U.P. Election Results In Charts: How BJP’s ‘MY-Square’ Beat Akhilesh’s ‘MY’
→ ‘Modi-Yogi’ x ‘Mahila-Yojana’ trumps ‘Muslim-Yadav’ in a one-sided battle.
The Bharatiya Janata Party led by Yogi Adityanath has won a stupendous election in Uttar Pradesh amidst clouds of economic slowdown post the pandemic, farmer agitation led by the Jat community, soaring unemployment levels, and high inflation.
The Samajwadi Party’s campaign focusing on agrarian distress, discontent among youth, government employees, and certain caste groups drew huge crowds and gained good traction but could not be converted into enough votes to dislodge the BJP from power despite the state's long legacy of revolving door politics.
While SP-led alliance more than doubled its tally and recorded an impressive jump in vote share by 12%, it lacked the muscle to cross 40% vote share, even as BJP’s vote share increased by a further 3%.
In the first bipolar U.P. election seen in decades, other parties including Bahujan Samaj Party, Congress, and smaller parties have been completely squeezed out with a redistribution of votes and could win only 5 seats in the aggregate.
Vote Shifts In Caste Blocs
In hindsight, we see that the BJP had won the UP elections by Phase 5 itself, and the outcomes in the sixth and seventh phases—where the SP and its allies put up a formidable caste coalition—were inconsequential.
That the BJP maintained a comfortable lead over the SP right from the first phase suggests that the farmer agitation led by Jats in western U.P. did not translate into a shift in votes towards the Jat-centric Rashtriya Lok Dal and its alliance with the SP. For the SP, this was a repeat of a legacy problem with allies – being unable to secure a seamless transfer of votes towards it from its allies’ voter base.
While the SP’s core voter blocs of Muslims and Yadavs backed RLD candidates, Jats do not seem to have reciprocated in favour of SP candidates.
So, in West UP, the BJP bagged 45 of the 58 seats on offer in the first phase.
In the second phase, there were many districts of western U.P. that have a sizeable minority population. Here too, the BJP won more seats than SP, pointing to possible counter-consolidation among different sub-sects of the majority community.
What the SP failed to do was to make a sizable dent in the BJP’s new coalition of non-Yadav OBCs, and non-Jatav Scheduled Castes, that have been added to the legacy support the BJP has from upper-caste Hindus.
While BJP has maintained its dominance over the upper caste voters, it has increased its influence among non-Yadav OBC voters and held its ground among Jats, despite the alliances struck by Akhilesh Yadav. The BJP has also made gains in the BSP’s peripheral non-Jatav votes as well as core Jatav base.
Having lost Dalit votes to the BJP, the BSP also shed other voter blocks, to the SP. Half of the SP gain is coming from higher levels of support in its legacy voter blocs – 5% from Muslims and 1% from Yadavs who abandoned BSP and INC and backed the SP in a bipolar contest.
While the other half of SP’s gains were from SCs, non-Yadav OBCs, and Jats, the BJP upped its vote share from those blocs as well.
The BJP’s expanded vote base helped it buffer a marginal loss of support amongst Brahmins.
‘MY-Square’ Versus ‘MY’
To ward off any challenge from the SP’s Muslim-Yadav support, the BJP, in effect coined its own ‘MY-Square’ by asking for votes in the name of the Modi-Yogi duo and creating a ‘Mahila-Yojanya’ vote bank.
The Axis My India post-poll survey said ‘strong leadership and development under a double engine ki sarkar’ was a motivating factor for 37% of respondents. 15% of BJP supporters said they voted in the name of Modi and Yogi.
Women voters who may not take part in discussions with visiting journalists or researchers as enthusiastically as men would also tend to get under-represented in surveys. They’ve backed the BJP in large numbers.
What helped the BJP among women voters was the perception of improved law and order and a fear of a return of lawlessness if the SP returned to power. As per the Axis poll, 11% of BJP voters backed the party on account of improved law and order.
