With a clear majority and nearly 40% of the votes, the Bharatiya Janata Party scored a comprehensive victory in Uttar Pradesh. Winning 312 of 403 seats, the saffron party left its competitors far behind to score its biggest victory in this crucial state of the Hindi belt.
Ironically, though Saturday’s results do not suggest it, the BJP’s main opponent, the Samajwadi Party performed well too, maintaining its vote share in the 2012 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh that had brought it to power that year. However, the party was dragged down because of an ineffective alliance with the Congress.
The Bahujan Samaj Party probably retained the Jatav Dalit vote, but party chief Mayawati seems to have increasingly lost her ability to attract votes beyond her core support base.
While this is the big picture, the numbers contain the finer details. The charts, maps and graphs below will help us analyse the results of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh.
However, this exercise will not enable us to answer every question that the data raises as we know nothing about the determinants of electoral behavior. But it will give us a better understanding of the reasons for the BJP’s massive victory.
Women at the forefront
Observers were expecting a sharp increase of turnout this year, but that did not happen. Voter participation rose only slightly, from 59.4% in 2012 to 61.14% in 2017, as per the Trivedi Centre for Political Data’s calculations, (based on provisionary data). Interestingly, the increase in turnout is carried almost exclusively driven by women, who outvoted men by more than 3% in these elections.
There were 305 political parties in the fray for the just-concluded Uttar Pradesh polls. This number has risen exponetially over the least few years – in the 2007, there were 222 contesting parties.
However, the number of parties that go on to win seats and represention in the Vidhan Sabha has decreased with each election. In 2002, 17 parties won representation in the state Assembly. In 2017, only candidates from nine parties won seats.
One reason for the narrowing competition is that voters are increasingly choosing to align with major parties, rejecting micro and local formation, to strategically support a candidate or a party whom they think stands a chance of winning.
If we assume that the relationship between voters and parties is transactional – votes are given in exchange for favors or access to services – then it does not make much sense to support parties who cannot hold up their end of the bargain. If fragmentation of votes the defining feature of Uttar Pradesh politics through the 1980s and 1990s, we see a reversal of that trend.
Just like in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, where it won 71 of 80 Parliamentary seats in Uttar Pradesh with a vote share exceeding 40% the BJP crushed its adversaries this year.
This was not a close election by any stretch of the imagination and the party, with 39.7% of the votes, stood way ahead its opponents in most constituencies.
Between 2012 and 2017, the BJP scores an impressive gain of 24.7% of vote share, that is more than the total vote share obtained by the Bahujan Samaj Party (22.2%) or the Samajwadi Party (21.8%) in this election.
Before this, the party had peaked in 1993, with a 33% vote share, which had since declined – plummeted, in fact, between 1996 and 2002. In complete organisational disarray, the party retracted to its traditional urban bastions. The reorganisation of the party and the building of branches in rural areas ahead of 2014 paid off back then and three years later as well, as the BJP swept most of the rural segments of the state.
The Samajwadi Party’s vote share (21.8%) is misleading, since it contested in only 305 seats, with the rest going to its ally, the Congress.
If only the seats it contested are taken into account, its vote share rises to 28.3%, just 1% less than in 2012. In contrast, the Congress’ vote share in seats where it contested is only 22%, which indicate that the alliance did not work well.
Comparing the strike rates of parties – percentage of seats won to seats contested – exemplifies the failure of the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance. The Samajwadi Party’s strike rate is a low 15.1%, while the Congress’ share is 6.14%, at par with its previous performances in Vidhan Sabha elections.
In other words, wherever a Congress candidate contested, the alliance under-performed. The large number of tickets given to Congress candidates cost the Samajwadi Party a substantial part of the vote share which, in closely fought races, might have helped reduce the gap with the BJP in terms of seats.
After these elections, the Samajwadi Party, with 47 seats, has been reduced to three clusters. The first is the historic strongholds of Etawah, Jaswantnagar and Mainpuri in Doab, where the members of the party’s founding Yadav family contest. Then, the party has a cluster of seats in Rohilkhand, where the share of Muslim population is the highest, and a smaller share in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, where the Muslim-Yadav coalition, the party’s votebank is strong. A third of the Samajwadi Party’s MLAs are Muslims. In Suar, Azam Khan’s son, Mohamed Abdullah Azam Khan, won with a 25% margin.
The Congress has been reduced to seven seats.
The narrowing competition and the gap between the winning BJP candidates and their opponents heightened the disproportionality of India’s first-past-the-post electoral system.
In other words, the BJP’s 39.7% share translated into 77% seats, while the Samajwadi Party’s 28% vote share (in the constituencies where its contested) yielded just 11% of the seats.
