The Assembly election results have shown that UP politics is now bi-polar with Samajwadi Party as the main adversary. The decline of BSP and Congress has benefited SP more than BJP with a major chunk of their supporters rallying behind Akhilesh Yadav. While BJP increased its 2017 vote share by only 1.6% (from 39.67% to 41.29%), SP has gone up from 21.82% to 32.06% in 2022.
The vanquished do not attract much analysis but there is no denying the fact that Yadav has shown some maturity in these elections and their aftermath. He has resigned his Azamgarh Lok Sabha seat and will be the Leader of the Opposition, leading a party of 111 MLAs. BJP has lost 57 more seats this time (from 312 to 255) while NDA is down by 52 seats (from 325 to 273) in the new Assembly. Yadav has also largely kept his family members out of politics, thus depriving BJP of the chance of slamming SP for nepotism.
SP is now the natural choice for the minority voters and its Yadav votes are also intact. Akhilesh has tried to add the non-Yadav OBCs to the SP support base with mixed success. Yogi Adityanath’s new council of ministers shows BJP’s overtures to Kurmi, Nishad, Rajbhar, Maurya and Jatav voters. The saffron party is now as focused on Mandal as its Hindutva or Kamandal card.
A major reason for BJP’’s impressive performance in the elections is said to be the free food grains and welfare schemes for the poor. However, high unemployment- exacerbated by the Covid pandemic that led to reverse migration, especially in east UP- is going to be a bigger worry for the Yogi dispensation. Yadav had attracted huge crowds, mostly of young job-seekers, during the campaign as he raked up this issue.
Free grains worked during the Covid period but with the pandemic waning this will not be sufficient and the clamor for jobs will increase.
Though the initiation of new development projects, expressways, and the Jhevar airport was announced at the fag end of Yogi’s tenure, the state still lags behind in industrialization. UP has failed to attract major investors in the last five years and this will have to be a priority area for the new government.
Law and order was a big selling point for the BJP during the last elections and the party ran a negative campaign against SP, BSP by cautioning voters that a victory for the latter will usher in the misrule of the past. While this worked for BJP, Yadav has tried to blunt it by not fielding the likes of Mukhtar Ansari, Imran Masood and Atiq Khan or their kin during the elections. Like Tejwasi Yadav (RJD) in Bihar, Akhilesh has tried to distance himself from the image of his father of promoting Bahubalis and appeasement politics.
There is also the issue of farmers’ welfare. The menace of stray cattle has grown and even became a talking point during the election campaign. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced in one of his rallies that a new policy will be adopted by the next government to deal with it. The sugarcane growers of West UP have been complaining about not getting their dues. Sugarcane minister Suresh Rana lost his seat this time. The Yogi government will also have to work on its promise of crop diversification to increase the income of farmers.
UP is the most important state for BJP as it contributed significantly to the party’s seat tally in 2014 (73/80 seats for NDA) and 2019 (64/80 for NDA) Lok Sabha polls, making it a formidable force in the lower House.
With Adityanath harbouring national ambitions, he will also have to fight the image of being primarily a Thakur leader who favours his caste over others in transfers and postings. He will have to achieve much on the development front as well in the mold of Narendra Modi in Gujarat from 2002 to 2014.
BJP has performed badly in the Purvanchal region, the belt that both Yogi and Modi represent. It did not win seats in Ghazipur, Azamgarh, Kaushambi, Ambedkarnagar and did badly in Ballia, Basti and other districts. The above factors- non-Yadav OBCs, jobs, backwardness- are said to be responsible for this. The new government will have to focus on them to not lose seats in 2024 as well as 2027.