Welcome to The Election Fix. Every Sunday, Monday and Thursday until the results of India’s Lok Sabha polls are declared on May 23, we will bring you all the news, analysis and opinion worth paying attention to. This week, we look at the big prize that is Uttar Pradesh, why multi-phase elections matter and what pooja politicians in Bihar are asking for.

We try and focus on policy before getting into the political links, but please tell us what you think of The Election Fix by emailing me at rohan@scroll.in. I’d like to thank Kishor, Ian, George and Sudhir for sending notes and suggestions about previous issues of the Election Fix, which you can find here. And if you haven’t already, subscribe here to get the Election Fix in your inbox.

The Big Story: ‘United’ Provinces?

We’ll try not to be fixated on Uttar Pradesh in this newsletter, but it is also hard to ignore how much of the election depends on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s performance in India’s biggest state, home of 80 Lok Sabha seats. If the simple binary question of this election is, will Narendra Modi return as prime minister, the corollary to that is, how will the BJP match up to its stupendous 71-seat tally from 2014?

To answer that question one has to look at who the BJP is up against: saffron sweeps in 2014 in the Lok Sabha polls and 2017 in the Assembly polls forced arch-rivals Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to band together (adding in Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Janata Dal for good measure).

If you add up the vote-shares of just these two parties from either election, it suggests that they should put a significant dent in the BJP’s numbers.

Is it as simple as adding up vote shares though? Political scientist Neelanjan Sircar looked at the issue and found that, in some ways, it actually is. One cannot presume that voters of either party will automatically decide to support the other one’s candidate.
But Sircar calculated a “coordination/miscoordination effect” to measure what the final seat count would be depending on how well the two parties work with each other. He found that even if the SP-BSP coalition lost 8 percentage points to miscoordination, it would still bring the BJP down to 55 seats from the 73 it won (two went to ally Apna Dal). If votes transfer seamlessly, the BJP would be down to 36 seats.

So is that that then? Well, it’s still unclear if the BJP will get a “Balakot bump” or if the last-minute scheme to give farmers a handout will give the party a big boost. One political analyst also told a reporter that, though the coalition has the numbers, “it has no narrative in place”.

Actually, there is a narrative, but it is one of in-fighting among the anti-BJP parties. The Congress, whose addition to the alliance might have made it even stronger, has not joined in part because it was demanding more seats than the other parties felt it deserved.

As Ashoka University’s Gilles Verniers points out, the Congress didn’t budge in state elections last year, so why should the SP-BSP give it space now? Neerja Chowdhury, however, suggests this decision may also be BSP’s Mayawati hedging her bets. Mayawati’s decision not to contest elections, and her subsequent Twitter message also raised eyebrows.

As result, however, the main headlines about the alliance seem to have been sniping between the SP-BSP combine and the Congress, even as the latter’s Priyanka Gandhi has been garnering headlines and media attention.

We mentioned on Monday that rumours still abound about a last-minute arrangement. With elections beginning on April 11, that last minute is not far away.

Do you think Mayawati is hedging, or has the alliance made the right call? Tell me at rohan@scroll.in

Second story: Congress check-up

On Monday we asked if the Congress is aiming for its own growth or trying to beat the BJP. The question still holds because, with less than three weeks to go for the first phase, the Congress has yet to even decide on its alliances. Aside from UP, it has yet to finalise its partnerships in Bihar, Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal and Delhi. It also doesn’t have a campaign slogan yet. What gives?

Kishor, a reader of The Election Fix, writes in:

“This election is a battle that must be won by the non-BJP parties. Congress also needs to sacrifice or put in the cold storage, its long term plans of revival of the party. After all, Congress needs to survive first and then only it can look for thriving. Fighting this election separately may well be the death knell for Congress. So, “Sir salamat toh pagdi pachas” (if your head is intact, you can wear 50 turbans) has to be the dictum that Congress should follow.”

Policy & reportage

  1. Reporters are already out in the field in Uttar Pradesh, since the state could make or break prime ministerial ambitions. Sayantan Bera in Mint has the clearest report yet.
  2. Khabar Lahariya, an independent grassroots news organisation in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh has also been covering the elections from the ground, like this look at how a local leader builds up a support base before formally joining politics.
  3. Visvak in Mint looks at the challenge the Election Commission faces in enforcing the Model Code of Conduct online, while Karishma Mehrotra in the Indian Express traces the journey political posts take before going viral.
  4. Nearly a quarter of the 543 Parliamentary constituencies going to the polls have more tribal voters than the margin of victory in 2014, finds Bhasker Tripathi in IndiaSpend. Will the poor implementation of the Forests Rights Act play a role?
  5. Republican Party of India (Athawale) leader Ramdas Athawale, who is a Union minister in the current government told the Indian Express that he is extremely unhappy about not getting a seat from the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, but is not breaking away.

Poll toon

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Political titbits

Opinion & analysis

  1. A murky flood of money funds candidates in India’s election, finds a Bloomberg team. Also, in the Hindustan Times, Gautam Bhatia argues that the electoral bonds scheme is a threat to democracy.
  2. R Jagannathan in Mint attempts to explain how Modi’s “chowkidar” campaign is a reiteration of his “call to reduce cynicism” and embrace empowerment over entitlement, even in the case of the PM-KISAN handout.
  3. Indrajit Roy in the Hindustan Times argues that India should ensure voting rights for migrant workers, plus Wajahat Habibullah in The Tribune says special arrangements should be made for the Gujjar-Bakarwal nomadic tribes of Jammu and Kashmir.
  4. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Singh Yadav is a loser in this election even before a single vote has been cast, writes DK Singh in the Print.
  5. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik took the surprising decision to contest from two seats in this election. Ajoy Ashirward Mahaprashasta in the Wire says this and other moves have put his Biju Janata Dal well ahead of the Congress and BJP in the state.

Did we miss any reports or op-eds that you thought were relevant? Send thoughts, suggestions and WhatsApp forwards to rohan@scroll.in.