2019 Election: Of numbers and tales in Uttar Pradesh

All these numbers and predictions, often arrived at by sifting data through the blunt sieves of uniform criterion, quantification and explicit assumptions, often threatens to hide away many micro realities.

//T. V. H. Prathamesh//

While UP with its 80 seats has a disproportionate influence as far as elections are concerned. Consciousness of this power of numbers is not lost to the citizens of this  Gangetic plain province, where elections are marked with an air of color and festivity. Every punter in the chai ki dukaan would have  a prediction based on their assessment of hawa (public mood) and local power equations. More industrious among them would attempt to put a number to the intuition, and invest in the satta bazaar (the betting market).

How does one really make an assessment of these polls. If we choose to cast a prediction based on the 2014 election data, and the 2019 candidature, it would be as follows:  



NDA (BJP+SBSP+AD) Gathbandhan (SP + BSP + RLD) INC Uncertain
29 37 2 12



The method behind the number was on the following:

(1) 2014 data still remains the most extensive quantified source of voter preferences, despite its datedness. The 2017 assembly data is largely irrelevant in this context.

(2)  The numbers of votes that gathbandhan is expected to receive, per constituency is assumed to be the sum of votes that individual parties in the alliance received in 2014 polls in the said constituency.

(3) A party or an alliance is predicted to have won a constituency if its:

(a) The victory margin is greater than 2% of the net votes cast, in a particular constituency as per the 2014 data. This figure of 2% was done with keeping away small fluctuations and the complications that could arise out of alliance

(b) In addition to the above, if a particular candidate has won the election they should belong the same party as in 2014. If a particular winning candidate in 2019, has switched sides, it becomes tricky to decouple the role of candidate and the party in the victory.

(c) In addition to the above two criterion, there should be no strong contestants from a third party in these elections which could cause a split. We refer to a contestant as strong, if they are known public figures outside of their constituency or have won at least 2 or more parliamentary elections since 2004. Constituencies such as Moradabad where Imran Pratapgarhi is fielded by Congress and expected to split votes, belongs to this category.

(4) If no candidate in a particular constituency matches  all the three above criterion, we list the constituency under the category: Uncertain.

We can see that NDA can be expected to win around 29 seats by this data, and Gathbandhan would win 37. Depending on how the uncertain constituencies swing, we can expect NDA and Gathbandhan to reach a maximum of 41 and 49 respectively. It would be safe to assume the numbers here for the NDA are the upper limit, considering that 2014 was a wave election, which attracted many non-traditional voters to this camp. Such a feat would be tough to replicate. To get a better view of what 2019 might hold in store and what we could infer about the political landscape of Uttar Pradesh, it might be interesting to dwell in detail on some of the questions that arise out of the assumptions underlying these calculations.

(a) Is it fair to assume that SP + BSP votes will add up, in other words, Would the votes necessarily transfer en bloc?

The traditional core base of BSP are largely constituted of Jatavs, while the Samajwadi Party relied on the Yadav-Muslim combination to help them sail through elections. If some of the media reports are to believed, the transfer of votes between SP, BSP and RLD have largely been successful these elections. How is that these caste groups whose relations was described as politically antagonistic not too long back, could suddenly put behind their past to vote in this fashion? The clue to the mystery lies in changing agrarian relations in the countryside. According to the anthropologist Bernard Cohn, sometimes around 1950’s with the abolition of zamindari, there was a large scale shift of Yadav’s from the hereditary pastoral professions to peasantry. They largely remained small to large landowners engaged in a direct conflict with the traditional landlords often belonging to Thakur castes. With the changing demographics of rural Uttar Pradesh, and  heightened economic inequalities after neoliberal reforms, the bone of contention in rural UP shifted to the tension between the landowning peasant castes such as Yadavs, and agricultural labourers, which were mostly dalits. These heightened tensions on the ground, soon found their echoes in the corridors of power resulting in the infamous guest house scandal of 1990’s. However, the economic decline in the last decade, coupled with disastrous policies such as demonetization has adversely affected even the rich peasantry and almost immiserated the middle peasantry. The cry for remunerative prices which has been fairly visible in the recent peasant movements has been a characteristic feature of the middle peasant movements, right from the days of Mahendra Singh Tikait and Sharad Joshi. In a season of declining fortunes and loss of political power, it seems likely that Yadavs would have no hesitation in extending solidarity to dalits to arrest the slide. This might still not  explain why dalits would back their erstwhile oppressors. Perhaps the answer lies in the many symbolic gestures of respect that Mayawati has been receiving from the SP top brass , which seems to aimed at demonstrating earnestness of SP and placating the Dalit voter.

