The incumbent BJP faces a formidable challenge in the ongoing elections. It is fighting to retain the forty-seven seats it won in 2017 while aiming to convert seven others where its candidates came in second place.
General Elections to the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh (UP) are currently underway in seven phases. The state is witnessing a multi-cornered fight with the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is struggling to repeat its 312 seat victory in 2017. A lot has changed for the party in the past year-and-a-half. Key allies walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance citing resentment with the farm laws while the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the healthcare infrastructure and strained the social fabric and economic stability of the country. The party’s tally in Lok Sabha seats from UP dwindled from a high of 71 in 2014 to 62 seats in 2019. The state sends 80 lawmakers to the lower House of the parliament.
In a high pitched battle, considered a trial run for the BJP before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the opposition remains a divided house with the Samajwadi Party (SP) stitching alliances with smaller regional parties. The Congress, which lost its political base in the state long back, is banking on women votes across the class and caste divide. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), led by Mayawati, no longer holds the kind of sway as it did at its peak in the state in 2007 and many of its old guard have switched loyalties to the SP and the BJP.
Three phases remain to go to polls in the state, primarily covering central and eastern UP. The region has largely remained devoid of the development and growth that has hemmed the western part of the state. However, of late, infrastructural projects such as the Purvanchal Expressway have propelled the region to the forefront of state politics. To add to that, the Samajwadi Party is crying foul at the BJP’s alleged attempts to claim the ownership of the multi-crore project. Several other initiatives of the incumbent government have similarly come into question.
Sixty-one Seats of Phase 5, 2022 Elections: What happened in 2017?
On February 27th 2022, sixty-one seats of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly will go to the polls in the fifth phase of the 2022 elections. The seats are spread across eleven districts in central Uttar Pradesh constituting ten Lok Sabha segments. In the 2017 Assembly election, BJP dominated the region winning forty-seven of the sixty-one seats. The Samajwadi Party emerged victorious on five seats and the BSP three, whereas BJP ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) won three seats. Two years later, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, incumbent BJP won nine of the ten Lok Sabha constituencies, furthering its hold in the region.
Unlike western UP, which was home to widespread participation in the farmers’ protests against the three contentious farm laws, eastern UP has remained shielded from the farm politics and farmers’ agitation in the state. Moreover, as one moves from west to east in the state, agriculture as a political issue loses the limelight as the issue of stray cattle comes to the foreground. To appease the electorate, political parties are promising everything from a comprehensive policy to deal with stray cattle to a monthly stipend for cow protection. The problem of stray cattle was further exacerbated in the state when the incumbent BJP government imposed the cow slaughter ban and announced the closure of illegal slaughterhouses across UP. Several seats in this phase mirror not only issues at the state level but also the political dynamics across parties.
Prayagraj’s Politics of Confluence
While the SP had to deal with infighting on many seats in Prayagraj or Allahabad district, the BJP lost ground when it had to trade some seats with its allies Apna Dal (S) and Nishad party to clinch the crucial Patel and Kurmi vote base. In the Prayagraj district, the Congress’ Anugrah Narayan Singh is contesting from his traditional Allahabad North assembly seat for the 10th time in the last 37 years. Raghuraj Pratap Singh is in the fray from the Kunda seat for the seventh time in the last 29 years. Narayan Singh will face a contest from the BJP’s incumbent MLA Harshvardhan Bajpai who will be contesting again from Allahabad North seat. The SP has fielded Amarnath Maurya from Allahabad West and Raiish Chandra Shukla from Allahabad South.
As late as February 1st week 2022, several leaders within the SP took to social media to express their discontent on the choice of candidates. SP leader Vachaspati switched sides and joined the BJP ally Apna Dal (S). He is in the fray from Bara after SP fielded Ajay Munna from the seat. Party’s former MP from Phulpur, Nagendra Singh Patel is also contesting the polls from the Chail seat of Kaushambi as an Apna Dal (S) candidate. He will face a contest from another turncoat and two-time MLA from Allahabad West seat, Pooja Pal. Pal, who previously won on a BSP ticket has changed not just her political party but also the seat for 2022 polls. She will be contesting from Kaushambi’s Chail seat as an SP candidate this time.
Impact of the BJP’s Ram Temple Push in Ayodhya?
