Lok Sabha Election: Prime Minister Modi still seem to have an edge over rivals in India's largest state Uttar Pradesh, but there are signs of concerns as well.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seem to enjoy the goodwill and support of voters in urban centres of eastern Uttar Pradesh that are going to poll in the last two phases of Lok Sabha election. There are 27 Lok Sabha seats in these two phases including Prime Minister Modi’s seat Varanasi and Azamgarh from where Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav is contesting.
Voting for 39 of total 80 Lok Sabha seats in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh has already been completed in the first four phases of the seven phase general election. However, 41 seats including 14 seats of central UP, and 27 (14 and 13) seats in eastern UP will vote in the remaining three phases on May 6, 12 and 19.
Realising the importance of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had decided to contest from Varanasi in 2014 that energised the party cadre and the BJP was able to sweep most of the seats in the region. During the formal discussion with ordinary voters, Prime Minister Modi still emerges as the favourite of a large chunk of voters in cities who seem to be voting on his name rather than the individual candidates fielded by his party.
“I will vote for BJP, I’m a die hard supporter of Prime Minister Modi,” said Surendra Pandey, a 26 year old mobile shop owner in Prayagraj’s upmarket civil lines area, who described himself as a loyal supporter of PM Modi.
Syed Saddam, a 31 year old sales agent working in his shop concurred with the view of his shop owner but after some prodding he said the election is not an easy one for the ruling party.
“Earlier it was believed that the way Modi Ji has swept 2014 Lok Sabha election he will rule the country for 10 years. But now people realise that it’s not that easy. It’s a tough election for him,” Syed Saddam told Financial Express Online, adding that he will vote for Apna Dal leader and union minister Anupriya Patel as she is a local candidate from his Mirzapur Lok Sabha seat.
Defying the general perception that Muslims will do tactical voting against the BJP that relies on hardline Hindutva and aggressive nationalism, a 52 year old Muslim Pan Shop vendor in the same area of the city said he will vote for the BJP.
According to political analysts, tactical voting by Muslims against the BJP means that the community tend to vote for any party or candidate in a particular seat that is best placed to defeat the BJP. In this pattern of voting, Muslims vote for different parties and candidates to ensure defeat of a large number of BJP candidates in a state or region.
“I will vote for BJP in this election,” said Mohammed Faruq Ahmad, who has been running a Pan shop in Allahabad’s civil lines area for last 27 years, evoking surprise from a group of 5-6 people those were his regular customers and BJP supporters.
“I have voted for the Congress Party in 2009 Lok Sabha election and for Samajwadi Party in 2012 Vidhan Sabha election but I voted for BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha election and 2017 assembly elections,” Faruq said while responding to the surprise expressed by his customers who questioned him for voting for the right wing ruling party.
“If this is true that Muslims do not vote for the BJP then how come the party was able to win such a large number of seats in 2014?” asked Mohammed Faruq Ahmad.
Though the BJP may have added some voters from the Muslim community that is generally believed to be voting against the party, however, a section of its traditional supporters seem to be disappointed with it. A section of Brahmins voters, that are considered traditional supporters of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, seem to be upset with the party.
“I will vote for Samajwadi Party candidate Pandhari Yadav in Phulpur Lok Sabha seat,” Mukesh Kumar Tiwari, a 40 year old contractor told Financial Express Online.
Winning the battle for Phulpur is important for both BJP and its main challenger SP-BSP combine. India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru represented the seat thrice in 1952, 1957 and 1962. Samajwadi Party was able to snatch the seat from the BJP in 2018 Lok Sabha by-election in a prestige battle.
In a clear sign of decline of the party’s popularity in the state, the BJP lost all Lok Sabha by-election in Uttar Pradesh after its massive victory in 2014 when the party had won 73 of total 80 seats in alliance with Apna Dal. In the four Lok Sabha by-elections held in the state since 2014, the BJP lost three seats held by it to the opposition parties.
Samajwadi Party was able to retain Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat after Mulayam Singh decided to resign from Mainpuri to represent Azamgarh in Lok Sabha. Samajwadi Party candidate Tej Pratap Singh won from Mainpuri Lok Sabha by-election in 2014 after Mulayam resigned from the seat. However, BJP lost three by-elections in the state since then, Phulpur and Gorakhpur to Samajwadi Party, and Kairana Lok Sabha seat to RLD candidate supported by SP-BSP.
In such a scenario, disappointment of a section of influential Brahmin community may upset the delicate election arithmetic of the party. Brahmins make up up to 9-10% of the state population and they have traditionally voted for the BJP in the last two decades. However, a section of them feel sidelined within the party.
The decision of Mukesh Tiwari, a 40 year old contractor, to vote for Samajwadi Party candidate Pandhari Yadav, seems to be driven from his belief that his community is being under represented in the government and the party organisation. Though the party has made Dinesh Sharma, a Brahmin leader, one of the two deputy chief ministers in the state but it failed to cut the ice with voters like Mukesh Tiwari who voted for the party in 2014.
“It’s not just me but a section of my community will vote against BJP candidates. I have arrived at this conclusion by talking to my family, friends and relatives,” Mukesh Tiwari told Financial Express Online.
However, Mukesh Tiwari’s voice could be an aberration rather than representative of a large section of his community members. Rajnish Mishra, another Brahmin voter from Phulpur Lok Sabha seat was impressed with the development work done by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“In a large country like India, everything can’t be changed in just five years. He should be given another term,” Rajnish Mishra, 40, told Financial Express Online.
Prime Minister Modi faces another challenge to retain the OBC support base of the party. An OBC voter who hails from Azamgarh told Financial Express Online that he will vote for Samajwadi Party Supremo Akhilesh Yadav. However, he refused to disclose whether he belonged to influential Yadav community as most of the top leadership of Samajwadi Party belongs to the same community.
Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh is still a direct fight between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rest of opposition leaders. This election in the state is still more like a Presidential kind of election where a large chunk of voters will either vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi or against him, irrespective of BJP or opposition candidate.
The Prime Minister was able to sweep the 2014 general election in north India in an election reminiscent of Presidential election in the USA. He again hopes to reap the maximum benefit of turning 2019 Lok Sabha election into a race similar to 2014 general election where he had acquired larger than life image that catapulted his party to the power in Delhi with a clear majority.
Once again he hopes to take advantage of a Presidential election kind of campaign where he has advantage over his rivals because of his long experience as a chief minister of Gujarat and his track record as Prime Minister in the last five years.