Minority Vote, Upper-caste Presence and Bollywood Factor: Why Phase 2 Will be a Seat-to-Seat Battle
Unlike the first phase that goes to polls on April 11, the fight for the phase two seats of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura, Aligarh, Hathras, Amroha, Bulandshahar and Nagina will witness shifting strategies from seat to seat.
Image for representation. (PTI)
Lucknow: Unlike the eight parliamentary seats of phase one in West UP, the constituencies going to poll in phase two present different dynamics for political parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While the phase one seats of Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Meerut, Baghpat, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Bijnor could be defined by a very strong ‘minority factor’ and the dominant ‘Jat OBC’ aspect, phase two does not have a paramount factor that could define the entire spectrum.
Hence, unlike the first phase that goes to polls on April 11, the fight for the phase two seats of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura, Aligarh, Hathras, Amroha, Bulandshahr and Nagina will witness shifting strategies from seat to seat. While some of these seats have been a strong citadel of the BJP, others have reflected varying choices over elections. A strong minority vote presence can be a defining story on two-three seats, and a strong upper-caste presence on the other few. There is also the “Bollywood star” factor in the constituencies of Meerut and Fatehpur Sikri.
In the 2014 general elections, the BJP had won all the eight seats of phase two. The constituencies of Aligarh, Bulandshahr, Hathras and Agra have traditionally been with the saffron party over the past two decades and more, barring a few aberrations. This time around, equations are different with a challenge mounting from the joint opposition of SP-BSP-RLD.
For instance in Aligarh, with around 27 per cent upper-caste Hindu voters, 24 per cent OBC and 12 per cent MBC, the swing has generally been in the BJP’s favour. From 1991, the party lost the seat only once in 2009.
Despite the fact the constituency has often set the national discourse through controversies related to the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), the minority population here is not in a position to shift the electoral balance on any one side. The minority vote on the seat is estimated to be around 15 per cent. But unlike the past, the SP-BSP are now in alliance. How this proposed Backward-Dalit consolidation works with the Muslim vote this time will be the defining story.
But the reality that castes such as the Yadavs and Jats, which are generally considered more loyal towards alliance parties, don’t dominate the demographic profile here makes room for the BJP yet again.
Similar is the political story in Agra and Hathras reserved constituencies and also Bulandshahr, the other three strongholds of the BJP. Since the 1991 general elections, BJP has lost Agra only twice in 1999 and then 2004 while it was defeated in Hathras and Bulandshahr only once in 2009 .
In all these three constituencies, the demographic profile is similar to that of Aligarh — a strong presence of upper-caste Hindus, non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits. The Muslim population is just around 10 per cent in Hathras, 12 per cent in Agra and the highest in Bulandshahr — 19 per cent. In all these constituencies, Dalit voters comprise mostly Chamars who constitute between 15 to 20 per cent of vote share.
Till now, the favourable demographic realities, coupled with convenient caste alignment had mostly given the BJP an edge. But this time around, the battle is tough against a joint opposition. The BJP has therefore tried to revisit the strategy by dropping the sitting MPs in both these reserved constituencies. Minister in UP cabinet SP Singh Baghel is the party candidate from Agra, while sitting MLA Rajbeer Singh Diller has been given a ticket from Hathras. Diler’s father was a long-term MP from the same seat.
Diler will be fighting against former MP and SP stalwart Ramji Lal Suman and Congress’s Triloki Ram. In Bulandshahr, sitting BJP MP Bhola Singh is fighting against Yogesh Verma of the alliance and Banshi Singh of the Congress.
Away from these four prestige seats, the electoral battle in Nagina and Amroha can be highly influenced by the strong minority presence. In Nagina reserved constituency, the Muslim vote is around 42 per cent, while in Amroha, it is roughly 36 per cent. Along with a sizeable presence of backward and Dalit-Chamar vote base, the SP-BSP alliance has a strong chance here.
Constituted in 2008, the Nagina seat had gone to the SP in 2009. The BJP won in 2014 riding on the Modi wave and sharp communal polarisation. However, the combined vote share of the SP-BSP stood at 55 per cent against the BJP’s 39 per cent in 2014 itself. Naturally, facing a joint opposition is a herculean task for the BJP and the only factor it can pin its hopes on is larger Hindu polarisation.
Amroha, too, generally has been a tough seat for the BJP. In the past two decades, it has won in Amroha only in 2014. This time, Kunwar Danish Ali is contesting on a BSP ticket as an alliance candidate. He will be fighting against sitting BJP MP Kanwar Singh Tanwar and Sachin Chowdhry of the Congress. However, the fight seems to be primarily between the BJP and the BSP. Like Nagina, a sharp polarisation can be the only hope for the BJP in Amroha too.
Interestingly, it’s here in Amroha that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to address his first rally of phase two on April 5.
However, away from caste and religious paradigm, two seats in this phase have a “Bollywood star” phenomenon — Raj Babbar as a Congress candidate in Fatehpur Sikri and Hema Malini re-contesting from Mathura on a BJP ticket.
Though in both these constituencies the considered BJP support base of the upper-caste Hindu is around 30 per cent, the alliance too hopes of a coup, banking on the sizable presence of backward and Dalit voters. The minority vote share both in Fatehpur Sikri and Mathura is less than 7 per cent.
For the Congress, the lone seat in phase two where it actually aspires to win remains Fatehpur Sikri. Raj Babbar had twice been MP from neighbouring Agra. He had contested from Fatehpur Sikri in 2009, after Agra was declared a reserved seat in 2008. Babbar as a Congress candidate had then polled second with around 29 per cent votes. This time around, the Congress hopes the stardom will work in its favour against caste factors and the BSP candidate’s reported lack of popularity. Sri Bhagwan Sharma of the BSP is not from the constituency and is being seen as an outsider.
In Mathura, the BJP will yet again try to override the caste consolidations eith help from the “Dream Girl” of Bollywood. Malini’s husband Dharmendra being a Jat is expected to work in her favour too and the alliance has fielded a Thakur, Kunwar Narendra Singh, on an RLD ticket to counter this. Whether or not Hema Malini’s stardom prevents the Jats from going towards their traditional political choice of the RLD will be interesting to observe.
Jats constitute around 15 per cent of the voters here. The total OBC vote percentage being 28. MBCs are around 11 per cent, Dalits, mostly Chamars, constitute around 14 per cent of the voters.
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