The battle for Uttar Pradesh has begun. Two phases of the seven-phase election are over and the polls to elect the 403-member state Assembly is reaching fever pitch. The biggest state in India is witnessing a three-cornered fight this election between the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Multi-cornered contests have been the trend at least since 2002, when elections that year had thrown up a hung Assembly, while in the 2007 and 2012 polls, the BSP and the SP won clear mandates to form the government. With such contests emerge the possibility of many seats being won by a whisker.
In the 2012 Assembly elections, 109 seats were won by either less than three percent of the total votes polled or by a margin of less than 6,000 votes. This translates to more than 25 percent of the total seats of in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. Of the 109 narrow margin victories witnessed last election, 50 of them were registered by the SP, which ultimately emerged victorious in 226 seats. BSP, its arch-rival was victorious in 28 such seats.
Interestingly, 24 of the 109 seats were won by less than a thousand votes. The narrowest of victory was recorded in the Baheri constituency, where Ataurrehman of the SP defeated his nearest rival Chhtrapal Singh of the BJP by just 18 votes.
In caste-dominated Uttar Pradesh politics, close contests were recorded in 12 of the 85 constituencies reserved for Scheduled Castes candidates.
Of the 12 reserved constituencies, Ghatampur recorded the lowest margin of victory, as Inderjeet Kori of the SP barely managed to win a nail-biting contest by a margin of 700 votes.
42 of the 150 seats in western Uttar Pradesh were won by narrow margin
In 2012 elections, 22 of the 73 western Uttar Pradesh seats were won by a margin of less than three percent of the votes polled. Known to be communally sensitive, especially after the riots of Muzaffarnagar, the Dadri lynching case and alleged exodus in Kairana, western Uttar Pradesh is in the centrestage of this year's elections. In fact, the key accused in the 2013 riots, Suresh Rana, managed to win the Thana Bhawan seat by a margin of a paltry 265 votes. Western Uttar Pradesh went to polls in the first phase of Assembly election on 11 February 2017.
In 2012, however, it was another BJP leader Bimla Singh Solanki, who recorded the lowest margin of victory in the western part of the state. In a close contest with BSP’s Saleem Akhtar Khan, Solanki pulled off a victory in the Sikandrabad constituency by a margin of just 123 votes.
In the second phase of election on 15 February, 67 seats in the Muslim-dominated Rohilkhand region, a part of western Uttar Pradesh, went to polls. Twenty of those seats were won by less than three percent of the total votes polled in the last election. Behat constituency had witnessed a close contest last time, as Mahaveer Singh Rana of the BSP narrowly defeated Naresh of the Indian National Congress by 518 votes. Behat went to polls on 15 February.
Awadh and Purvnachal hold key to Uttar Pradesh
Voters in 150 constituencies have already exercised their right to vote after the first two phases of polling. After western Uttar Pradesh, the focus now has shifted to the historically and politically significant region of Awadh and Purvanchal (eastern Uttar Pradesh). These two densely populated regions, lying on the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains, have 234 seats between them. The political significance be gauged by the fact that eight of the 15 prime ministers India has had were elected from these regions.
Of the 109 constituencies that recorded a low margin of victory in the 2012 elections, 61 were situated in Awadh and Purvanchal. That amounts to one-fourth of the total seats in the region. Such a high percentage of narrow-margin victories point out to closely fought electoral battles in the two politically crucial regions of the state.
However, of the 89 Purvanchal seats which go to polls in the final two phases, only 16 were won narrowly in the 2012 elections.
This means that the next three phases of Assembly election taking place in the Awadh region would cover 45 seats that had been won by a margin of less than three percent votes in 2012.
The last election’s data throws some interesting bits of information.
Take for instance, the Farrukhabad constituency, which is located in the Awadh region. The constituency, which votes on Sunday, witnessed an interesting contest last time, when an Independent candidate Vijay Singh trounced BJP’s Major Suneel Dutt Dwivedi by a nerve-wrecking margin of just 147 vote.
In fact, Singh was only one of the two Independents candidates who managed to scrap through to a win – the other instance was in the Sayadraja constituency which goes to polls on 8 March.
Similarly, the Ghazipur constituency, which comes under Purvanchal, recorded a narrow victory in 2012 polls.
Last election, the constituency – it goes to poll in the final phase – witnessed a SP versus BSP battle that went down to the wire. Ultimately, the SP candidate Vijay Kumar Mishra defeated his nearest BSP rival Raj Kumar by a margin of 241 votes. Mishra went on to be a minister in the Akhilesh Yadav government before joining the BJP on 16 February.
While Awadh and Purvanchal hog the limelight in the electoral battlefield of Uttar Pradesh, the impoverished and politically insignificant Bundelkhand is often ignored.
Bundelkhand – the forgotten backwaters of Uttar Pradesh
The region, which has been facing severe drought problems since many years, saw the BSP doing better than the rest as it secured seven out of 19 seats. Seven seats in the region were won narrowly – the BSP winning four while the SP emerging victorious in two. However, with just 19 seats, Bundelkhand may play no major role in determining Uttar Pradesh's political destiny.
The scenario looks different this time
The race to Lucknow seems to be much more interesting this election. Unlike 2012, this time around the SP has joined hands with the Congress, while BJP now looks a much more formidable opponent after its astonishing victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. On the other hand, BSP seems to be on the backfoot after its debacle in the Lok Sabha polls.
The ruling party is banking on its young chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s development image to ride back to power – a factor which may have encouraged Rahul Gandhi to tie up with his party. On the other hand, the BJP in its bid to form its first government since 1997, is seeking to reap electoral benefits from the note ban saga.
Notably, for the first time since 2007, the party ruing the Centre is in serious contention to rule Uttar Pradesh. If one looks at the opinion polls that have come out so far, it has been either SP-Congress or BJP at the pole position. Every pollster has relegated BSP to the third place.
However, history has been witness to many opinion polls going totally wrong (read Bihar pre-poll surveys). One might never know if Mayawati could spring a surprise.
The results, expected on 11 March, can shape the political destiny of not just Uttar Pradesh but also India. It is then we will know whether the ‘elephant’ is able to trump the ‘cycle’ or if the ‘lotus’ will bloom after two decades. And it is worth remembering that the road to New Delhi passes through Lucknow.
Updated Date: Feb 22, 2017 17:42 PM