Folks, let me start with my own “back of the envelope” calculation for Uttar Pradesh. Let me tell you where I think the SP’s vote share will end up. In 2012, they got a share of 29.5%. At least traditional wisdom says that it is near impossible for an incumbent party to increase vote share in a state. You might ask : what about the much beloved “Brand Akhilesh”, the current toast of Lutyens’ Delhi?
Well, let me remind you that “Brand Akhilesh” is a mere 6 month phenomenon, perhaps even less. Compare it to “Brand Modi” that was built in Gujarat over a decade. Compare it to “Brand Nitish” in Bihar. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar is literally known as the man who singlehandedly saved an entire state from the depths of ruin. And yet, the BJP actually lost vote share in Gujarat in every election : in 2002, in 2007 and in 2012. And again remember that Nitish Kumar’s JDU actually won less seats than RJD in Bihar.
This is not to say that branding doesn’t work. I am a huge believer in the theory of “Jo dikhta hai wahi bikta hai” (only the visible stuff sells). I think that branding brings in the crucial 2-3% of swing vote that makes the difference between victory and defeat. Branding can prevent erosion of votes for the incumbent. Branding is crucial. But branding only works if you have your core voters and your party is behind you.
So, my calculation says that the SP’s vote is capped at 30%… any gains of 2-3% max due to branding of Akhilesh will be nullified by the internal sabotage. A lot of elements in SP are working hard to make sure he loses this election. These are the people who can hurt him at the booth worker level. These are the people who can make sure the SP looks just weak enough for some confused M vote to go to BSP in key areas.
Meanwhile, the BJP which begins from a high of 43% in the Lok Sabha election, should not fall below 33%. If these leads are concentrated in Eastern and Western UP (which together account for 300 out of the 400 seats), BJP should be home safe and dry.
However, I will confess to surprise and deep worry over the results of the CSDS poll released yesterday.
This is bad news. And don’t be fooled by the hung assembly type scenario shown here. The election started out as a 3-way race between BSP, SP and BJP (with Congress participating for entertainment purposes only). It is now a 2-way race between BJP and SP. The final result will be a landslide in favor of one of these two.
It is most important to compare this CSDS survey to their previous one, conducted in August 2016. I seemed to remember CSDS showing BSP ahead in Aug 2016, but when I checked, it seems my memory was playing tricks on me. Here are the CSDS numbers from Aug 2016.
So, according to CSDS, in the last 5 months, BSP has collapsed (as expected) while BJP and SP are practically in the same position. Not much information really.
Let us come to the most important finding in the CSDS poll:
If true, this is a devastating finding for BJP. The party could be 5% behind in its stronghold of Eastern UP. That’s the den of Yogi Adityanath. That’s the catchment area of the Prime Minister’s own Varanasi. The PM has also delivered tangibly to this area, reopening the fertilizer factory and establishing AIIMS. Then the rail bridge for Ghazipur. A deficit of 5% in this area is nothing short of shocking.
This deficit can mean one of two things : either BJP is paying a price for ignoring Yogi Adityanath, or Yogi Adityanath is playing some kind of a game with BJP’s prospects in this area. Of course, a third possibility is that the poll simply went wrong in this area.
Equally surprising (although this time in a good way) is the finding in Western UP:
Really? It is not surprising to see BJP ahead in Western UP. But is it really ahead by a staggering 21%? At 5% lead, parties win 55-60% of seats. At 10% lead, they tend to win close to 75% of seats in an area. At 21% lead, there is no upper limit : as it stands CSDS should award every single seat in Western Uttar Pradesh to BJP.
This alone should give the BJP 130 seats from Western Uttar Pradesh. Now, the total that CSDS projects for BJP is 129-139… that means just around 9-19 seats for BJP in the 250+ remaining seats. Really? I have to say the vote/seat conversion done by CSDS puzzles me.
That said, every survey has some unexplained/puzzling data points if you look hard enough. It is not nearly enough to trash a survey, let alone a survey done by the highly respectable CSDS.
For me, even more interesting are the tweets from CSDS’ Sanjay Kumar last night immediately after the opinion poll went on air.
What Sanjay Kumar is indicating here is very important. As I mentioned in my “back of the envelope calculation” earlier in the post, the SP’s vote is capped at 30%. Incidentally, this is the same vote share that CSDS is projecting. Even a small split in these votes and Akhilesh Yadav is losing for sure. At the moment, there are many in Yadav parivar looking to drown Akhilesh and my hunch is that (it’s only a hunch…I said earlier I don’t know!) that BJP has a deal with these elements. BJP should work on this divide. It may be the difference between victory and defeat.
At the same time, BJP has to keep an eye out for BSP. By now, everyone (including me) thinks they are out of the race. Mayawati has probably been destroyed by the rigidity of her electoral vision (Zero branding…focus purely on caste). But there are many slips between the cup and the lip. For the BJP, the No. 1 priority is to make sure BSP closes down…which is certain if they lose this election. Once BSP closes down, the Dalit vote in UP and the Dalit narrative in the whole of India is available to BJP for the taking. And you can never lose sight of Priority No. 1.