In UP, what the BJP’s campaign seems to be lacking this time
Here are four charts that look at the BJP’s 2017 performance and extrapolate the situation to make sense of the 2022 contest.
Two out of the seven phases of the Uttar Pradesh elections are over now. Because the Election Commission of India prohibits the publishing of exit polls — this is not to say that exit polls are always accurate — until elections are over, there is no way of finding out what is the trend so far.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be fighting the elections as an incumbent on two main planks. The first is selling fear of restoration of status quo ante — in this case, the Samajwadi Party (SP), coming back in power. The second is making a virtue out of the “double-engine government” logic for development, which tries to argue that having the same party in power in both the centre and the state is good for the voters. Will this pitch work for the BJP?
We will only know on March 10, when the results are declared. The question is: What won the BJP the 2017 elections, and is this likely to work in 2022? Here are four charts that look at the BJP’s 2017 performance and extrapolate the situation to make sense of the 2022 contest.
Did people really hate the SP and its government in 2017?
Data from the CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey does not seem to support this theory. One of the questions the survey asked respondents was to name the party they disliked the most. The share of respondents who named the BJP (19.3%) and the SP (18.3%) in response to this question were largely similar. What is even more interesting is the fact that the share of respondents who reported satisfaction from the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the centre and the Akhilesh Yadav led SP government was not very different.
What the CSDS-Lokniti data clearly shows however is the fact that reasonably high satisfaction levels did not help the SP government in the 2017 polls. The share of respondents who wanted to give another chance to the SP government was just 28.6%; 45.3% of them did not want to give another chance to the government.
So, how did the BJP win Uttar Pradesh in 2017?
The accepted explanation for the BJP’s victories in the post-2014 phase, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh, has been its success in building a rainbow Hindu consolidation, with non-dominant Other Backward Classes (OBCs) playing a key role. This narrative is most likely true. CSDS-Lokniti data for 2019 polls and many other opinion polls show this clearly. However, this does not tell us anything about how the outcome was achieved in the first place. Is it a result of rallying the leadership of non-dominant OBCs who held a grudge against dominant-OBC Mandal parties such as the SP? Is it careful candidate selection at the local level and then leveraging it to the maximum possible extent? Was it a result of the BJP not declaring a chief ministerial candidate during the campaign?
Two pieces of statistics offer interesting insights into this question. One, caste leadership played a very marginal role in influencing the election results. More than half of the respondents took their voting decisions on their own. Among the 31.5% who admitted to taking advice on whom to vote for, more than two-thirds of respondents actually arrived at their voting decision based on consultation within the family. Caste/community or local political leaders influenced this decision for just 13.8% of the respondents.
Also, declaring a CM candidate might have cost some votes to the BJP. Only 31.6% of the respondents said they would have voted for the BJP had it declared a CM candidate, significantly lower than the 40.1% who said they voted for the BJP. Also, only 10.9% of the respondents reported local candidates as the most important factor while making their voting decision; 41.4% of the respondents cast their vote in favour of a party. These statistics suggest that local level candidate selection (on the basis of caste) might not have been the most important factor in the election.
So, what really happened?
Demonetisation might have helped the BJP in carving out a narrative of future gains. When asked about their perception on what issues were extremely important in the elections, demonetisation – it was announced in November 2016, just months before the Uttar Pradesh elections – came second only to nationalism if one looks at the “very important” responses.
In response to another question, 53.5% of the respondents agreed that “even though people might have suffered on account of demonetization, the nation and the people will benefit from this move in the coming years”, as against just 30.8% who believed that “Not only have people suffered on account of demonetization, the nation has also suffered losses due to this move”. The CSDS-Lokniti findings are in keeping with the sentiment seen in RBI’s Consumer Confidence Surveys (CCS) where future expectations actually improved in the immediate period after demonetisation even though present perception fell.
What does this mean for the 2022 elections?
Ground reporting from Uttar Pradesh seems to suggest that it is not a wave election. Why is it not the case?
It is possible that the BJP does not have an issue on which it can create a sharp polarization on the development plank during these elections? Demonetisation might have given that edge to the BJP in the 2017 elections. Even though most independent economists and political parties opposing the BJP were criticising demonetisation vehemently, the BJP might have been able to sell it as a decisive step towards improving the future economic well-being of the common people during the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections.
Having spent more time in power, the BJP’s economic pitch has been forced to shift from radical issues such as demonetisation to perhaps more mundane planks such as boosting future growth via a 25-year long infrastructure overhaul of the economy. This is hardly an issue that will electrify an electoral debate.
Will this make the 2022 contest in Uttar Pradesh a more local one where the outcome will be determined by just caste calculations and local level candidates? Without prejudice to what the result might be on March 10th, it can be said that a local level contest might not create the same level of polarization in favour of the BJP which it enjoyed in 2017, especially given the fact that its chief minister candidate is also seen as someone with a very strong caste identity. On the other hand, at least in some pockets of the state, the opposition might have been able to exploit emotive issues such as the discontent among Jats on the issue of farm laws.