UP's 3rd phase polling: probable trend-setter for people's final verdicttext_fields
Lucknow: The completion of third phase of polling in the 7-phased Uttar Pradesh state Vidhan Sabha election is likely to set the trend for the final verdict that will determine the political destiny of India's most populous state.
With the fate of as many as 172 Vidhan Sabha seats that went to poll in the three rounds having been now sealed in EVMs, political analysts assume that the ground has already been set for the final shape that the electoral battle could take on March 10 when EVMs are opened.
As of today, the opinion seems divided in three directions – while one predicts the return of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister, the other sees the return of BJP minus Yogi . However, there is yet another view claiming that the voting pattern in the first three rounds suggests a yearning for change, that goes with the established trend of past several successive elections which have not allowed the return of any incumbent party.
The high voter turnout, in the third phase that beat many past records, and the manner in which voters came out aggressively to cast their vote in large parts of the 59 constituencies that went to poll across 16 districts on Sunday, did seem to display that urge for change. Reports reaching here from the ground clearly indicate a sizeable shift of the non-Yadav OBC vote from Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to Samajwadi Party (SP). That would mean disadvantage to BJP, whose top leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi was responsible for winning over this chunk of the OBCs to BJP right from 2014 onwards.
No wonder, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav's skilfull stitching of alliances with smaller OBC- based political outfits whose leaders crossed over from BJP to his party in a big way after the announcement of elections, started giving BJP sleepless nights. These included three ministers – Swami Prasad Maurya , Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharam Singh Saini – who were holding prominent positions in the Yogi Adityanath cabinet . Besides, nearly a dozen ruling party MLAs also switched loyalties, thereby giving a big jolt to the ruling dispensation.
The BJP leadership moved heaven and earth to create an impression that all those leaders who crossed over to SP did not have any significant following of their respective castes , therefore the shift would made no difference to the BJP. Ironically, this argument came in sharp contrast to what the same BJP leadership had claimed when some of these very leaders had crossed sides from BSP to BJP in 2017. "These BSP leaders have brought with them their huge support of the respective castes they represent ", was the loud claim of several BJP leaders then.
Even those BJP supporters who agree that the party could suffer some loss on account of a shift in the non-Yadav OBC vote, strongly believe that such losses will be offset by the gain that is coming to the ruling dispensation in the form of what is called "labharthi" (beneficiaries) vote. This so-called new "vote bank" comprises the poor who are continuing to receive free rations as also direct transfer of money even after the fading of the Covid crisis.
Interestingly, the free-ration scheme was specially extended beyond its original schedule that was to conclude in November 2021. Now it remains in force until March 2022, which coincides with the current election.
Initially introduced in the first COVID-19 relief package from April 2020, the scheme was extended thrice, but was scheduled to end in November, 2021.
However, it was in November 2021 that the special scheme was extended for four months, that clearly coincided with the conclusion of UP assembly election. It was another matter that this entailed an estimated subsidy of Rs 53,345 crores, with a total outgo of 163 lakh tonnes of foodgrain.
Today , that appears to be coming handy for the BJP to claim that it has done so much for the "well being" of poor people . That they are expected to vote in a big way for the BJP was amply demonstrated by a sitting BJP MLA, and party nominee Sarita Bhadouria who is seen on a video reprimanding people in Etawah for not pledging their vote for the ruling party "even after swallowing away rations including salt and oil." The video has already gone viral across the country.
BJP insiders were still not ready to give their own party anything more than 50 per cent of the 49 seats the party had won in 2017 in this third phase. With more than half the seats located in what is better known as Yadav heartland, restoration of bonhomie within the otherwise divided Mulayam Singh Yadav clan, was clearly bad news for BJP in this region.
That is what explains the apparent desperation among the top leadership of the ruling dispensation. It was partly demonstrated even in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's poll rally on Sunday in Hardoi (while polling was in in the third phase), where he sought to target the Samajwadi Party by highlighting how bicycles were used for carrying out bomb blasts in Ahmedabad. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath too has begun to label SP as "saviours of terrorists", while Union Home Minister Amit Shah is continuing to train his guns on Akhilesh as an embodiment of "parivarvaad" (dynasty) - something that the SP chief has been systematically avoiding to indulge in anymore.
Meanwhile, since most analysts were predicting a sharp fall in BJP's fortunes not only in the first two rounds, but also as much in the third phase, it was unlikely that the party could be in a position to score anything more than 50 per cent of what it had done in 2017, when it won on 140 of the 172 seats . Going by past data, the trend of voting in the initial phases generally has a cascading effect on future phases of polling. And if that were to happen again, it could be anybody's guess on which way the wind is blowing in UP.