India Today
New Delhi

The Bharatiya Janata Party enters the phase one of the seven-phase elections in Uttar Pradesh from a position of strength, judging by the outcome of the recent elections in the region. Since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the kind of domination the BJP has enjoyed in the 58 western Uttar Pradesh assembly seats is a rarity.

In the last assembly polls, the BJP won three constituencies with a margin in excess of one lakh votes, and eight constituencies with a margin in excess of 70,000 votes. And of the five seats the BJP lost in the region, the margin of victory at two places was less than 5,000 votes.

Can the newly-minted alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) then put up a fight this time?

On the basis of their performance in the 2017 assembly elections, an alliance would have meant an addition of five more seats to their kitty. The SP and the RLD then had modest vote shares of 13 and seven per cent respectively. The BJP’s share was an impressive 46 per cent. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), on the other hand, had obtained 22 per cent of the votes.

Dalits, Muslims can impact outcome in 45 seats

Of the 58 seats, there are 12, including Kairana, Sardhana, Khatauli, and Hapur, where Muslims and Dalits constitute more than 50 per cent of the voting population. Additionally, there are 15 seats where the two social groups account for 40 to 50 per cent of the total votes. There are also 18 seats where the combined strength of the two groups is between 30 and 40 per cent. In other words, in 45 of the 58 seats going to polls on February 10, these two social groups alone can decisively impact the outcome.

While a big chunk of Dalit votes has been going the BSP way in recent elections, Muslim votes used to get split between the SP, the BSP and the Congress. The big “if” this time is who will BSP’s erstwhile supporters vote for as Mayawati is considered a reluctant contestant this time.

In 2017, the BSP had won two seats and came second on as many as 30 seats. In fact, in the 13 seats where the BSP came second, it polled more than 60,000 votes. What if a sizable chunk of these votes go elsewhere? Experts have opined that that is going to be the key this time.

Another keenly watched factor is the way the Jats are going to vote. The farming community that wields considerable influence in 25-30 seats in Western UP has solidly backed the BJP in the last three elections. However, the farmers’ agitation that raged on for more than a year has changed things. A section of Jats is believed to have gotten disillusioned with the BJP. Political observers expect this section to move towards the SP-RLD alliance. The proponents of SP-RLD are also hoping for the coming together of Jats and Muslims. If that happens, it may change the equation in quite a few seats.

Tainted Candidates

In the crucial first phase of this scene-phased election, political parties have gone overboard on money and muscle power. While nearly 31 per cent of all the candidates have declared assets of Rs. 2 crore and more, 20 per cent of all the contestants have pending serious criminal cases against them, according to Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) data. And the muscle-quotient is quite high too.

India Today's Data Intelligence Unit’s (DIU) analysis of the trends of winners in the last three assembly elections in UP found that a candidate with a tainted record is three times more likely to win over someone with a clean record. Additionally, candidates with net assets over Rs. 5 crore are at least six times more likely to succeed than someone with modest wealth.

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