Electoral arithmetic is never simple. Nothing adds up the way it ought to. But that doesn’t stop pollsters and pundits from constantly adding and subtracting constituencies and communities as if they were bright beads on a straight string. The Kumbha mela of all polls is at hand—the Uttar Pradesh assembly election so completely overshadows the ones in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur that only political correctness can force us to bring them into the conversation. UP, the most populous state, has some sort of a snob value that makes it more important than the numbers it brings in. This is the state that makes and mars prime ministers (and its social and financial backwardness is a measure of the effectiveness of our political leadership).
Well, there is no doubt that the Narendra Modi wave swept all its rivals off in 2014, winning 71 seats (two more for its allies) and 42.3% votes. If the party repeats this feat in the next few months, it ought to bag over 320 seats in the 403-seat-strong assembly. But the BJP had come down from a high of almost 30% in 2014 to 24.4% the very next year in the Bihar assembly polls, resulting in a miserable show of just 53 seats. In West Bengal, it had come down from 17% to just 10% in 2016. This fall from the peak of 2014 has been visible across the country, even in Assam, where the BJP won the 2016 assembly election despite a loss of about 7% vote share.
In this context, it is difficult to assume that the BJP would retain the 42.3% vote share that it secured in 2014 in UP, unless of course the demonetisation drive has triggered a tsunami of sorts in favour of the BJP. But that seems highly unlikely as well. If the waters are placid, the sailing would ironically get tough for the BJP. And then a Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance could make the going really tough. At their weakest in 2014, the SP and the Congress had polled 22.2% and 7.5% and put together that is an impressive 30% vote share. If that is the base minimum for the two parties, they could really benefit out of the alliance because of the message it sends across to the third largest community: the Muslims.
UP has about 18.5% Muslims who can determine the winner, if there is a consolidation of votes. The SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav tried his best to ensure the split of Muslim votes among SP, Congress and BSP. But with Akhilesh Yadav expected to tie up with Rahul Gandhi, the optics of the polls has changed. Now, there is no real reason for the Muslim voter to favour the BSP, though the Dalit party has fielded the maximum number of Muslim candidates (earlier Mayawati had done a similar favour to the Brahmins). Sure, alliance politics did not work wonders in West Bengal where a Left-Congress poll tie-up failed miserably. In fact, the Bengal model is closer to the UP situation because a four-way split was turned only into a three-way fight there, unlike Bihar, which had a bipolar contest between the NDA and the rest.