Festivities came a week early for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) yesterday, as an incumbent government in Uttar Pradesh returned to power after over three decades. The BJP has won 255 seats in the 403-member UP assembly, 53 more than halfway through. Apna Dal (Sonelal) and the Nishad Party, its allies, won 12 and 6 seats, respectively, taking the alliance total to 273.
The BJP faced a high-stakes election in Uttar Pradesh since the state elects the most MPs to the Lok Sabha, and the party’s performance there is expected to have an impact on the general election in 2024. It is the first time since 1985 that power has returned to a ruling party in UP. Most experts say that the UP polls indicate the mood of the nation for 2024.
The Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) won 111 seats, while its allies, Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) won eight and Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) won six. The Congress won two seats, and the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) only got one even though it polled 12.88 percent of the vote.
The BJP received 41.29 percent of the vote share, compared to 39.67 percent in 2017. BJP candidates won a total of 70 seats out of 89 across Kanpur, Bundelkhand, Farrukhabad, Hardoi, Unnao, Kannauj, Etawah, Fatehpur, Rae Bareli, and Lucknow districts. The SP attained a vote share of 32.06 percent, as compared to 21.82 percent in 2017.
The OBC and Dalit groups’ support of the BJP was evident in the Purvanchal region, which stretches eastwards from Varanasi, despite rumblings of discontent due to unemployment, COVID, unfulfilled promises, in the months before the state election. Starting in January 2022, in addition to state cabinet minister Swami Prasad Maurya, 11 other leaders of OBC groups defected from the BJP to join the SP. According to the Hindustan Times, Akhilesh Yadav had hoped the defections would help his party be seen as a pure agda-pichda (forward castes vs backward castes) party in Purvanchal. Nevertheless, the BJP and its allies won 81 of the region’s 139 seats, while the SP-led coalition won only 53. The BSP, once a strong force in this region, won just one seat in Ballia, the easternmost district in the state.
BJP leaders have attributed the party’s success in the eastern region to rallies by PM Narendra Modi. They acknowledged that the BJP faced difficult odds in the region, as local dissatisfaction and friction inside the party created a lacklustre campaign. The BJP campaign was also helped by its two small but influential allies – the Apna Dal (S) and the Nishad Party – who captured support from impoverished and spatially concentrated castes.
The BJP’s decision to go on the offensive helped stabilise the campaign and take the fight to the SP. This is evident from the results in Padrauna, the seat of the Mauryas. Following SP Maurya’s high-profile defection, the BJP inducted former Union minister RPN Singh, who is from a traditional royal family of the region, as its local campaign head. Soon, Singh began knocking on doors and building the BJP’s narrative. The response was almost immediate. Maurya shifted out of Padrauna to neighbouring Fazilnagar. This helped create a sentiment that he was afraid of a fight in Padrauna, diminishing his stature as a pan-UP leader. Eventually, Maurya lost face and Fazilnagar, and the SP lost Padrauna and eastern UP.
On February 7, when western UP went to polls, the BJP expected to face significant headwinds of Jat anger, generated by a fourteen-month-long farmer agitation over the three farm laws in India’s most populous and politically significant state. However, by the time polls began, the BJP had mitigated the area’s fury by abolishing the legislation, focusing on law-and-order in an area scarred by the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, quelling Jat discontent, and focusing on other populations that have continued to support the party. Despite minor gains made by the SP-RLD alliance, the BJP was able to glide through owing to a counter-consolidation. The BJP won 93 of the 136 seats up for grabs in the first two stages, while the SP-RLD took 43. As Shah’s campaign kicked off in Kairana, it was seen as a way to target what had become a difficult demographic for the party.
A combination of the repeal of the three farm laws by the Centre and the memory of the Muzaffarnagar riots during the SP regime, further reduced the magnitude of the Jat return. The farmers’ movement failed to hurt the BJP’s vote bank in Saharanpur, Bulandshahr, and Hapur districts despite gains for the opposition in Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, and Shamli. BJP candidates Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana lost in these districts.
In seats such as Siwalkhas in Meerut, won by RLD candidate Ghulam Mohammad, farmer leaders said that while the effects of the farm agitation and the unification of Jat-Muslim votes were evident, the broader portrayal of the movement as just a Jat issue hurt the opposition. Moreover, the BJP swept all eight seats in Lakhimpur Kheri, the area that drew outrage and scorn in October after four farmers were allegedly run over by a car driven by MoS Home Affairs Ajay Mishra Teni’s son, Ashish Mishra.
Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna – Krishna Janmabhoomi – reaffirmed its confidence in the BJP as the party performed better than it did in 2017. The seats of Mathura, Chhata, Baldev, Mant, and Goverdhan were all won by the BJP in this election.
Shrikant Sharma and Chaudhary Laxmi Narain, two ministers in CM Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet, won their races and as did other BJP candidates. The BJP held onto its lead on all five seats since the beginning of counting on March 10.
In the 2017 state assembly election, the BJP won four of the five assembly seats in Mathura. During his five-year term as chief minister, Yogi Adityanath visited Mathura about 20 times. He also established the Braj Teerth Vikas Parishad to improve the temple city.
Mathura as well as other attractions associated with Lord Krishna’s life have been declared teerths (pilgrimages), and voices have been raised in support of a grand temple at the site claimed to be the Krishna Janmabhoomi, similar to that for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and the Kashi Vishwanath Dham in Varanasi. Mathura had two MLAs serving as ministers in the UP cabinet. The CM had also been rumoured to run from Mathura before the election, but instead chose to fight from Gorakhpur.
One of the most interesting results was in the Mant assembly constituency, where BSP candidate Shyam Sundar Sharma has won eight consecutive times. BJP’s Rajesh Chaudhary defeated Sharma, and SP candidate Sanjay Lathar came in third. The BJP has never won the Mant seat since India attained independence.