India stakes: Uttar Pradesh will be a challenge for BJP next year

Outcome of the ongoing electoral battle in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu along with the Union Territory of Puducherry on May 2 will end the national suspense in India, paving the way for the next round of electoral battle next year in two of the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand that elect 85 MPs to the Lok Sabha and they combined have a population of nearly 240 million, over a fourth of India's population

Dr. Satish Misra Apr 05, 2021
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Outcome of the ongoing electoral battle in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu along with the Union Territory of Puducherry on May 2 will end the national suspense in India, paving the way for the next round of electoral battle next year in two of the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand that elect 85 MPs to the Lok Sabha and they combined have a population of nearly 240 million, over a fourth of India's population. 

At the same time, the final tally of each party will also put to rest all speculation whether the tall claim of Union Home Minister Amit Shah was real and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is able to wrest power in West Bengal from Trinamool Congress supremo Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and retain its government in Assam or the opposition has both strengths as well as the will to stand to the mighty electoral machinery of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-Shah duo.       

Uttar Pradesh: Crucial for BJP

Once suspense is gone, the BJP’s massive electoral machinery would shift to the biggest state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most politically consequential state as it sends the largest number of MPs to the national parliament, where assembly elections are scheduled to take place in February-March 2022 along with Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur.

In fact, 2022 state elections are far more crucial to the BJP as it has high stakes in both UP and Uttarakhand as the two states set the tone for a contest in the other states of Hindi heartland.  

In 2022, state assembly elections would also be held in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat and thus the electoral exercise would be akin to a mid-term poll whose results would give a definite clue if the BJP under the Modi-Shah duo will win the 2024 Lok Sabha polls or not. At the same time, election results would also determine if Modi’s popular appeal continues at the same level as it was in 2019.

While stakes of the BJP in the 2022 elections are high because it is in power in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Manipur, the Congress which is the main challenger in these states appears to be ahead in Punjab where the state Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh is preparing for yet another term in government.   

Farmers protest – will it play a role?

While the Congress under Capt. Singh is confident of another term, the BJP in UP is facing a serious challenge. While farmers of Punjab and Haryana have been at the forefront of the protests against the three controversial farm acts enacted by parliament in September 2020, agricultural community from western UP are equally involved in the struggle as one of their leaders Rakesh Tikait is leading the movement from the front.

There is lot of resentment among the farmers of western UP, which is both visible as well as being demonstrated in a popular boycott of the elected leaders of the BJP. However, the extent to which it can damage the electoral prospects of the saffron party would only be known when people cast their votes.

The BJP is depending upon time factor hoping that by the time elections are round the corner, the anger against them will subside and the electorate will vote for the Yogi Adityanath government but hope is based on a perception that does not match with the ground realities. Erosion of support for the BJP may lessen in its intensity but it is going to damage the party in a way that it would be difficult for the party to win the same number of seats as it did in 2017.

In November last year, the BJP was able to win all the three assembly bye-elections in the region winning Tundla, Amroha’s Naugawan Sadat, and Bulandshahr Sadar seats. Those victories came before the farmers’ agitation had begun.

While prospects of the BJP are under a cloud in western UP, its chances in eastern UP which elects 128 MLAs out of 403 (total strength of the state assembly) are also facing serious challenges.

In 2017, the BJP had won 320 seats in the state with a vote share of a little over 40 percent. Out of the 128 seats, the BJP had won 78 seats with a strike rate of over 60 percent. In the 2012 assembly elections, the Samajwadi Party had won 63 seats from eastern UP while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had won 71 seats in the wake of Brahmin-Dalit unity. It clearly establishes that the party which wins eastern UP also forms the government in Lucknow. (IFS)

(The writer is Research Associate, Observer Research Foundation. The views are personal)

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