After Clean Sweep in 2014, Mahagathbandhan Surge May Trip the BJP in UP’s Reserved Seats
These are also the constituencies where, politically speaking, Dalit voters actually don’t impact the electoral outcome.
File photo of a supporter holding Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party symbol. (Image: AP)
It’s an aspect of electoral politics that has not been much talked about, but in the battle ground of Uttar Pradesh, it can be make or break fortunes of the BJP, as it fights out its toughest political adversary in form of a united opposition of the SP-BSP-RLD.
This aspect is the 17 reserved constituencies, where BJP had scored a perfect 100 per cent in the 2014 general elections.
It’s here where BJP has dropped eight out of its 17 sitting MPs. These are also the constituencies where, politically speaking, Dalit voters actually don’t impact the electoral outcome.
This is because of the simple reason that since all candidates are Dalits, the Dalit vote gets significantly divided among the major players. Thus it’s the different sections of the non-Dalit vote that can define the polls.
The dynamics of these reserved seats in UP will start playing out from Thursday as eight seats of west UP go to polls. Four out of these eight - Nagina, Bulandshahar, Hathras and Agra - are reserved seats.
While Nagina and Hathras were won by the alliance parties in 2009, Bulandshahar, Agra and also Hathras had generally been with the BJP before. So barring Nagina, which was formed only in 2008 post delimitation, the other three seats had been BJP strongholds.
The other reserved seats in the state are Shahajahanpur, Hardoi, Mishrikh, Etawah, Jalaun in Phase 4, Mohanlalganj, Kaushambi, Barabanki and Baharaich in Phase 5, Lalganj and Machlishahar in Phase 6 and Bansgaon and Robertsganj in the final phase of polls. Like Phase 1, phase three also has no reserved constituency.
Among the phase two reserved constituencies, in Nagina it will be the Muslims that will be the biggest deciding factor, with their voting strength being around 42 per cent. BJP will naturally bank on any possible split in this block and maximum support from around 14 per cent of the upper caste Hindus and 24 per cent of backward caste votes.
In Agra and Hathras, BJP will be pinning its biggest hope on strong presence of upper caste voters. In Agra, it is around 28 per cent electorate and in Hathras, it is around 30 per cent. The BJP also aims to make inroads into the OBC and MBC votes. In both these constituencies, although Muslims are in significant numbers, they don’t actually dominate the voter demography.
In Bulandshahar, it’s the OBCs at around 35 per cent of voting strength that will be the biggest deciding factor, followed by Muslims and upper caste Hindus, both estimated at around 19 per cent each.
Out of these four seats, BJP has changed its candidate only in Agra as Ramshankar Katheria was replaced by SPS Baghel. The reason was that Baghel SC are estimated to be around 7 per cent of voters here, while Dalit chamars are around 12 per cent. By giving a ticket to Baghel, BJP hopes to garner the Baghel vote, while the chamars are generally seen as more inclined towards the BSP.
The other constituencies under the reserved category where BJP has brought a new face are Shahjahanpur, Hardoi, Mishrikh, Etawah, Bahraich and Machlishahar. Robertsganj has been given to ally Apna Dal.
The party has clearly tried to curb the unpopularity of some of its sitting MPs in the reserved constituencies. It naturally hopes to fight out the strong caste arithmetic of the SP-BSP alliance by dowsing the anti-incumbency sentiment to the maximum possible level.
A look at the votes polled by respective parties shows that the road ahead for the BJP in the reserved constituencies will be challenging.
For example in Shahjahanpur, the BJP got 46.45% votes in 2014. SP-BSP’s joint vote share was slightly above 47%. A change of candidate can, therefore, give the BJP some hope here.
Similarly in Mishrikh, against BJP’S 41.33% vote share in 2014, the alliance together got 52 per cent votes.
In Baharaich, BJP had got 46.28%, while SP-BSP together polled 46.42 in the last general elections when the Modi wave swept the state.
In Lalganj it was BJP’s 36 % against SP-BSP’S 55%. In Machlishahar, BJP had got 42%, while alliance together had got around 47%. In Kaushambhi and Hardoi also, the joint vote share of SP-BSP was much more than that of the BJP in 2014.
No doubt then, the challenge has only intensified for the BJP in these reserved seats.
In other seats like Mohanlalganj, Kaushambhi and Bansgaon, where the party has reposed faith in sitting candidates on the bases of their active role and popularity over the past five years, it hopes that with Dalit vote divided among the key contenders, it can still have the last laugh depending upon expected support from the upper caste Hindus and substantial dent in the OBC and MBC voters.
Mohanlalganj seat, which has four out of five assembly constituencies from Lucknow district, makes an interesting case study. BJP’s candidate and incumbent MP Kaushal Kishor, BSP’S CL Verma and Congress’s RK Chowdhry all are from dominant Dalit Pasi community.
Pasis constitute the biggest voting block here, being around 19 % of the voter strength. With it being expected to be divided among the three major candidates, the victory will depend upon around 31 per cent of the OBC, 12 per cent of the upper caste Hindus and around 10 per cent of the Muslims.
BJP’s state spokesperson Hero Bajpayee explained the dilemma and said the party has changed some candidates depending upon the ‘winnability’ factor. “Changed political scenario demands new strategies and that is being done,” he told News18.
Professor Prashant Trivedi of the Lucknow-based Giri Institute of Development Studies said that since elections are generally decided on caste lines, the Dalit vote becomes less significant in deciding the end result on the reserved seats.
“Because of a largely uniform split of their votes among the major candidates, it’s therefore the non-Dalit voters who actually call the shots on these seats.”
Can BJP work out its way through this matrix amid the new phenomenon of SP-BSP-RLD alliance remains to be seen. With no “Modi wave” like in 2014 that had to an extent diluted the caste identities, and no large-scale communal polarisation like the one felt in 2017 Assembly polls, the strong caste arithmetic will indeed be a mega challenge for BJP this time around.
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