As a result, more women than men voted for the BJP across caste groups except for Jatavs, and more women voted for the BJP than SP across all communities except Yadavs and Muslims.
In his victory speech on March 10 following the election results, Prime Minister Narendra Modi argued the mandate in U.P. needed to be seen beyond the prism of caste equations. That brings us to the ‘Y’ in BJP’s second ‘MY’ that we spelt out earlier – Yojana.
The beneficiaries or labharthis of central and state government schemes also seem to have tilted the scales in BJP’s favour, cutting across religious and caste lines. This brand of welfare politics has come as a tadka to the long-stirring pot of U.P.’s caste politics.
15 crore people were distributed free food rations for 18 months which has acted as a balm after the pandemic wrecked families’ lives and livelihoods. To my mind, no political party claimed that people had not been delivered ration supplies.
The central government has spent 21% of its entire budget for the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana in the state of U.P.
The Axis poll found that 20% of BJP’s voters are government scheme labharthis. 11% said they voted for the BJP specifically due to the free ration scheme while another 9% said they did so after availing the benefits of one or the other scheme.
A party that was earlier seen as that of the middle class, traders, and small businessmen, the BJP seems to have cracked the code with its innovative social engineering and welfare politics. In UP 2022, the poor, middle-class, as well as the rich, have all backed the saffron party.
What Issues Mattered, To Whom?
So how did the BJP stitch together not just an effective caste coalition, but also scored on socio-economic metrics during the Covid-19 pandemic, its resultant health and economic distress, price rise, and farmer agitation?
These issues were important but not for all voters. Of those that voted for the SP, unemployment, and inflation were concerns of 32%. Meanwhile, two-thirds of BJP voters backed the party on account of development, benefits from the labharthi status, Modi’s leadership, and identification with the party’s symbol.
Voting is a decision often centered around apeksha (expectation) and aakrosh (anger). People were not angry with Yogi government or looking to throw it out. A section may have been disillusioned, but likely could not find assurance in Akhilesh Yadav’s leadership.
The Captain Failed Team SP
In the aftermath of the results, there has been much talk about Akhilesh Yadav emerging as a political force who gave the BJP a tough fight. The numbers show otherwise. While SP’s seat tally has more than doubled from 2017, that number of 47 from five years ago is not its base tally.
In 300-odd direct BJP versus SP one-on-one contests, BJP won 200 odd seats. Team BJP’s vice-captains Apna Dal (S) and NISHAD party have also fared better than Team SP’s vice-captains RLD, and Apna Dal (K). The SBSP posted the highest strike rate in the SP-led alliance thanks to its Phase-7 performance.
Interestingly, the parties’ eventual vote share mirrors the ratings of preferred chief ministers, in the Axis My India survey. Such a leader-linked presidential-style election favours the BJP. Akhilesh Yadav had to counter not only Yogi Adityanath but Yogi+Modi.
To mount a challenge, the Samajwadi Party needed to contest a highly-localised seat-by-seat contest without attacking Modi. In such a state election, local factors play a crucial role. Normally, one-third of voters make their choice on basis of their local candidate.
Instead, Akhilesh’s campaign became a personality contest and did not raise issues as he should have with greater force.
Over the course of the election, the BJP formulated and executed a phase-wise strategy to tackle the Samajwadi Party. In Phase 1 and 2, BJP’s strategy was counter consolidation against the RLD-SP attempt to unite Jats and Muslims. In Phase 3, where the minority population was lower BJP shifted focus to laabharthi politics. In Phase 4, when urban centers voted, BJP used nationalism to woo the middle class. As Ayodhya voted in Phase 5, Hindutva was the flavour of the strategy. In Phase 6 and 7, BJP portrayed itself as the true custodian of OBC rights to counter SP’s Mandal formula.
In the end, BJP clinched the deal in U.P. fairly comfortably. Is the state going to become the next Gujarat, keeping the BJP in power term after term? Time will tell.
Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator, strategist, and consultant advising political parties and leaders. He was a corporate and investment banker.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.