The Bharatiya Janata Party is headed for a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh. It has again swept large parts of western UP, a region where the Muslim vote accounts for more than 30% of the total vote, where first two phases of the polls took place.
“There was a strong undercurrent for the BJP which people failed to see,” said a top leader of the Rashtriya Lok Dal. “Beyond anti-incumbency against an extremely overconfident Akhilesh Yadav and the effects of demonetisation, it also seems to be a case of counter-polarisation. Muslims seemed to be aligning with the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, which led to a counter-polarisation in favour of the BJP.”
A senior Muslim leader of the Congress agreed: “The SP has begun to be seen as a 'Muslim league' for a large section of the voters.”
What led to counter-polarisation
That the BJP was working towards this 'counter-polarisation' was visible in its campaign. The party chose to field Hindutva hardliner Yogi Adityanath as its start campaigner in this part of the state.
Other campaigners were local faces like Sanjeev Baliyan, Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, who shot into the limelight after the riots in Muzaffarnagar, where their names featured as accused.
One of Rana's aides had told this reporter during the campaign: “There are more than 70,000 Muslim voters in this constituency (Thana Bhawan). We have to ensure that they don't affect our chances of winning the seat. The BJP is aiming to negate the Muslim vote, while the Muslims are working to defeat the BJP's candidates.”
The RLD, which was expected to do well, has not managed to pull off the number of seats it was expecting, although the largely Jat party is doing better than it did in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in terms of vote share.
It has failed to negate the wave of polarisation which worked for the BJP in the last Lok Sabha polls.
“The Muslims have not been very receptive for the Muslim candidates fielded by the party,” the RLD leader said. Even the Jat candidates have not been able to manage enough support, even in the party's strongholds of Baghpat and adjoining regions, and in Mathura and Agra.
It seems the RLD had a better chance of victory had it pushed for an alliance with the BJP. It was not keen on such an alliance, fearing long-term consequences, and had focussed its energies on rebuilding the Jat-Muslim alliance of largely agrarian communitities, which would give it a few seats in the past.
“Only on seats where we were in a fight, the Jats have come with us. On the rest, they seem to have gone with the BJP,” the RLD leader said.
This is evident on seats like Budhana, where RLD's Yograj Singh is a distant fourth, or even in Shamli district, where the Jats seem to have chosen the BJP's candidates.
Of the constituencies which were the worst affected by the riots in 2013, only Muzaffarnagar constituency seems to be an aberration, where SP's Gaurav Swaroop is ahead of the rest.
Muslims still trust secular forces
Muslims seem to have voted against the SP-Congress alliance only on seats where the Bahujan Samaj Party had fielded strong Muslim candidates, like in Thana Bhawan and Baghpat.
Bigwigs from the SP, like Azam Khan, his son Abdullah Azam, Iqbal Mahmood and Mahboob Ali seem to be headed for comfortable wins. Even rookies like Jawed Abidi, the SP's candidate from Naugawan Sadat constituency in Amroha, too, seemed to be getting an impressive number of votes, just short of the winning mark.
Meanwhile, new entrants in the fray like Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul-Muslimeen have struggled badly, suggesting that the Muslims of UP are more comfortable in secular formations rather than looking up to the idea of a Muslim leader.
Not much division of votes
It's clear that there was polarisation, and Muslims were voting to defeat the BJP – except on seats like Bijnor and some seats in Muzaffarnagar, where initial reports suggest that their votes have got divided between the BSP and the SP.
In Thana Bhawan, Muslims have almost en masse aligned with the BSP's Muslim candidate. This also seems to be the case in Kairana, where SP's Nahid Hasan seems to have been their choice against Mriganka Singh. Kairana was in the news after BJP's claims of a Hindu 'exodus'.
In Nakur, Congress's Imran Masood, a Muslim hardliner, has got the consolidated Muslim vote, but is trailing a few thousand votes behind BJP's candidate.
In Budhana, which also has a sizeable Muslim population, Congress's Pankaj Malik is in a contest with the BJP's Umesh Malik, also an accused in the 2013 riots.
In neighbouring Sardhana, Sangeet Som's constituency, the BSP's Afzal Qureshi is a distant third, suggesting that the Muslim votes may have gone to the alliance candidate.
Afzal is the son of Haji Yaqoob Qureshi, who had once announced an award on the head of a Danish cartoonist who had depicted Prophet Muhammad.
However, Haji Qureshi himself, contesting on a BSP ticket, seems to have pulled enough votes to be still in the contest in the Meerut South constituency.