Individual candidates seem to have become a dispensable consideration for the voters of both the BJP and its main rival, the SP-BSP-RLD mahagathbandhan (MGB), in Uttar Pradesh this Lok Sabha election.
This pattern emerges in interactions with voters in multiple Lok Sabha constituencies spread across different phases of polling, including those that have already voted. The respondents indicate their preference for either Narendra Modi/BJP or gathbandhan — individual candidates are mentioned only incidentally.
By contrast, candidates of the Congress are afloat on the basis of their personal popularity, rather than that of the party or its leaders. So, Annu Tandon in Unnao (April 29) or Jitin Prasada in Dhaurahra (May 6) are making these contests triangular on their own strength. This is obvious from the absence of the Congress among the potential voting options for the respondents in other constituencies. The retreat of individual candidates from the spotlight helps both the BJP and the MGB.
The BJP, which won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state last year, had 71 local anti-incumbencies to deal with. The shifting of attention towards Modi/BJP will suit the party, as it discounts micro-local factors against its candidates.
“The issue is Modi, not Sakshi Maharaj. I am voting BJP for Modi, and not the candidate,” Munnu Vajpayee, a Brahmin in his mid-30s, says at Jabrela village in Purwa Assembly segment of Unnao Lok Sabha constituency. Members of the Muslim community sitting with him assert their vote will be for the gathbandhan candidate — not specifically Arun Shankar Shukla alias Anna Maharaj.
It helps both campaigns
A shift in focus away from candidates helps the campaigns of both the BJP and SP-BSP-RLD alliance. The BJP is spared the difficulties of fighting 71 local anti- incumbencies across the state while campaigning in the name of PM Modi. And the opposition can push to the back burner years-old local rivalries.
At Sheikhuinkalan in Balrampur Assembly segment of Shrawasti Lok Sabha seat, Ramkumar Yadav, a farmer in his mid-50s, says: “I will be voting for the elephant (the BSP’s election symbol) for the first time. I had voted for the BJP in 2014. Not this time. Look at the stray cattle menace they have unleashed on farmers.” In Shrawasti, which goes to polls on May 12, the BSP has fielded Ram Shiromani Verma, a Kurmi, against the incumbent BJP MP Daddan Mishra.
“The Supreme Court had made the SC/ST Act more reasonable. But, the BJP reintroduced the previous format through an Ordinance,” reasoned Yadav, explaining why he has turned his back on the BJP. This, despite the fact that the alleged misuse of the SC/ST Act against Yadavs under BSP governments in UP has been a pet peeve of traditional SP supporters.
At Pisawan in Maholi Assembly segment of Dhaurahra Lok Sabha constituency, Milan Prakash, a man in his mid-40s who belongs to the OBC Arkvanshi community, said: “The BJP candidate Rekha Verma has been no good (as sitting MP). But the Modi government’s schemes have been good.”
For the MGB, this situation of voters placing the party or alliance above the candidate works well because it helps transcend the local rivalry between the support bases of the SP and BSP that has developed over two decades since 1995.
Dayaram Kureel, a traditional BSP supporter in his early 50s, does not hesitate to declare his intention to set aside this traditional rivalry — despite being mocked by BJP supporters for forgetting so easily all the years of bad blood between the two caste groups.
“I have had an usool (principle) since the founding of the BSP in 1984. I will vote for the BSP candidate in the alliance. If it was a SP candidate, I would have voted for the SP,” says Kureel, at Birsinghpur village in Bithoor Assembly segment of Akbarpur Lok Sabha constituency, which votes on April 29.
There is, however, a flip side to this apparent win-win situation for both sides. While Modi is spending his political capital in offsetting the downsides of the sitting BJP candidates, the MGB candidates do not appear to be bringing anything extra to the table other than their own support bases to add to the arithmetic of the SP-BSP alliance.
This trend is discernible among respondents across Akbarpur and Mishrikh (April 29); and Fatehpur, Dhaurahra, Sitapur, and Bahraich (May 6) constituencies. “This has been a good government. It should be voted back. It is for Modi not (the BJP’s Fatehpur candidate) Niranjan Jyoti,” Sushil, a Kurmi in his early 40s, says, sitting at a tailoring shop in Jahanabad in Fatehpur Lok Sabha constituency. He says he is not considering switching loyalty to the MGB because the alliance candidate, Sukhdev Prasad of the BSP, is a Kurmi, too.
Mohd Saddam, in his early 30s, who is busy welding a broken bicycle part brought by Sushil, however, declares his support for the gathbandhan — even as several of his fellow members from the Muslim community sitting at the tailoring shop wonder whether they should vote Congress, given that it is an election for central government.
“Candidate wise, it is (the Congress’s) Rajaram Pal who is the better candidate (from Akbarpur). He is more approachable, and he reaches out to the public himself. But we want a strong PM,” said Arun Sachan, a Kurmi in his mid-40s, at Ghatampur in Akbarpur Lok Sabha seat.
In his smartphone, Pal showed an SMS he had received about a credit of Rs 2,000 into his bank account under the PM-KISAN scheme. The MGB, too has fielded a Sachan — Nisha Sachan of the BSP.
Traditional supporters of the MGB’s constituent parties too, do not seem to care much for the candidates or their antecedents. “I will be voting for the gathbandhan candidate. I had voted for Akhilesh Yadav (SP) in the previous election,” says Sunderlal Kanojia, who belongs to the SC community.
Kanojia declares his support for the BSP candidate citing the good work done by the Akhilesh fovernment in the state — but he doesn’t talk much about the background of the BSP candidate. Eeveral of his friends and acquaintances sitting at a bicycle repair shop owned by a Muslim at Kalli Chauraha at Mishrikh in Mishrikh Lok Sabha constituency don’t either. Similar instances are visible across constituencies in eastern UP.
“I had voted for the SP earlier, but I will vote for the BSP candidate Nakul Dubey in this election. There is no point voting for Kaiser Jahan of the Congress here,” Mohammed Shamim, in his mid-40s, says at Katrapul in the Biswan Assembly segment of Sitapur Lok Sabha constituency.
In constituencies that have already gone to polls (Mathura, Hathras, Aligarh, Amroha, Rampur, Bareilly, Firozabad, Etah, Moradabad, Nagina, etc., the respondents were clear that the candidate had had little to do with the way they had voted. Instead, it was the party or alliance that dictated their voting choices.
The trend seems to fit with the electoral strategy of both rivals, the BJP and MGB. The BJP was hoping to expand the exposure of Modi to make it a virtually presidential-style contest. And tor the MGB, the motto, “Ek bhi vote na ghatne paye, ek bhi vote na bantane paye’ seems to be working out as desired by the alliance leadership.