Conventional wisdom often guides elections. But rarely does an election turn conventional wisdom on its head. A cursory glance at the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election 2017 would leave no one in doubt that this election would fall into the category of 'rarest of rare' elections.
Not let us examine the reasons why this election is one of the rarest political event in the life of the country's most populous state. Conventional wisdom has it that the party which gets overwhelming mandate only two-and-a-half years back in 2014 Lok Sabha election should have edge over others. By this logic, the BJP should have been choice for the electorate in the state assembly election.
But that is not the case. The electoral chemistry of the national election is vastly different from the state assembly polls. In 2014 elections, Narendra Modi rode on a wave of high expectation and an outright rejection of a government perceived to be led by a weakest-ever prime minister. The groundswell of support transcended the caste-barriers in a decisive manner for Modi.
The state assembly elections are fought on local issues in which caste loyalties play critical role. And the BJP found itself in a serious bind as the party's own cadre essentially belonged to Bania caste only. Apparently the impression that the BJP has a huge support among the upper caste is a misplaced notion as this is not the traditionally support base of the Hindutva forces. In fact, this support drifted away from the Congress as the grand old party of India gradually withered away. However given the choice, the upper castes' first love was not the BJP.
In the post-Lok Sabha polls, the BJP successfully wriggled out of this dilemma by mobilizing non-Yadav OBC social block to its Hindutva fold. For the first time after 1991, the state has been witnessing an unprecedented consolidation of non-Yadav OBC classes in favour of the BJP in this election. The BJP's discovery of new social constituency is obviously not an overnight development.
For the past three years BJP strategists have targeted these groups consistently and weaned them away by promising a big chunk of political base. As of now the party had given 130-odd seats to this large social block which constitute nearly 35 per cent of the electorate. In numerical terms, the BJP's capacity to give political space to this group is far greater than the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which are competing with each other in winning over Muslims. The BJP is not constrained by the Muslim factor which limits the political appeal of the SP, BSP and the Congress.
In fact what appears to have come as political windfall for the BJP is the weaning away of the non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav scheduled castes to its fold. This shift in the social base has more than compensated for the BJP's loss of Bania cadres after the demonestisation in the state. At the same time, it has exponentially expanded the party's social base in large part of the state, a phenomenon which may give the BJP a solid base for future.
Among the Muslim support base also, the conventional wisdom does not seem to be holding water in Uttar Pradesh. For instance, the division among Muslim voters on caste lines is quite evident in major parts of the state. Unlike the impression that Muslims would vote en bloc to defeat the BJP has been proving to be untenable in areas dominated by the BSP in west UP and eastern UP. In west UP, Ghazipur, Azamgarh, Mau and Allahabad, Muslims have been showing tendency to prefer BSP candidates than the SP on account of influence of Mukhtar Ansari and Atik Ahmed. In certain areas the gender issue has also found its expression in less Muslim women showing interests in electoral process than the past.
There is little doubt that the SP-Congress coalition has thrown a credible challenge to the BJP's upper caste-OBC social coalition in terms of perception. If one goes by the conventional logic, the Akhilesh-Rahul duo is being projected as runaway success in assessment of a section of media. But remember that 2017 assembly election is "rarest of rare" election where conventional wisdom is unlikely to win the day.
Updated Date: Feb 15, 2017 19:21 PM