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UP exit polls: How BJP took the state that mattered the most

In 2014, BJP and ally Apna Dal had swept 73 seats — leaving Congress with only 2 seats, Samajwadi Party with 5, and BSP with none.

, ET Online|
Updated: May 22, 2019, 06.33 PM IST
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 2017 assembly polls, the BJP performed well in UP because of the sharp division in the anti-BJP votes.
If the exit polls be true, BJP is all set to find itself in an enviable position in Uttar Pradesh tomorrow.

Most pollsters are backing BJP-led NDA to bag India's most electorally crucial state despite a strong, no-holds-barred push by the SP-BSP alliance.

In 2014, BJP and ally Apna Dal had swept 73 seats — leaving Congress with only 2 seats, Samajwadi Party with 5, and BSP with none. BJP built further on this astounding tally with a sweeping win in the assembly elections that followed, leaving Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government a distant second and Mayawati's BSP with just a handful of seats.

Those decisive electoral routs were morale-sapping enough for Mayawati to seek a way to stall BJP's march by joining hands with bitter rivals SP for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Mayawati justified this alliance and the decision to leave out Congress when she said,"In the past I have seen that our votes get transferred to the Congress, but not vice-versa. We do not gain from an alliance with the Congress, whereas the vote transfer is perfect in an SP-BSP tie-up."

In light of the exit poll predictions, here's a look at the key factors that shaped the fight for Uttar Pradesh.

SP-BSP's failure to consolidate backward, Dalit and Muslim votes
The BSP-SP alliance primarily hinged on its attempt to consolidate backward, Dalit and Muslim votes. Going by exit poll numbers, this form of social enginerring didn't work and BJP's upper caste Hindu appeal carried the day.

If exit poll numbers are anything to go by, reverse polarisation of upper caste plus Non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits towards BJP may have handed UP to BJP on a platter.

Mayawati's failed attempt to win over Muslims
Muslim voters in UP have been traditionally reluctant to vote for parties whose agenda is primarily to appease their community — the younger Muslim voters now demand to be seen as equals. Mayawati's special appeal also came to the Election Commission's notice, when she was slapped with a 48-hour campaign ban.

BJP's relentless, unprecedented campaigning
With polling being held in seven phases, PM Modi led BJP's campaigns. The BJP held more than 470 rallies in UP, with the PM fronting 29, party chief Amit Shah 28, and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath the most at 130.

In the gathbandhan, the SP, BSP and RLD held 21 joint rallies while Akhilesh Yadav held 50 solo rallies, and Mayawati about 25. Eastern UP saw the biggest BJP push — Modi did 18 rallies there in last three phases compared to 11 in Western UP in first 4 phases.

No clear Modi wave, but a strong undercurrent
For the BJP, although there was no Modi ‘wave’ that diluted caste boundaries, there was still a strong enough current in the Prime Minister’s favour. Taking cue from it, the party’s entire campaign revolved around him. The discourse that there was no alternative to Modi was given full play during campaigns.

Analysts say that the desire for a strong leader also helped overshadow more pressing concerns in the state like rising unemployment, agrarian crisis and stray cattle menace.

A potent mix of nationalism and religious polarisation
The impact of Pulwama attacks and Balakot strikes likely played a sizeable role, especially in the way it was used during BJP's campaigns. The most consistent theme in Modi’s speeches was the focus on nationalism and fallout of the surgical strikes carried out inside Pakistan.

Modi's ultra-nationalism combined with Yogi Adityanath's communal polarisation — his "smashaan-kabristaan" narrative is still fresh in memory — likely made for a potent mix.

Adityanath even claimed that former PM Manmohan Singh had once said that the Muslims had the first right over natural resources, and asserted that BJP governments didn’t believe in such a theory.

Phased voting boosts BJP
The seven-phase spread of voting in UP helped Modi cover extensive swathes of area in the state. The advantage becomes clear when one looks back at his campaigns in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — where the elections were held in single phase.

Sharp division in anti-BJP votes
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 2017 assembly polls, the BJP performed well in UP because of the sharp division in the anti-BJP votes. It was no different this time too.

The party also managed to make inroads into the broader bases of its two principal rivals — weaning away the non-Jatav Dalits from the BSP and non-Yadav OBCs from the SP. If one goes by the exit poll projections, the broader caste coalition could not reverse this phenomenon.

Over and above these factors, Modi's chemistry with voters is seen to have overridden disaffection and the caste challenge posed by the Mahagathbandhan.
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