Though the BJP has so far projected the Samajwadi Party (SP) as its main rival in the Assembly elections, in the 58 seats of western Uttar Pradesh that will vote in Phase 1 of the polls on February 10, the ruling party is likely to face a bigger challenge from the BSP — at least going by the Mayawati-led party’s performance in past elections in the region.
In the 2017 elections, the BJP, which won an overwhelming majority in the state with 312 of the 403 seats, swept the region too, winning 53 of the 58 seats. The SP and BSP won twice seats each while RLD won a single seat. The BSP, which stood third in the state with a mere 19 seats, however, was the runner-up in 30 of the region’s 58 seats, followed by the SP on 15 seats, Congress on five and RLD on three.
In an election marked by communal rhetoric as the BJP raised the pitch on the Muzaffarnagar riots and the alleged exodus of Hindus from Kairana, the average victory margin for the BJP was more than 40,000 on majority of the seats it won. Muzaffarnagar and Kairana both go to the polls in this phase.
In 2012, it was the BSP that won the maximum seats in the region — 20 — while the SP won 14 and the BJP stood third with 10 seats. The RLD had won nine seats, the Congress five. In that election too, it was BSP that was runner-up on the maximum number of seats — 24 — followed by the BJP (9), RLD (8), SP (7) and Congress (3).
Until the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, the BSP derived its strength from the significant population of Muslims and Dalits in the region. Similarly, the RLD held on to its Jat voters. But the communally polarised atmosphere since then saw the Jat vote, along with a section of Dalit votes, go the BJP way.
The polarization was evident from the fact that while 11 Muslim candidates won from the region in 2012, only three won in 2017.
Home to some of the most prosperous sugarcane farmers, the region is being wooed aggressively by all parties. While the Adityanath government, stung by the recent farm protests, has reduced power tariff for private tube-wells, the SP has promised free electricity and the RLD loan waivers to farmers. The political impact of the recent farm agitation and the farmers’ demand for MSP will face their first test in this region.
Another seat that is crucial to the BJP’s plans is Mathura, from where Adityanath kick-started the BJP’s Jan Vishwas Yatra. A few weeks ago, senior BJP leader and Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya had tweeted: “Ayodhya Kashi bhavya mandir nirman jaari hai Mathura ki taiyyari hai (Grand temples are being built at Ayodhya and Kashi, preparations are on for Mathura).”
Among the seats going to polls in this phase is Meerut, where PM Narendra Modi laid the foundation for the Major Dhyan Chand Sports University, and Jewar, where an international airport is in the works. All the seven Assembly constituencies of Aligarh district are also going to the polls in this phase.