The split in the Muslim votes post Muzaffarnagar in 2013, has not been the most optimal, as far as Muslim interests are concerned. One of the key positives with a gathbandhan in picture, as far as Muslims are concerned is the hope of preventing any vote-split that would only aide BJP.  One could conjecture without risking too much that the Muslim vote would transfer enmasse to the gathbandhan except in a few constituencies, where Congress might play the spoiler.

(2) Will the vote shares look similar to 2019?

That perhaps remains the hardest question to answer. If we go purely by caste arithmetic, BJP since 2014 has managed a near complete consolidation of the Tilak, Tarazu aur Talwar (Brahmin, Vaishya and Kshatriya) castes behind it under the flag of Hindutva and Modi.  This was a feat that it achieved for the first time since the early 1990’s, after which the Thakurs split away to SP and Brahmins flirted with the BSP.  It is further claimed that BJP’s victory in 2014 partly stemmed from its ability to woo over large sections of non-Jatav Dalit groups such as Pasis, and MBC castes such as Mallaahs. In the lead up to the 2019 elections , BJP’s has gone all out to override local power equations in favour of a high pitched presidential style campaign with the hope of retaining its 2014 vote base. The pitch of the campaign has been successful so far in rendering feeble all voices of dissatisfaction. Whether this high shrill of nationalism and personality cult actually overrides various issues surrounding economic distress remains to be seen. Similarly in terms of alliances, whether the merger with the Nishad Party compensates for the soured relationship with Suhel dev of Bharatiya Samaj Party, especially considering that have a loyal sub caste base, is a matter of speculation.  There is substantial hope among BJP ranks that PM’s flagships targeted schemes for the ‘poor’ such as Ujjwala Yojana, Individual Household Latrine and PM Aawas Yojana will help consolidate a base among the poor across caste divide. The ground-level implementation of these schemes, perhaps might not prove as celebratory. For instance, while the distribution of gas cylinders could be seen as a welcome move, the high refilling cost of Rs. 900 made the scheme a largely futile exercise.  Unless of course, it’s only objective was to earn a few good intention points for a certain bearded resident of Lok Kalyan Marg.


(3) Will the Congress attempts at have an effect?

As seen above, only in perhaps at most 12 constituencies can one expect Congress to be of nuisance value to the gathbandhan. In the rest of constituencies, one finds an expected correlation between the caste of the BJP candidate and Congress candidate, suggesting a possible tacit understanding with the alliance to split BJP votes. For instance, in the constituency of Mathura, the Congress has fielded Mahesh Pathak, a businessman with a local reputation, who is certain to eat into the BJP’s Brahmin vote share.

All these numbers and predictions arrived at by sifting data through the blunt sieves of universal criterion and quantification, often threaten to hide away many micro realities. For instance, in Kanpur the numbers might suggest that BJP with its 57% vote share in 2014, is mostly posed to retain the seat. But the twin-disaster of Demonetization and GST had an adverse impact on the economy of this small scale industrial hub. The absentee representative in form of Murali Manohar Joshi has only aided the palpable anger, and it seems likely that Congress under Shriprakash Jaiswal might wrest Kanpur away from BJP. While BJP hopes that a change of candidate and the narrative of nationalism and Pulwama will work a miracle for them.

At a far distance from studios of Lucknow and Delhi, where debates run amok about nationalism, constitution and fascism, lies the constituency of Banda in  Bundelkhand which has the most telling tale of these elections. The sitting MP, Bhairon Prasad Mishra from the BJP, has been refused a ticket in 2019. In his place, BJP fielded RK Singh Patel, who contested the 2014 elections in Banda on a BSP ticket. Back in 2002, he was a cabinet minister in Samajwadi Party government. Meanwhile, Bal Kumar Patel, who was the SP candidate in 2014 and is locally known for being the brother of the dacoit Dadua, is the current Congress contestant. The gathbandhan candidate is the industrialist-businessman from Shyama Charan Gupta from Allahabad, who also happens to be sitting MP of Allahabad on a BJP ticket. Having been refused a BJP ticket from Allahabad, in favour of Rita Bahuguna Joshi  the former president of the UP Congress committee who morphed into a cabinet minister in BJP government, he switched to party and the constituency . The son of this socialist party candidate continues to be a member of the BJP.

Author is a Mathematician by profession.The views expressed by the author are personal. 


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