Almost all exit polls have predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party is in pole position in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. However there is a catch.
Most of them have gone with the rider that it will not get a simple majority.
According to the exit poll by Today's Chanakya-News 24, the saffron party would win a massive 285 of the 403 seats up for grabs. With its stated margin of error of 18 seats, that tally can touch 303. The Axis-India Today poll also indicates a handsome victory.
Others haven't been that generous though. They have pegged the BJP in a volatile range of 155-210 seats. The halfway mark is 202. These predictions mean that BJP would be nearly 50 seats short.
There are 3 options the party would have:
A) Get support from outside the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)
B) Get one or more parties/groups to stay away from voting on the Floor of the House
C) Wean away at least half the MLAs from another party
The last option would invariably lead to charges of horse trading. At any rate, such a scenario could only be speculated upon at the moment.
Option B effectively means running a minority government. However, the intention of any party abstaining from voting in the Assembly would be clear: that it is helping the BJP, not very different from lending open support.
Is supporting the BJP feasible?
Narendra Modi's decisive victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has changed equations, especially in Uttar Pradesh.
Modi rode to power on a landslide verdict from UP – the BJP won 71 of the state's 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Its ally Apna Dal added two to the kitty.
The credit for the massive haul is generally given to the 'Modi Wave'. Political analysts made a beeline to explain how it was a vote for change, for development and a negation of caste politics.
The reality isn't so simple.
In UP, the BJP secured 42.3% votes in 2014, which means a majority of voters did not choose the party. The Samajwadi Party and Congress – who are in alliance this time – had nearly 30% of the vote share between them. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party managed to hold on to almost 20%.
This indicates that a large section of Dalits, Muslims and Yadavs did not vote the BJP, effectively negating the 'development' argument that is given.
So who did the BJP manage to convince?
The vote share of the Congress and BSP fell by 11% and 8% respectively. This means that apart from Congress's old upper-caste base, a section of Dalits and 'Other Backward Classes' voters decided to give Modi a chance.
Kiss of death
The fact that it is eating into their bases brings BJP into a direct confrontation with the other parties in UP. It is a fact that the BJP has managed to grow at the expense of others in the country. More so in UP.
By aligning with the BJP, a party will end up hastening it's own decline. Take the case of Maharashtra, where BJP has been weaning away ally Shiv Sena's support base.
A similar fate can't be ruled out for whoever steps up in support of the BJP in UP.
While Congress can be safely ruled out from this contention, Amit Shah's confidantes would probably be looking at these three parties:
Ajit Singh's party thrives mostly in western Uttar Pradesh, thanks to a loyal Jat support base. It has had several alliance partners in the past, and mostly managed to secure its stronghold in Baghpat and adjoining areas.
In 2014, however, the party did not manage to win any seat. Ajit Singh himself lost to BJP's Satyapal Singh in Baghpat and his son Jayant Chaudhary lost to BJP's Hema Malini in Mathura.
This wasn't just because of the Modi wave. The Muzaffarnagar riots in the preceding year had changed political equations in the area. Jats and Muslims, who have lived in harmony for centuries, were pitted against each other. And this was reflected in the EVMs.
For the RLD, 2017 was an opportunity to get its act back together, especially since demonetisation caused a lot of distress to Jat sugarcane farmers in the area.
Supporting the BJP in such a scenario would mean giving away its vote bank on a platter to the saffron party.
Bahujan Samaj Party
Mayawati has survived in politics thanks to a solid Dalit support base. Her mentor Kanshi Ram's idea of a broader 'bahujan' coalition of several downtrodden classes did not really work out ever since the BSP and the SP fell out in mid-'90s.
The several times Mayawati returned victorious was through careful social engineering: aligning her Dalit base with one or the other social grouping. Her winning Brahmin-Dalit combination of the 2007 Assembly polls is still talked about. Even in the 2011 Assembly elections, the BSP managed to retain a quarter of the vote share.
In 2014, however, the BJP took the fight to Mayawati's doorstep and weaned away a chunk of Dalit votes, taking it back to levels last seen in the '90s in terms of vote share. Several analysts speculated that communal polarisation did play a part in this shift.
That the saffron camp would eye Dalit votes was only to be expected. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, has been actively wooing the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes for years now.
But a lot has changed since Modi's advent to 7 Race Course Road (including the name of the road itself). The BJP's position vis-a-vis beef politics, the suicide of Rohith Vemula, and lack of any concrete steps towards creating employment opportunities have left his Dalit supporters disillusioned. Incidences like the caning of Dalits in Una only increased that.
At this juncture if Mayawati fails to recapture her traditional base, it could mean a point of no return for her in politics. Also, it would be the death knell for her recent efforts at weaving a Dalit-Muslim alliance.
Perhaps nobody has more at stake in this election than UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. It is not only a matter of validating his five-year tenure at the helm, but also of taking on his family and putting his stamp of authority on the party.
Already his father Mulayam Singh Yadav has questioned his attitude towards Muslims, one of the key support blocs of the party. This makes it imperative for Akhilesh to not only oppose the BJP, but also to be seen opposing the BJP. Any misstep may cost him dearly.
Apart from Muslims, the other dominant voters for the SP are the OBCs, more so the Yadavs. The OBCs were also among the keys to the BJP's 2014 success, especially in UP. This puts the SP in direct confrontation with the BJP as far as the OBC votes go.
So even if it emerges as the single largest party, don't be surprised if BJP fails to find anyone to help it capture power in UP.