradesh, Doab, Rohilkhand and Bundelkhand, it becomes clear that it is just impossible to generalise the trend or mood of the giant electorate. No media, nor any pollster can cover the whole state. Actually neither the chief minister nor prime minister can visit the entire state for campaigning purposes. The perfect metaphor for the electoral maze in Uttar Pradesh is the labyrinthine Bhool Bhoolaiya in the Bara Immambara (a big architectural structure built in the 18th Century) in Lucknow. This Bhool Bhoolaiyan has intrigued travellers and architects for over 200 years, because it has over 1,000 entry and exit points, interconnected within in such a way that if you get lost inside, you may perhaps never know how to come out. Locals say that some people entered and never came out!

A Congress supporter waving a flag during Rahul Gandhi's rally. PTI

A Congress supporter waving a flag during Rahul Gandhi's rally. PTI

The bravado of mediapersons, pollsters and parties predicting the results confidently are like those travellers who entered the Bhool Bhoolaiyan and never came back. The seven regions of Uttar Pradesh have quite distinct characters, political ethos, economic diversity and social patterns of their own. There are over 150 Muslim-dominated constituencies, but their politics depend on the region and class in which they live. That is one reason commentators speaking of a "Muslim vote bank" don't really know how this community will vote. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party has nearly 100 Muslim candidates. The Akhilesh-led Samajwadi Party and Rahul-led Congress have their own "Muslim" vote banks and have over three dozen Muslims standing from various constituencies.

Then there are Yadavs, Jats, Jatavs, Valmiki, Kurtis, Koeris and a variety of non-Yadav OBCs, the EBCs (economically backward communities and so on so forth. The hierarchical matrics further complicated by different parties creating their own niche vote banks. Except for Most Jatavs who vote BSP as block and most Jats who vote for Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and Yadavs who generally vote for the Samajwadi Party, there are no definitive and reliable voting patterns. Even these vote banks were disintegrated during the 2014 Lok Sabha election when the Modi juggernaut invaded their fortresses.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to people during his road show in Varanasi on Sunday. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to people during his road show in Varanasi on Sunday. PTI

The Modi-led BJP received a stunning 42 percent of the vote and 71 seats — a huge rise of over 15 percent when compared with the 2012 Assembly elections. The Samajwadi Party had won 226 Assembly seats in 2012. If one translates Modi's 71 seats in the Assembly segments, he had the majority in 328 seats. It is this statistics that has generated hyped confidence in the Modi camp and caution in other parties. While Modi declares from every rooftop that demonetisation was so successful that people have hugely welcomed it, Rahul and Akhilesh remind the people of the hardships they suffered.

The BJP has used the communal card brazenly to divide the electorate. In some parts, the RSS cadre are going from house-to-house to consolidate Hindus against the "rising Islamic influence". The media has generally bought into he Modi version of demonetisation and even of communal polarisation. Under the "Hindu" banner, the BJP has claimed that all the non-Yadav communities have come together as vote bank. And with the split between the father Mulayam Singh Yadav and son Akhilesh, there is and apprehension that even the Yadav vote will split.

Rahul Gandhi reaching out to his supporters during a rally. PTI

Rahul Gandhi reaching out to his supporters during a rally. PTI

Thus there are so many parameters like caste, sub-castes, (over 300 of them), splits in castes, Hindu-Muslim divides, rural and urban, agricultural and industrial, unemployed and underemployed, men and women, young and middle aged/old, and in seven different administrative-economic zones to be reduced to statistically just three main parties is trying to locate the route to come out of the Bhool Bhoolaiyan safely and quickly.

All pundits and politicians are unanimous that this election will change the contours of Indian politics and set the course for the Lok Sabha election of 2019. Narendra Modi has already declared that he will be Prime Minister till 2024 (and if elected again, till 2029). That ambition can be partly fulfilled if he wins Uttar Pradesh. And if he fails, it will be an uphill task for him two years from now. Therefore, Modi and the BJP have much more at stake than the rest. All other parties have become aware that individually they cannot challenge Modi. And hence, this election will be yet another of forming a united front against the BJP. But stakes apart, what is the "prediction"? Most pollsters and members of the media are unanimous that the BJP will form the government. The fight is for second and third position, they contend rather too simplistically!

Well, I too propose to predict the outcome and fallout of the Uttar Pradesh election. My prediction is this: All predictions will be proved wrong.

What are pollsters' predictions so far?

In order of the ratings, they are as follows:

Why will all of these be hugely wrong or only marginally correct?

We saw the media and the polls getting it very wrong on Brexit in the UK and the US Presidential Election, and at home in Delhi and Bihar. There is no reason they will be correct this time. Let's assume the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance gets the largest number of seats or even a majority — which is not unlikely, or Mayawati hits the Bull's Eye, then what face will the media, the polls and the BJP be left with? That will be a huge setback personally to Modi and to the BJP. And indeed if he wins Uttar Pradesh, he will have to climb the electoral Everest by winning the Lok Sabha. That too may not turn out to be a cakewalk he or the BJP think it is. In every grand victory, there are seeds of defeat as we saw in 1977, 1980, 1989, and recently, in 2004 and 2009.

So let us keep our fingers crossed till 11 March.

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Updated Date: Mar 06, 2017 11:18:49 IST