Factors at play in turbulent west UP
The seven phases of polling in Uttar Pradesh move from west to east. The first round of polling will see voting in nine of the 71 districts in the state. Agra, Aligarh and Mathura are some of the districts that will vote today.
Fifty-eight assembly constituencies (ACs) in Uttar Pradesh, among the 690 across five states which will go to polls in the current election cycle will vote today, February 10. While Uttar Pradesh will vote in six more phases until March 7, polling in three states, namely Uttarakhand, Goa, and Punjab will be a one-day affair -- the first two on February 14 and the third on February 20. Manipur will vote in two phases on February 27 and March 3.
What is the significance of the first phase of voting in Uttar Pradesh? Here are three charts which explain this in detail.
Where are the polls happening?
The seven phases of polling in Uttar Pradesh move from west to east. The first round of polling will see voting in nine of the 71 districts (2011 census; the number is since up to 75) in the state. These are Agra, Aligarh, and Mathura in the Doab subregion; and Baghpat, Bulandshahr, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Ghaziabad, Meerut, and Muzaffarnagar in the West subregion. The subregional classification is based on the categories used in the database compiled by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD), Ashoka University. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 53 of these 58 ACs in the 2017 assembly elections. That’s right: 53 of 58.
Among the most urbanised and well-off regions of Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh is one of the most rural states in the country, but that is not the case with the ACs in the first phase. The aggregate share of rural population in this region is 58.4% compared to 81.1% in the rest of the state, according to the 2011 Census. This region also comprises of some of the most urban districts of the state, such as Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar. To be sure, the share of urban population in these regions would have increased, given the fact that the 2011 Census is more than a decade old now. This phase of polling is also happening in one of the richest regions in Uttar Pradesh. According to the 2015-16 National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) data, the share of population belonging to the top asset quintile (top 20%) in these regions was 31%, significantly higher than the 16% average for the state. Asset data for the 2019-21 NFHS round has not been published yet. To be sure, not all districts going to polls have high levels of urban and rich households.
Social demographics of these districts
Of the nine districts going to polls in the first phase, six have a share of Muslim population which is higher than the state average. In two of these districts, Meerut and Muzaffarnagar, the share of Muslim populations is close to 40%. There is significant variation in the share of other communities including Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs) among Hindus and Hindus who do not belong to either OBCs, SCs or Scheduled Tribes (STs). It needs to kept in mind that population composition in individual ACs can vary significantly compared to the district average.
How important is this phase for the BJP?
The region going to polls in this phase has seen a lot of political churning (and worse) in the last decade. It was the epicentre of large-scale communal riots which erupted in western Uttar Pradesh in 2013. The communal polarisation — largely among the politically influential Jats in this region — which followed is believed of have helped the BJP in a big way in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The situation was not very different in the 2017 polls, when the BJP achieved an all-time high seat share to vote share ratio in Uttar Pradesh, largely a result of a fragmentation in Opposition votes. The BJP did seem to be vulnerable when the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) joined hands in the 2019 elections. However, it managed to minimise its losses in the region by forging a rainbow coalition of Hindus, perhaps a result of the consolidation of Muslim votes (which it was not amiss in pointing to). In every election since 2014, the BJP’s performance in this region has been better than its overall performance in the state.
Can the farmers’ protests anger generate tail winds for the SP-RLD combine?
This question essentially boils down to whether Jats, who have voted in overwhelming numbers for the BJP – 91% of Jats supported the BJP in 2019 according to CSDS-Lokniti’s post poll survey – will shift to the Opposition this time. The SP is hoping to achieve this by tying up with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), a party which claims the legacy of Charan Singh, who cut his teeth in politics by mobilising primarily Jat farmers and went on to become the prime minister of India.
While there are no official estimates of Jat population, they are assumed to have a significant share in some of these districts. Reports have indicated that a section of the Jats could prefer to stay with the BJP, which has been evoking memories of the allegedly pro-Muslim stance of the SP during the 2013 riots. Whether this influences the results or not will only be known when results are declared on March 10. However, an important data point from the past results suggests that even if a fraction of Jats desert the BJP in favour of the SP-RLD alliance, things could get difficult for the former. In the 2014 elections, only one of 58 ACs in this phase was decided (and won by the BJP) by a victory margin of five percent or less of the total votes polled. By 2019 this number had increased to seven ACs, of which five were won by the BJP. It is reasonable to assume that large sections of Muslim voters will stay with the SP-RLD combine this time.