UP at Half Way Mark: Comparative Analysis of Prashant Jha, Rajdeep Sardesai, Shivam Vij, and Bhupendra Chaubey’s Assesments

Monday, February 20, 2017

At the end of the 3 Phase of polling, 207 out of 403 constituencies or more than half the UP Assembly strength have voted.
All parties or political formations – SP-Cong Alliance, BSP & BJP – predictably have claimed they would be getting over 60 seats in Phase 3. After the Jagran ‘Exit Poll’ controversy, the circulation of fake ‘exit polls’ have now apparently completely ceased.

That said, what do some of the leading political journalists say? Notwithstanding their headlines of their articles and tweets, what does reading between their lines reveal? Is there are consensus among them. So we selected 4 such journalists – Prashant Jha, Editor of HindustanTimes, Rajdeep Sardesai, IndiaToday, Shivam Vij, HuffPo and Bhupendra Chaubey, CNN18News and analyzed their articles in an effort to decipher trends. For the purpose of analysis we have extracted relevant portions of their articles and categorised them verbatim into 4 standard heads – what they opined about the Alliance, BJP, BSP & Overall Outlook before offering our own comments. 


"Signs of change? How Muslims are veering towards BSP in an SP bastion". Read article HERE & "UP elections: Why a hung assembly can’t be ruled out in this battleground state". Read article HERE


There is no anti-incumbency mood. Yes, Akhilesh has made this election about himself and is showcasing vikas (development works done by his government). And, it is true that he is well-liked. But, every region has its own interpretation of the message. In central UP, especially in the Yadav belt, and among Muslims, there is an overwhelming support for the young chief minister. But this narrative has not caught up, at least not yet, across castes and geographies.   

It was a mix of Hindutva and Vikas that saw the BJP sweep Uttar Pradesh in 2014 – winning 71 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats. The “Modi wave” swept away caste and identity calculations, as Jats, Yadavs, non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits voted the BJP along with upper castes, the party’s traditional vote bank. But, things are different this time. Local, narrow politics is back. The BJP has Modi to ride on and the PM’s popularity has not diminished but it neither has a popular local face nor an agenda. It is no longer seen as a party of vikas as it was in 2014. It is because of these reasons that it has to rely on religious polarisation, particularly in west UP. The morale of the cadre is low and by all accounts, ticket distribution has been faulty. The party continues to be the first choice of Brahmins and a substantial number of non-Yadav OBCs -- and these are important constituencies. But, here, too, there are variations. In west UP, the Jats appear to have voted against the BJP in large numbers, Thakurs have not consolidated completely and turnout may be lower among Banias.               

The return of Jatavs to the BSP is now apparent across the state. In terms of social groups too, Mayawati, is the first choice of only her core base, the Jatavs, while other groups such as Muslims or upper castes may vote for her tactically, depending on candidates. It is representative of the shift of Muslims to the BSP in seats where local arithmetic does not favour the SP. 


UP 2017 is not one election, but as a journalist put it, 403 elections, for all seats have their own dynamics. A single big poll issue, a personality-centred contest and wide caste coalitions lead to decisive outcomes. As a sense builds up that a particular party is winning, floating voters join in because they want stability and also because of peculiar Indian voter behaviour -- the vote must go to the winner otherwise it is “wasted”. 

It suggests that politics is being driven by local considerations, the dynamic is changing in every constituency and there is no state-wide hawa, or wave. It also says social fragmentation is visible -- and each group has found a political outlet. And that is why it is possible that the result will be a mixed bag with no clear winner.


1.  Modi Wave of 2014 that cut across caste & class has now dissipated. Though BJP continues their hold over upper castes and besides still the first choice among non-Yadavs, they have lost out Jats, and appear weakened their grip over its core constituencies – Thakurs & Banias. BJP is not any more seen as a Vikas party. Ticket distribution appears faulty and the morale of party cadre is very low. If morale of cadre is low, it suggests that they most likely do not see themselves as front runners to winning the state.

2.  The good news for the Alliance is that there is no anti-incumbency. So if SP & Congress together registered around 30% in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, absence of anti-incumbency means there is little likelihood of slippage from 30% for the Alliance. Akhilesh Yadav is well liked, particularly Yadavs and Muslims – meaning his unfavourability ratings is nil or low. However the degree of his popularity may not be uniform across castes & geographies.

3. Jha is of the opinion it is most likely a hung house as a decisive verdict is highly unlikely on account of lack of a single big poll issue, a personality-centred contest and wide based caste coalitions. There is no discernable state wise ‘hawa’ or wave that is brought about when floating voters back a party or formation most likely to win. This argument sounds logical but nevertheless contradicts UP’s past poll behaviour. In 2007, none in the media or pollster gave Mayawati a ghost of a chance in winning the state. They all projected her a distant third. But she did win and how. In 2012, though a few polls gave SP a chance to be the largest single party, all suggested a hung house. SP won with a comfortable majority. What is more important is the perception however vague who has the edge in relative terms and then floating voters tend to coalesce around this relative perception. That is how waves are made. 


