There appears no clear front-runner among the three major contestants – BJP, SP-Congress and BSP – in the 73 seats going to polls in the first phase of elections in Uttar Pradesh with factors including demonetisaiton, problems of farmers and caste and community considerations likely to influence the outcome.
While the BJP appears to be in no position to repeat its performance of 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Bahujan Samaj Party has steadily built up momentum of its campaign and the Samajwadi Party and Congress are expecting to benefit from their alliance. The Rashtriya Lok Dal is also a force to reckon with on several seats, due to its appeal among Jat voters.
For the BJP, which is banking heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal and its “social engineering”, the first phase is crucial to build momentum for the remaining six phases of assembly election for 403 seats in the Uttar Pradesh assembly.
But the party has been battling challenges, including perceived unhappiness among the Jat community, which has a sizeable presence on most seats going to polls in the first phase.
There has also been unhappiness among small traders and labourers who faced difficulties due to the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Choudhary Naresh Tikait said the central government has “done nothing” for the farmers and rural areas in last two-and-a-half years.
“Farmers are moving towards cities. I do not see any benefit due to demonetisation. It has rather caused problems, specially to farmers,” he said.
Naresh Tikait, son of well-known farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, said there was “a wave for Modi in 2014” but the situation was different now.
“Political parties have sought to divide farmers on caste lines for their own benefit,” he added.
Pushpinder Choudhury, who is affiliated to Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti, said the Jats would consolidate behind RLD. “They are angry BJP over the issue of reservation and demonetisation,” he said.
On its part, the BJP has sought to reach out to the Jat community and farmers.
The party’s manifesto has several promises for them including loan waiver for small and marginal farmers.
Modi, in his rally at Bijnor on Friday, said the Samajwadi Party government led by Akhilesh Yadav had not given the sugarcane farmers their due and BJP will ensure them justice.
He also promised to set up Chaudhary Charan Singh Kisan Kalyan Kosh in every district of the state.
In 2012, the BJP had won only 11 of the 73 seats that will vote on Saturday. The Bahujan Samaj Party and SP had won 24 seats each, Rashtriya Lok Dal had won nine and Congress five.
BSP chief Mayawati has been assiduously building up her campaign and seeking to woo the Muslim community to add to her firm support base among the Dalits. To win the trust of the community, BSP has fielded a large number of Muslim candidates.
Apart from the 24 seats it won in 2012, the BSP had finished second on over 30 seats.
With the Samajwadi Party joining hands with the Congress, the two parties are looking to improve their performance.
Samajwadi Party leader and UP minister Rajendra Choudhary said their main contest is with the BJP. “On some seats, the BSP and RLD have their presence but we are ahead in the contest. We will perform better than in 2012,” Choudhary told IANS.
Muslims, Jats and Dalits have large presence in the seats going to the polls in the first phase in western UP. The members of the minority community are likely to vote for a candidate who is in a position to defeat the BJP.
Rajendra Choudhary said the community will overwhelmingly vote for SP-Congress. “I do not think their vote is getting divided,” Choudhary said.
The RLD, which could have been part of SP-Congress alliance, is now contesting on its own. The party is seeking to revive its support base among the Jat and farming communities. The party has said it will not join hands with BJP after the assembly polls.
Pradeep Mathur, Congress MLA from Mathura, said the fight in western UP is between SP-Congress alliance and the BJP.
“BSP has very nominal presence. Majority of Muslim voters are with us and we are going to form the next government by winning around 40 seats (in this phase,” Mathur told IANS.
Minister of Stare for Agriculture and BJP leader Sanjeev Balyan admitted that the situation was not good for the party as it was in 2014, when the BJP had led in over 65 of 73 assembly segments.
“But the most important thing is that BJP is in fight on each seat of Western Uttar Pradesh. As far as Jats are concerned, they are with BJP. Khaps never interfere in politics. We have fielded 18 Jat candidates. RLD will only cut votes. The fight here is between the BJP and the SP-Congress alliance,” he said.
Hukum Singh, BJP MP from Kairana, also claimed that BSP was not in the picture anywhere.