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Akhilesh Yadav is not contesting the election
Akhilesh Yadav is not contesting the election

The political pendulum in India’s most important battleground state has started shifting away from the BJP and to-wards the Samajwadi PartyCongress alliance. Where the pendulum rests will finally decide whether the BJP is able to cross the finishing line in the front or is trumped by the Akhilesh-Rahul combination.

Results of the final opinion poll done by Axis-My-India for the India Today Group show that the BJP has lost about 25 seats in UP between the previous opinion poll done in December and the latest one done in January. Axis-My-India predicts that the BJP would bag between 180-191 seats if elections were held right now. The SP-Congress alliance comes in a close second, bagging between 168-178 seats. The biggest loser as a result of this alliance has been the Bahujan Samaj Party, which seems to have lost 40 seats between December and January.

The last one month has seen significant changes in the vote-share percentages of major political formations. The BSP seems to have lost more than one-fifth of its votes, crashing from 26% vote share to 20.1%. The opinion poll numbers show that the Congress allying with the Samajwadi Party has added more than 7% votes to the SP’s vote percentage. The SP by itself had 26% votes. The SP-Congress alliance is projected to bag 33.2% vote share. The BJP’s own vote share has remained largely unaffected by the new alliance. In fact, the BJP’s vote share is projected to go up from 33% in December to 34.8% in January.

The election in UP now is essentially a two-horse race between the BJP and the SP-Cong alliance. In December, the BJP had more than a 100 seat lead over its nearest rival, the SP. But the Akhilesh-Rahul alliance has completely altered the political dynamics of UP. Even though the Congress is a diminished force by itself, its partnership with the SP, has helped add 76 seats to the so-called secular alliance within a span of a month.

If the UP elections were to be compared to a horse race, then the BJP stallion which was far ahead of the pack in December has started slowing down in January and the SP horse, aided by the booster doze provided by the Congress, has started galloping significantly faster than earlier. The next few weeks will decide whether the BJP stallion be able to hold on to its diminishing lead or be overtaken in the last stretch by the surging challenger. Currently, the vote-share gap between the two principal formations is down to less than 1.6%, which is already within the margin of error.

It’s not just the alliance between the socialist Samajwadi Party and the Congress that makes one feel deja vu in Uttar Pradesh elections. There are several stark similarities between UP and Bihar in the current situation.

In Bihar, where it faced a humiliating defeat, one of the main handicap of BJP was absence of a strong leader. In Uttar Pradesh also, the party’s failure in projecting one face as the chief minister has made the assembly election into “Prime Minister Narendra Modi vs Akhilesh Yadav” whereas in Bihar Nitish Kumar was pitched against Modi. Some of the posters say: ‘Maya, Mulayam bar bar, Abki bar Modi Sarkar’

BJP is working hard to maintain its lead
BJP is working hard to maintain its lead

Uttar Pradesh has been witnessing several incidents of vehement protests against the leadership’s choice of candidates. In 2015, no one in Bihar unit dared to question the leadership’s decision, but the anger was simmering and it came out through statements by various state leaders. Many party leaders admitted that the ticket distribution in UP did not take into consideration views by state leaders.

If you ask an average voter in Uttar Pradesh now, his first response would be that the “wave is in favour of Prime Minister Modi.” Then would come the second remark quickly. “But Akhilesh has done good work. Just that there was goonda raj.” Precisely this was the reaction in Bihar too. “Nitish has done good work. But his joining hands with Lalu Prasad could bring in Jungle Raj.” Incidentally, law and order situation prevailing the state was BJP’s focus in both states ahead of polls.

Although not as grand as Mahagadbandan in Bihar, the SP and Congress combine has surprised the BJP leadership. In the run up to Bihar polls, BJP leaders had hoped till the last moment that Nitish and Lalu would not be able to come together. To their utter shock, they both came and the Congress also jumped in. Disappointing the BJP leaders and its cadre, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi – who are visibly comfortable in each other’s company – stitched the coalition, seen as an impossible task till the last moment.

Meanwhile, CNN-News18’s Mega Poll of Polls has predicted a severe setback for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh and for the Akali Dal-BJP alliance in Punjab in the coming Assembly elections. But it sees the BJP coming to power in Uttarakhand.

According to the Mega Poll of Polls computed in partnership with Gramener, the Akhilesh Yadavled Samajwadi Party in alliance with the Congress is set to win 181 seats, which is ahead of the rest of the pack but is still not enough to get to the halfway mark in a house of 403 seats.

The BJP is placed second with 160 seats, way down from its performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls where it rode the Modi wave and won 71 out of 80 seats. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) is left way behind in the third spot with 57 seats.

In Punjab, the ruling SAD-BJP combine is predicted to lose in a big way with only 21 out of 117 seats. The Congress is likely to end up quite close to majority with 58 seats and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with 37 seats.

The BJP seems set to trump the Congress in Uttarakhand and bag 40 out of 70 seats. Harish Rawat’s Congress is predicted to end up with only 26 seats.

The numbers for the three states were projected after computing weighted averages of the numbers forecast by two agencies -Ax-is-My India and CSDS. The methodology is explained at the end of the table given below.

Meanwhile, with chief ministerial candidates increasingly opting out of contesting in assembly elections, what was once an exception is now becoming the norm in Uttar Pradesh. A case in point is Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who has decided against stepping onto the electoral battlefield in favour of remaining “an MLC till 2018”.

The decision, observers believe, may be due to either a lack of confidence in winning or an overall change in perception about the importance once attached to seeking the direct mandate of the people.

Opting to take the no-risk route, these chief ministerial candidates instead depend on the state’s upper house – the Vidhan Parishad – because the Constitution only requires one to become a member of either house within six months of occupying the hot seat.

A look at the developments ahead of the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh shows that the chief ministerial candidates of all political parties have opted against contesting on assembly seats, much like generals who control and command their armies but do not fight on the front.

Besides Akhilesh and BSP supremo Mayawati, Jayant Chaudhary – the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s chief ministerial candidate – has also decided against taking a chance with the people’s mandate.