How the M-Factor Can Catapult a Winner in UP but Failed in 2014

M for the Muslim factor can only be a winner if multiple choices do not give an advantage to the spoiler BJP

Uttar Pradesh, long since regarded as a weathercock state in Indian politics, goes to the polls in seven phases beginning February 11 and ending March 8. As national parties and formidable state giants gear up for the campaigning, key speculation has been around the significance and import of the minority (read Muslim) dominated seats in the populous north Indian state. Analysis of the past six state elections indicate the crucial significance of the approximately 130 seats with a significant minority population while the contrary results of the surprise 2014 general elections rendered the minority vote from these seats almost utterly irrelevant.

With 403 assembly seats and the minority factor affecting close to one fourth of the total seats, the final candidature list (and then the voting patterns) could be crucial. In the 2014 general elections with the ‘M’ (Modi) factor dominating, the Muslim vote had been sadly and successfully rendered virtually irrelevant all over the country but most especially, here in UP. The BSP has been careful in allocating as many as 97 seats to Muslims while the Samajwadi has indicated that it will nominate Muslim candidates in about 63; the BJP has so far announced only one!

Of Uttar Pradesh's 80 parliamentary seats, Muslims make up more a third of the voting population in 15. Their population is 10-30 per cent in another 39. The BJP won 73 seats (two in alliance) and lost seven — Amethi, Azamgarh, Badaun, Firozabad, Kannauj, Rae Bareli and Mainpuri. Ironically, it was second in all seven of the constituencies it lost.

The story of the 2014 election was the success of the split non-BJP vote, spoiled by multiple choices and nowhere was this more visible than in these 15 of the 80 parliamentary segments. The inanity of too many candidates in opposition ensured a winner from the hidden horse, the BJP.

Rampur has a 49.1 per cent Muslim population — the highest for any constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Going by convention and the probability of winning,–and failing in sensible tactical politics–the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, All-India Minority Front and Aam Aadmi Party all fielded Muslim candidates. Predictably, the Bharatiya Janata Party ticket went to a Hindu.

Any surprise then that given the split three-five ways, the BJP’s Hindu candidate won. Some 550 km from Rampur, the opposite played out. The lone Muslim face of the saffron party was it’s re-nominated two-time MP Shahnawaz Hussain, who was fielded from Bhagalpur in Bihar, which has a 17.5 per cent Muslim population. In Bhagalpur, Hussain lost to Shailesh Kumar.

So, while Muslim confusion between two many ‘secular’ options gifted Rampur to the BJP, their vote against the BJP's only Muslim candidate in Bihar ensured Shahnawaz Hussain’s defeat in Bihar. On the other hand, Hindu voters — mostly upper castes and other backward castes — voted en masse for the BJP.

A similar analysis can be made for Moradabad, next to Rampur and with a Muslim concentration of 45.5 per cent of the voters, and where, in 2014, the BJP's Hindu candidate defeated Muslim candidates from the Congress, SP, BSP and Peace Party.

In fact, none of the 55 Muslim candidates in the fray from 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh won. This was the first time since Independence that UP failed to elect any Muslim, despite the community being nearly 18 per cent of the 200-million population of the state. The patterns of the 2014 general elections have some bearing on predictions for the outcome of the ongoing 2017 state polls, especially if in the Muslim dominated seats, multiple ‘secular’ choices again give an advantage to the BJP.