The situation is worse for the Bahujan Samaj Party, which got only 4.7% seats for its 22% vote share, and for the Congress, who had the same vote share (in the constituencies it contested from) but less than 2% of the seats.
The Bahujan Samaj Party has been swept out of its strongholds in Western Uttar Pradesh, where the Dalit-Muslim combination of votes that Mayawati was eyeing did not materialise.
The BJP largely maintained its 2014 performance across the state, except in Western Uttar Pradesh, Eastern Uttar Pradesh in Rohilkhand, where the BJP’s vote share dipped slightly.
Compared to 2014, the Samajwadi Party consolidated its position in Awadh and Eastern Uttar Pradesh. It suffered marginal losses in the rest of the state, but largely maintained its position.
Compared to 2014, the Bahujan Samaj Party improved its position in every sub-region, without exception. This might mean that the party has succeeded in consolidating its core Jatav Dalit base.
The BJP wave becomes apparent when we look at vote swings between the 2012 and 2017 state elections. Not only has the BJP gained in all seats (barring three), it has also gained massively across the state. The BJP no longer has strongholds, as the state has virtually become a BJP stronghold.
Though the Bahujan Samaj Party’s vote share and regional performance improved, if we look at its performance in individual constituencies, it lost more ground than it gained. This might confirm the fact that non-Jatav Dalit voters have deserted the party, especially compared to its composite victory of 2007.
Did the growing involvement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the campaign – especially in the last two-three phases – translate into a better performance for the BJP? One way to measure that is to look how the the parties’ strike rates changed through the various phases of the election.
The following chart indicates that the BJP started the campaign on a high note, with a strike rate of nearly 90%. The Samajwadi Party became more competitive in the second phase, in Rohilkhand and the Northern parts of Western Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP’s strike rate increased gradually between phase 2 and phase 5, but it decreased significantly, though not consequentially, in the sixth phase. It then rebounded slightly in the seventh and last phase.
It is of course possible that the prime minister’s intervention enabled the party to retain its lead and stay above the 70% strike rate mark, but it did not push the party to higher performance.
The BJP has claimed that it won the election on the platform of inclusive growth, development and by reaching out to those sections that do not get representation from its adversaries – non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs.
But does the composition of the new Uttar Pradesh Assembly reflect that inclusion? Not quite.
The BJP’s return to power signifies a resurgence of representation of the upper castes, who make up 44% the new Assembly. This is 12% more than 2012 and the highest share 1980.
More than 50% MLAs in Awadh, 43% in Doab, 36.6% in the Eastern Uttar Pradesh, 47% in Bundelkhand, 52.5% in Northeastern Uttar Pradesh and more than a third of the MLAs in Rohilkhand and Western Uttar Pradesh are from upper castes.
Interestingly, the BJP’s victory hasn’t led to an overall increase in representation of OBCs, even though many of them won on the saffron party’s tickets.
If we break down these large caste groups, we get a more clearer picture of the changes at work.
As far as the upper castes are concerned, there is a significant rise in the representation of Thakurs and Banias. Brahmin representation remains stable.
While the overall OBC representation in the Assembly stays the same, there has been a historic churning within the category.
The representation of Yadavs has fallen – they now comprise 17% of the OBC MLAs. The BJP strategy of keeping the dominant Yadav clan at bay is reflected in the chart below. Kurmi representation has increased from 11% to 28% of the OBC contingent.
The representation of lower OBCs, a key target of the BJP, has also increased.
The Yadavs are not the only losing group in this election. Muslims, also excluded by the BJP –they did not field a single Muslim candidate – also saw their representation falling.
The share of Muslim MLAs in the new Assembly is the lowest it has been since 1991. In 2012, for the first time, Muslims had near-proportionate representation in the Vidhan Sabha (with 17% MLAs from the community). This has fallen to 6.2%.
Overall, despite its rhetoric of inclusion, the social composition of the Assembly is typical of the BJP: a lion’s share of seats for the upper castes, a preferential representation of lower OBCs, and the exclusion of Yadavs and Muslims (at this time, we do not have sufficient data on the sub-castes of Schedule Caste MLAs).
It is striking to see how the BJP has not changed tracks, in terms of strategy and discourse. The involvement of the prime minister and the focus on development and opportunity for all – while also sending signals to the party’s Hindu base through statements, symbols and acronyms in their speeches – add a layer to the fairly vintage BJP strategy of consolidation of upper castes and the lower OBCs.
Just like in 2014, the BJP has added the new to the old, rather than substituting the two. The popularity of the prime minister has allowed the party to reach much further than it ever could. The failure, more than the defeat, of the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance will worry those who seek to build an alternative to the BJP.
The Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University, produces, disseminates and analyses scientifically collected and treated data to aid research on political processes.