Ayodhya, the epicentre of the BJP’s Hindutva campaign will also go to the polls in this phase. While there were talks of fielding CM Yogi Adityanath from this constituency for the upcoming polls, according to BJP sources, the party decided against it after the SP fielded Pawan Pandey, a Brahmin from the constituency. The Brahmin community is up against the Yogi Adityanath leadership in the state accusing him of favouring his Rajput Thakur community. Moreover, BJP candidates are unlikely to score an easy win on the party’s Ram Temple agenda primarily owing to the growing resentment in the trading community. Several small traders are protesting against the state BJP government’s road-widening project, which is likely to displace a large number of shopkeepers. Despite this, the BJP has given no preference to its alliance partners as all assembly constituencies neighbouring Ayodhya will witness BJP candidates in the fray. Moreover, the party has fielded incumbent MLAs on most seats, displaying confidence in their performance in the past five years.
While Ayodhya is a BJP stronghold with both the religious and caste equations working in its favour, this time, the constituency will likely be a direct contest with the SP as party candidate Tej Narayan Pandey Pawan has extended full support to the angry traders. The BJP is riding on its Ram Temple promise in a constituency where Brahmins comprise around 22 per cent of the electorate, followed by Jatavs at 12 per cent, and Muslims and Yadavs at approximately 8 per cent each. Dalits make up about 15 per cent of the overall electorate.
Dynastic Politics or Domestic Feud: Amethi’s Curious Case
Another high profile constituency going to polls this time, Amethi, has been represented by former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Congress’s Sanjay Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the past. The electorate, however, has betrayed similar confidence when it comes to assembly elections, moving comfortably between the BJP, SP and Congress over the years. Of the four assembly constituencies falling in the Amethi district, the BJP won three in 2017, while the SP won a seat.
In the Amethi assembly seat, the BJP has fielded Sanjay Sinh, popularly known as the Raja of Amethi. In 2017, the battle in this constituency turned into a domestic feud, as Sinh’s two wives- first wife Garima and now wife Ameeta- contested against each other. Garima won on a BJP ticket, while Ameeta lost on a Congress ticket. Sinh is considered a popular choice among people and is likely to get not only the core BJP votes and support from Thakurs but also votes across caste lines. SP has fielded Maharaji Devi Prajapati, the wife of jailed SP leader Gayatri Prajapati from the seat while Ashish Shukla and Ragini Tiwari will be fighting on Congress and BSP tickets respectively. Both belong to the dominant Brahmin community and can eat into the Brahmin vote bank of the BJP.
A strong anti-incumbency against the BJP will likely benefit the SP presenting a tough challenge to the BJP. Out of close to 3.5 lakh voters in the Amethi Assembly constituency, about 80,000 are Brahmins, and 30,000 are Thakurs. There are close to 30,000 Dalits and nearly 1.25 lakh OBC castes and close to 30,000 Muslims.
Ability to Convert Runner Up Seats
In 2012, when the SP formed the government in the state with Akhilesh Yadav as the Chief Minister, the party won forty-one of the sixty-one seats going to polls in Phase 5 of 2022 elections. By 2017, its tally reduced to just five seats while it came runner up on twenty-seven other segments. The BSP, on the other hand, witnessed a consistent decline in its tally of seats since 2012, when it was the outgoing power. It won seven of sixty-one seats in 2012 and dropped down to just three in 2017. In the same year, its candidates came in second place in fourteen other assembly segments. However, with its negligible presence on the campaigning ground, the party which is attempting to stitch an alliance between Dalits and Brahmins this time may be poorly placed to convert the seats into wins in 2022. The Congress, which is struggling to hold its ground in the state, also witnessed a similar fate. From six seats in 2012, its tally came down to a single win in 2017. However, from runner up candidates on seven seats in 2012, it secured second place on eleven assembly segments in the previous election.
The incumbent BJP faces a formidable challenge in the ongoing elections. It is fighting to retain the forty-seven seats it won in 2017 while aiming to convert seven others where its candidates came in second place. Curiously, for many seats in this phase, the party has given tickets to incumbent MLAs, remaining confident of their ability to win this time as well. However, the elections will place not only the BJP government led by Yogi Adiyanath under the scanner. Uttar Pradesh’s electoral battle will be a referendum on the work done by the Union BJP government at the centre. Of late, the party is consistently pitching the ‘double engine sarkar’ plank as pivotal for the development of every state going to polls since 2019.
Damini Mehta /New Delhi
Data visualization by Prakhar Yadav and Vaishali Ujlayan.
With inputs from Anurag Anand, Huda Ayesha, Muskan Dhawan, Siddharth Malik and Uday Wadhwa, Interns at Polstrat.
From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.