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Uttar Pradesh polls 2017: BJP should know past glory no ticket to future success

Can the BJP be defeated in Uttar Pradesh in 2017?

To know the answer, let us look at results of the bypolls that were held in September 2014, just a few months after the BJP's demolition of its UP rivals in Lok Sabha elections. In the bypolls to 11 assembly seats vacated by BJP legislators who were elected to Parliament, the Samajwadi Party made huge gains, winning 8 seats. The BJP could retain just three.

Among the seats the BJP lost was Rohaniya, part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Lok Sabha constituency, Varanasi. The SP also managed to retain Mainpuri, the Lok Sabha seat vacated by Mulayam Singh Yadav. This year too, bypolls were held in two assembly constituencies in UP. Both, Bilari and Jangipur, were won by the SP that defeated the BJP by a comfortable margin.

These two results are an apt reminder of the fact that in politics, past performance is not a guarantee of future success. Every election has its own dynamics, issues and arithmetic. And the outcome could indeed be different if key factors change.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP decimated its rivals by winning 73 seats (with ally Apna Dal) and getting nearly 43 percent of total votes polled. As this analysis shows, the BJP led in 328 ((81 percent) of 403 assembly segments. This was unprecedented in the recent history of UP elections. To put that in context, the last time a political party won more than 80 percent of all constituencies in UP was in 1977, when the Janata party won 80 percent of the seats in a post-emergency landslide.

Can the BJP

Can the BJP be defeated in Uttar Pradesh in 2017?

But the subsequent elections proved that it can be defeated. So, what changed in the 2014 and 2016 by elections? How did the statistical absurdity of the BJP losing so soon after a massive 2014 verdict became a reality? How did the SP win 10 out of the 13 seats?

The biggest change in the 2016 bypolls, compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was the absence of the Bahujan Samaj Party from the fray. In the absence of Mayawati's party, the elections turned into a direct fight between the BJP and the SP. And the voting pattern changed from the 2014 elections.

In September 2014, the SP vote share went up to 44.7, almost 20 percent more than what it had got just a few months ago. The BJP vote share came down to 38.4, from the historic high of nearly 48 percent (with allies in these constituencies) in the general elections. In 2016, the SP polled 50 percent votes (1,72,780) in bypolls to two seats. The BJP polled 41.5 percent (1,43,595).

These figures tell us two things. One, vote shares indeed swing wildly in UP. (Over the past five elections, voters in UP have always thrown up surprises). Two, in a direct fight, most of the anti-BJP vote has the tendency to consolidate, leading to its loss in places where it had won previously.

Clearly, the biggest factor that can lead to the BJP's loss is a united opposition, a two-way fight, or the absence of the BSP from the electoral fray. But, this year, Mayawati is also a top contender, turning the 2017 fight into a triangular contest.

It would be incorrect to assume that Mayawati's presence harms just the non-BJP parties. A large section of BSP voters has been traditionally opposed to the SP. In a direct fight, a significant portion of BSP vote gets transferred to the BJP, taking its captive vote base higher. Naturally, BSP's presence in 2017 will impact the vote share of both the BJP and the SP.

This leads to two scenarios. In both, the Congress holds the key.

First, the BJP retains most of its 2014 vote bank. In such a scenario, the BJP can lose only if Mayawati snares all the anti-BJP votes or her supporters tactically support the party that has the best chance of defeating the saffron outfit. In short, the BJP can lose only if either of the BSP or the SP become politically insignificant, like in the by-polls.

There is, however, another key factor that can help the BJP even if one of the two regional parties is pushed to the margins--the presence of the Congress. Though the Congress has been in steady decline in UP, it still polls between 8-12 percent votes in Assembly elections. If it remains in the fray on its own, even the SP or BSP's complete electoral annihilation would not be able to stop the BJP.

The second scenario is of the BJP vote share coming down. Before the advent of the Modi era, the BJP was continuously sliding in UP. From 32.51 percent in 1996 assembly polls, it slid to 20.12 percent in 2002 assembly polls, to 16.97 percent in 2007 assembly polls and to just 15 percent in 2012. Though such a precipitous decline is unimaginable, elections held in other states since 2014 have shown that the BJP loses a significant number of votes in Assembly polls.

So, if the BJP comes down from its historic high of around 43 percent in 2014, in a multi-corner fight, the outcome would depend on how much the BJP loses and who gains at its cost. In 2012, Akhilesh Yadav had led the SP to a sweep with just around 29.5 percent votes. So, theoretically, the BJP could win even if it loses 10-12 per cent votes. But, what could tilt the balance then is an alliance in which the partners have the ability to transfer votes to each other.

At the moment, the only party that is keen to become a junior partner in the UP elections is the Congress. Its alliance with the BSP is ruled out at this stage because Mayawati has already announced candidates for most of the constituencies. That leaves only the option of a SP-Congress alliance alive.

In a close contest, where the BJP slides from its 2014 high and comes down to around 30 percent, the Congress, if it allies with the SP, could indeed play the decisive role, assuming most of its voters support its alliance partner instead of the BJP, by taking Akhilesh above the 30 percent mark it had touched in 2012. This is the reason the SP is keen on alliance with the Congress, which reports suggest has been sealed and may be announced soon.

Getting back to the original question: Can the BJP lose in 2017? Yes, but this would depend on lots of factors. But then, don't forget, this: The last time before 2014 a political party performed so well in UP was the Janata Party, which led in nearly 80 percent Assembly seats in 1977, won all the 85 Lok Sabha seats (before Uttarakhand was separated) and got a mind-boggling 68 percent share of votes. What happened three years later is well documented.

Updated Date: Jan 06, 2017 17:43 PM

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