A close look and analysis at the results of the last five state elections in the politically watched state of Uttar Pradesh, however, is that the party that won the crucial minority dominates seats is the one that finally ruled the state from Lucknow.
The last time the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), dominated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was in power in the state was in 1991, when it was also the BJP that won from the maximum of minority dominated seats and captured power in Lucknow. Post demolition of the Babri masjid (the shrill polarised ‘Ram Mandir’ politics of the supremacist party), the state saw the ‘Mandalisation’ of the state that has, effectively kept the BJP away from winning in these crucial seats. Before this schism that was of its own making, in 1991 it was the BJP that won in 76 of the 122 minority dominated seats, while the Congress won only seven seats and the Samajwadi Party (SP) only one. It was the 38  “Independents” who won the day with the second highest seats at the time.
Two years later, in 1993, it was again the BJP that wrested control over a vast majority of the minority dominated seats: the BJP won 69 seats (of the 122 minority dominated seats in UP), 31 went to the SP, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won 5 and the Congress only six. “Others” however won 16 seats of the 122.
In 1996 again, it was BJP that won a vast majority of the minority dominated seats in UP though overall it won less: BJP won 59 of the 128 minority dominated seats; the SP won 43, BSP 13 seats, and the Congress won only 7.
In 2002, the SP ‘s position improved in the minority-dominated seats when it won 43 of the 129 minority dominated seats (under the leadership of Mulayam Singh); the BSP won 24 of these and the BJP walked away with 32.
The year that Mayawati swept the state elections, in May 2007, it was the BSP that won the state and also won 59 of the minority dominated seats while the SP won 26 and the BJP won only 25 of these seats; the Congress got only seven.
In Feburary 2012 when the SP under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav swept the state, it was the SP that won 78 of the 130 seats followed by the BSP that got 22 seats; BJP followed close by winning 20 of the minority dominated seats and the Congress won only 4. The BJP has been losing its hold over these seats and also over the state for some time.

Unlike the Dalit vote, the BSP’s Muslim base has increased over the last decade — it got 9.7% of the Muslim vote in 2002, 17.6% in 2007, 20.4% in 2012. Political Pandits predict that Mayawati would need 40- 60% to form a government only on the strength of a Muslim-Dalit combination. The BSP has handed out 97 seats to Muslims while the Samajwadi has indicated that it will give about 63. In the carefully crafted seat distribution, however, the BSP supremo has not ignored the other OBCs like Rajbars and Patels, a calculation that could also reap rich dividends. If however, in the bitterly contested three way contest, again, like in 2014, the seats that have a significant minority presence, the BJP could emerge a wily winner if the votes get split among two ‘secular’ probables. This is apart from the predictable ‘spoilers’ (there have been as many as 16 such small formations in UP) heavily present in many of these seats, who are solely there to wean away crucial votes.

The majority Modi government in Delhi is, after the PV Narasimha Rao government of 1991 — a minority government with outside support in which the Congress had won just 38.2 percent of the vote share — a government with the "lowest popular support in terms of vote share". Even with its NDA partners, the new government's vote share will be around 38.5 percent, the UPA share is 23 percent — and all the rest another 38 percent, almost the size of the NDA's share.

Among the sections of the population that did not vote for the ruling BJP, were Muslims. The ECI website shows the BSP won 4.1 per cent, the Trinamool Congress won 3.8 percent, Samajwadi Party (though it has only five MPs) won 3.4 percent and the AIADMK won 3.3 per cent, all indicating that the 2014 outcome continues to reflect a fractured vote, even if there is a clear mandate.

Apart from the millions who voted for the regional parties such as J Jayalalithaa's AIADMK which finished as the third largest party in Lok Sabha, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congressand others, there are minorities who do not seem to have voted for the BJP, despite all the talk about it getting popular support from the Muslim community for the first time. Speaking to The Hindu, Prof Sanjay Kumar of the CSDS says that for the last six elections since 1996, about 33 percent of Muslims have voted for the Congress. This election saw that percentage rise to 44 per cent, indicating the anticipated polarisation of the Muslim voters towards the Congress."Moreover, in bipolar states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where the Muslim vote share for the Congress goes even higher into the 70s, it rose above 90 per cent in this election," the report says.

A report in The Indian Express also points out that this is the very first time that a ruling party with a simple majority does not have a single Muslim MP in the Lok Sabha. Of its 482 candidates who contested the general elections, only seven were Muslim, and none of them won, including Shahnawaz Hussain, a long-time sitting MP who lost from Bhagalpur. Even in Jammu and Kashmir, where the BJP has made a startling debut with three MPs, the Muslim candidates did not win. The present Lok Sabha is the one with the lowest Muslim representation since the 10th Lok Sabha (1991-1996). Despite 102 constituencies where the Muslims voting population is in the range of 20-99 per cent, it was the BJP (who proudly does not field Muslim candidates) who won 47 of these.

A sad but sorry tale for representative democracy.



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