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  Opinion   Columnists  03 Mar 2017  Will Muslim vote split help BJP to win UP?

Will Muslim vote split help BJP to win UP?

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal.
Published : Mar 3, 2017, 6:31 am IST
Updated : Mar 5, 2017, 7:26 am IST

Caste identity and in some contexts religious identity is shaping the choices of voters in UP.

Muslim girls show their fingers marked with indelible ink after casting vote at a polling station during the fourth phase Assembly elections in Allahabad. (Photo: PTI)
 Muslim girls show their fingers marked with indelible ink after casting vote at a polling station during the fourth phase Assembly elections in Allahabad. (Photo: PTI)

After several rounds of voting and almost by the end of the election campaign, it is clear that this election in Uttar Pradesh was an issue-less election. There is hardly an issue which dominated the mind of voters in UP from the western region to Purvanchal. What dominated the election campaign were allegations and counter-allegations, charges and counter-charges and rhetoric. Like in other elections, even in the current Assembly election in UP, the political parties began their campaign with the fancy word “development”, which seems attractive to voters as well, but very often conversation tends to end with a strong sense of either caste or religious identity.

Caste identity and in some contexts religious identity is shaping the choices of voters in UP. The party that had managed to form a better social coalition is likely to be ahead in the electoral race in the state. There is no wave in these elections like there was no wave in the 2012 and 2007 Assembly elections. It is only the number of seats won by the Samajwadi Party in 2012 and the Bahujan Samaj Party in 2007 made many people believe (retrospectively) that those were “wave” elections.

 

It is unfortunate that demonetisation, which affected the livelihood of millions of people, did not become an issue in these elections. Findings from the studies conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies confirms that people have divided opinions on this matter, but this is not the key issue shaping how they vote. Looking at the issues raised by political parties in different election rallies, one thing is clear: no party is keen on making demonetisation an issue. The BJP refrained from making demonetisation an issue out of fear that this might remind people of the hardships they had to face while depositing and exchanging money.

 

More so, this might remind millions of people who lost their livelihood, farmers who suffered losses due to demonetisation. Even the non-BJP parties (SP, Congress or BSP) have been hesitant in making it an issue as in the present discourse, those opposing demonetisation would be seen as the one standing in support of black money and corruption. Parties possibly can’t afford to be seen as supporting corruption and black money. The election campaign mostly began with development rhetoric, but finally centred around caste and religious issues.

If this was not the guiding principle of voting for the people of UP, then why would Mayawati again and again make an appeal to Muslims to vote en bloc for the BSP? The electoral prospects of the BSP largely depend on how Muslims are voting in these elections, a strong dalit-Muslim coalition can result in Ms Mayawati leading over other political parties in the current electoral contest in UP. But the big question is can that happen? Another question that should worry the BSP is: will Ms Mayawati be able to hold on her dalit votebank? There is a strong possibility of shift in the non-Jatav dalits away from the BSP, signs of which were visible in last Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha elections held in 2014.

 

Muslim votes are crucial even for the electoral success of the SP-Congress alliance. This alliance hopes to get en-bloc support from Muslim voters. If this works in their favour, the alliance could take a lead, as the numerically-strong Yadavs seem to be voting for the alliance in large numbers. But the leaders of the alliance have been careful about not wooing Muslim voters openly in their campaign due to the fear of counter-polarisation of Hindu votes against the alliance. The leaders of the alliance in their rallies have always put the work of the current government on the forefront of their election speeches and banking heavily on the slogan “Kaam bolta hai”. This slogan seems to be going down well with voters as the government did manage to do reasonably good work, though nothing exceptional. But what makes the people believe in this slogan is the good image of Akhilesh Yadav, who is accepted amongst people as a good chief minister. The BJP hardly has any state-level leader to match Mr Yadav’s popularity and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though still very popular, is not being able to motivate voters in as large numbers as the party needs to steer a clear victory.

 

This has resulted in a situation where the BJP is also dependent upon Muslim votes for the party’s victory, not in a positive way but in a negative way. What may take the BJP ahead of others in the electoral race in UP is either the consolidation of Hindu votes or the split of Muslim votes. In an attempt to divide Muslim votes in UP, knowing well that the prime consideration in the minds of Muslim voters will be to vote for the party that can defeat the BJP, it tried hard to divide the attention of voters about which party is in the electoral race. At times BJP leaders did mention that the real contest of the BJP is with the BSP, with the sole aim of confusing voters so that their votes may get divided. If the BJP succeeds in doing this, it may take a clear lead over the rival parties or the SP-Congress alliance. The party seems to get a lot of upper caste votes and has succeeded in attracting sizeable proportion of non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav dalit voters towards it. True, the support amongst these sections of voters has made the electoral contest interesting, brought the BJP in serious contest, but its electoral success in UP also depends upon Muslim votes. A split in Muslim votes, advantage BJP; a consolidated Muslim vote will put the BJP on the backfoot.

 

The identity of caste and religion remained the focus of the election campaign for most parties and the issues of demonetisation, unemployment, poverty and other livelihood matters got pushed back. The final electoral outcome in UP would depend upon how well the party managed to weave in the social arithmetic based on either caste or religion, or both.

Tags: uttar pradesh assembly elections, demonetisation, mayawati, akhilesh yadav