UP: Ten Takeaways. Read article HERE


Akhilesh Yadav is emerging as a pan-UP leader in his own right. There is little anger against him but his MLAs do face anti incumbency. Akhilesh is particularly popular among youth who see him as a face of the future. Law and order is a major concern in urban areas but Akhilesh is rated strongly as a development oriented leader. The Congress SP combination has unified the Muslim vote considerably and there is little division in the Muslim vote between the SP and the BSP that the BJP is hoping for. The alliance today is essentially a MY (Muslim Yadav) consolidation of votes but it is struggling to get incremental votes. The bust up in the SP has had limited impact on the Yadavs who are sticking by the cycle and Akhilesh. Shivpal Yadav's attempt to divide the Yadav vote has not worked. The Congress in particular is unable to easily transfer its traditional upper caste votes to the SP candidates in the alliance. The congress is a 'kamzor kadi' in the alliance with the SP. Akhilesh may have given the Congress 40-50 seats too many, a move that may cost him in a close run race like it did the DMK in Tamil Nadu last year


The BJP's core vote among upper castes and traders in urban pockets is intact despite demonetisation which is not a decisive issue on the ground. It's incremental 'plus' vote is coming from the extremely backward castes (Maurya, Nishad etc) who are numerically strong. It's the non-Yadav OBC who is emerging as the BJP's key vote bank. The BJP's core vote among upper castes and traders in urban pockets is intact despite demonetisation which is not a decisive issue on the ground.


Mayawati is struggling to make an impact. Her Jatav vote is intact, but she is unable to attract the 'plus' vote that was crucial to her success in the past, especially in 2007. Even the Muslim vote has gone to her only in limited areas where the BSP candidate was very strong.


After three rounds, the BJP and the SP-Congress alliance seats could be roughly in the same range. The key now lies in eastern UP where the BJP will look to achieve further consolidation of its Hindu, non Yadav OBC/EBC, upper caste alliance to pull firmly ahead. If the Congress improves its strike rate, especially in urban areas, then the alliance is in the battle. A hung assembly can't be ruled out if present trends continue, but if Mayawati continues to decline, then we should have a clear winner at the end of the race. For now, it remains advantage BJP, but the Akhilesh-Rahul alliance is still in the hunt.


1. Akhilesh is a pan-state leader with little anti-incumbency against him. Youth are rooting for him. Akhilesh symbolises Vikas whereas Jha was of the opinion that BJP lost its Vikas tag. Muslim consolidation around the alliance is high and the Yadav Parivar feud hardly hurt the Alliance. However Rajdeep Sardesai is of the opinion the Alliance is largely constrained by their narrow social coalitio basen, unable to significantly expand out of their ‘MY’ combination. Here we detect a basic inconsistency. In 2012, the SP was largely a ‘MY’ social combination and yet secured a facile victory. 2017 only sees them revert back to the same combination. Secondly, youth who Sardesai claims support Akhilesh, cuts across caste and class barriers. Besides, Sardesai overlooks SP have tremendous support among women, which again cuts across caste and class barriers. If youth and women back the Alliance, you automatically should get a wider coalition than ‘MY’ as opposed to the one narrowly perceived by Sardesai.  The Congress is further blamed for not able to transfer upper castes votes to the alliance but not credited for consolidating the Muslim votes, otherwise scattered, around the Alliance. Sardesai feels the Congress was given twice the number of seats than they really deserved and cites the last Tamilnadu Assembly poll example. But there is also the Bihar example where it was repeatedly highlighted that not only the seats given to Lalu Prasad & RLD but the seats given to the Congress ended up the Archilles Heel of the Nitesh led Alliance. Yashwant Desmukh of CVoter went to the extent of describing all the seats given to Congress and to a more limited extent, RJD a virtual gift by Nitesh to the BJP. Most of the exit polls also indicated that this could be the case but the results busted such misreading with both RJD and Congress registering a higher strike rate than Nitesh Kumar!

2. Sardesai’s opinion of BJP’s core votes and incremental plus votes are not shared by the other journalists covered in this post. They in contrast have the exact opposite view – that BJP’s vote share viz-a-viz 2014 is more or less depleted.

3. In contrast to Bhupendra Chaubey, Sardesai is of the opinion that BSP is a declining force and the more it declines, the better prospect it is for the Alliance to win. While BSP maintains a stranglehold over Jatavs, their hold over non-Jatavs appears to have loosened its grip. Like Jha, Sardesai is of the opinion that Muslims vote BSP only wherever the Alliance candidate is weak – following the exception principle than as a split choice. 

4.  Sardesai is of the only one among the four journalists covered in this post that categorically portrayed the race as neck-to-neck contest between BJP and the Alliance. This despite his own media group putting Akhilesh Yadav as the cover story of IndiaToday magazine and tacitly proclaiming the Alliance as the winner of the contest. Like Prashant Jha, Rajdeep Sardesai does not rule out a hung assembly. 


18 Things We Can Say For Sure In An Uncertain UP Election. Read article HERE


There is no Akhilesh wave. Travelling in December last week and January first week, one heard voters say 'Akhilesh, Akhilesh' everywhere, and these weren't just Yadav or Muslim voters. Upper caste and non-Yadav OBC Hindus were also widely heard praising Akhilesh Yadav. Many were saying 'Modi for centre and Akhilesh for state.' Suddenly, one hears only Yadavs and Muslims respond to Akhilesh Yadav's branding and development work. When you ask voters about Akhilesh, most praise him or at least say he is ok. You have to ask people about Akhilesh and only then do they say positive things about him. By themselves, they do not bring him up (except Muslims). He lost the momentum. Muslims who seem to be the most fond of him. Everywhere, Muslim voters are speaking of Akhilesh the way Modi fans speak of Modi. Muslim voters insist they are Akhilesh fans only because he delivers development without discrimination to all sections of society. Until the SP-Congress alliance was announced, there was a lot of talk about whether Muslims would see the SP or the BSP as their first choice. The alliance ended that discussion. Only in seats where the SP candidate is not seen as winnable are the Muslims going with the BSP. Muslims are the only voters widely using the word Gatbandhan, or alliance. This has effectively brought about a Yadav-Muslim consolidation, much like 2012. At the same time it has reduced the attraction of non-Yadav Hindus, both upper castes and OBCs, towards Akhilesh Yadav as a CM who has tried to rise over caste and community.


There is no Modi wave. Modi is doing only 12 odd rallies in a Brazil-size state, in contrast to 30 plus rallies he did throughout the Bihar election. The BJP's campaign is about the BJP, not about Modi or a CM candidate face. The BJP's posters never have Modi alone, not even Modi and Amit Shah alone. They have a few state leaders of various castes and regions. The 2014 Modi wave saw even some Yadavs and Dalits vote for Modi. That's not happening this election. OBCs are heavily inclined towards the BJP this time. Its difficult estimate the extent, but the trading community--mostly but not only Baniyas--are reluctant to go and vote. One has heard from a few traders the figure of 20% who may sit at home. But there is also those voting SP or BSP to make the BJP lose, so as to send a message to the BJP. Losing some of its core voters is bad news for the BJP, which is unable to either trumpet or defend demonetisation in its campaign. Non-Yadav OBCs love Modi, while non-Yadav OBCs are mostly with the BJP, the consolidation is not like 2014. Jats have deserted the BJP. Jat disenchantment with Modi is also the reason why communal polarisation was weaker than caste politics in phase one. BJP's gains from communal polarisation are limited. High Muslim population in the first, second and sixth phases often turn the battle into an "H-M" one. the three phases with high Muslim population are unlikely to see a BJP sweep like 2014. They are more likely to be a mixed bag.


There is no Mayawati wave as her Dalit-Muslim alliance failed to take off. Unlike the past, they are not coming together against Yadav dominance in a big way as non-Yadav Mayawati's pitch for a Dalit-Muslim alliance has failed as Muslims are inclined towards the SP-Congress alliance. BSP remains the weakest player, yet a dark horse but with a solid Dalit vote bank, the BSP remains a force to reckon with even at its worst. A small section of upper castes, especially Brahmins and Baniyas, who are unhappy with the BJP for whatever reason (demonetisation, tickets) are seeing the BSP as an option. Since this is happening silently, it is difficult to estimate the extent of this shift.


This UP election has become 403 elections, the constituency dynamic overriding all attempts of parties to create a state-wide narrative that could turn into a wave. This election is up in the air. Just because there is no wave yet doesn't mean there may be no perceptible wave in the next few days. After every phase there is potential for the election to turn.


1. Shivam Vij confirms the Muslim consolidation around the alliance was made possible only because of the tie up between SP & Congress. Here lies the value Congress brought to the alliance. Akhilesh remains popular cutting across caste & class but appear to have lost the momentum. Unlike in November & December, only Muslims seem to spontaneously articulate in their praise of him but others also do so but need to be nudged to open out. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that Akhilesh has lost support among non-Muslims though Shivam points out some extent of support could have been lost due to communal polarisation.

2.  Sharing Jha’s opinion, Shivam points out the loss of BJP’s support among Jats, Yadavs, Dalits and more importantly among the core base of the party – banias – who he feel might not turn up to vote or if they do so, may vote against the party. The scope of communal polarisation is low and remain confined to phases 1,2 & 6 where Muslim population is high. 

3. There is no wave towards Mayawati as she failed to put together a ‘DM’ coalition. But Dalit consolidation around BSP is extremely high and some upper castes and banias from BJP are also tempted to vote BSP as an option. Shivam however considers BSP the dark horse.  This is an astounding perception. In 2014, the BSP registered a tad less than 20%. To come neareven a near majority, you need a double digit swing to reach at least 29-30% vote share threshold. Shivam’s analysis does not explain how this can take place when he categorically rule out a wave in favour of Mayawati. 

4.  Unlike Bihar where Shivam was able to call the elections, he makes a tacit  admission of not being able to decipher the mood of the voters of UP. Like Jha, Shivam feels that the result is the aggregation of 406 constituencies, each with they own unique voting behaviour and thus difficult to fathom collectively. But he does not rule out a wave arguing that just because the mood is not readily discernible, it does not mean a wave is not in the offing.


The much hyped periscope analysis of Chaubey proved rather disappointing. Chaubey made 3 major points

1. Muslim vote is split and that weakens SP and strengthens BSP
2.  BSP is the party to watch, the dark horse
3.  Sharing Rajdeep Sardesai’s view he feels that the Congress had been given more seats than the weight it can pull 


1.  Chaubey remains the only journalist who feels the Muslim vote is split between SP and BSP

2.  Like Shivam, Chaubey considers BSP the dark horse without detailing how a party with slightly less than 20% in 2014, can be expected to catapult into a surprise winner. To win you need to be in the minimum threshold range of 29-30% vote share involving a 10% swing that is whopping by any consideration. It needs a wave though Shivam categorically ruled out such a wave in favour of BSP while Chaubey is silent on it.

3.  Like Sardesai, Chaubey feels that the Congress is dragging down the alliance by a poor strike rate though similar opinion were aired during Bihar polls which Congress busted. 

Why the Alliance is coasting to a historic sweep 

Taking stock of all these journalistic inputs, what can we make of the state of the race at this juncture? But before we do that, we need to keep the following 2014 Lok Sabha Vote Shares in mind

BJP           43.5%          Alliance     30.0%          BSP           20.0%    Others        6.5%

The Alliance stands at start-up at 30% and BSP at 20%, and all the journalists analyses seem to point that both will stand to net gain from here. However, to catch up with the Alliance, the BSP needs a whopping 10% swing towards it, which is farfetched when all journalists, except perhaps Chaubey agree there is no such wave or at the most a very feeble wave in favour of the BSP.

The BJP’s vote share in 2012 was 15% while in 2014 it was 43.5%. So the Modi Wave could be quantified viz 28.5%.  So if all the journalists agree that the Modi Wave has well and truly dissipated viz we are back more less to the 2012 scenario, does it mean that the whole of this 28.5% has now been dissipated? That looks highly unlikely to happen. But what intensity is this dissipation taking place? It looks pretty bad from the cues Modi is personally emitting – he appeared to have lost his composure as seen from both his body language and speeches and the fact that the BJP gave up their Vikas avatar and going back to their communal agenda. Even if it is assumed that the BJP is able to retain only 40% of the 28.5% Modi Wave this would mean only around 11-12% being retained from 2014. Adding this to their 2012 vote share, we can assume that their current vote share could be around 26-27%.

The question is where this 17-18% eroded from BJP’s vote share is going to? Alliance? BSP? Others? The analyses of all the 4 journalists indicate both the Alliance & BSP is poised to make net gains. Even if the Alliance snatches 5-6% from the BJP, their vote share springs up to 35-36%. This should give a double digit lead to the Alliance over BJP, adequate to trigger a Tsunami Wave. Similarly if another 5-6% is snatched up by BSP, they would still trail the Alliance by a double digit margin and additionally possess the probability of relegating the BJP into a humiliating third place.

So the battle based on these assumptions is basically between the Alliance and BJP, with the BSP only having a long shot of displacing BJP as the runner-up. To that extent Rajdeep Sardesai appears to have made the right call. Chaubey’s analysis of BSP as possible front runner looks totally fictional. Jha’s prediction of a possible hung house can take place only if BJP limit loses to 6-7% to their vote share of 2014 which looks highly improbable while Shivam may strike bullseye again as he did with his Bihar predictions if a sweep materializes as an outcome of these elections. 

At the end of third phase, BJP strategies on one hand is trying to attract non-Jatav votes from the BSP to shore up their vote share by resorting to communalization of the election campaign and on the other hand attempting to prop up BSP in an effort to confuse the Muslims to split their votes between the Alliance and BSP, eroding the vote share of the Alliance in the process.  Will they succeed? Highly unlikely with three phases and 50% of seats already voted. The die has already been cast in stone. 

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