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Congress surprise in UP survey

Maya outlook bleak, SP leads

New Delhi, Dec. 17: Mayawati appears to be losing ground and the Congress making big gains ahead of the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh early next year, according to a STAR News-Nielsen opinion poll.

The pre-poll survey has forecast a hung Assembly with no clear line of succession to the Bahujan Samaj Party, although Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party is projected to emerge as the largest single party. His party gains 35 seats more than last time’s 97, which has been whittled down to 88 after losses in by-elections.

But with a projected win of 132 seats, Mulayam Singh is way short of the halfway mark of 202. If the projections come through, the Congress, along with Ajit Singh’s RLD, could play the kingmaker.

The survey has placed the Congress as the biggest estimated gainer. Its tally of 22 (which fell to 20 after bypoll losses) is projected to jump to at least 68 about a 210 per cent increase since 2007.

The opinion poll was carried out by the same agency that had enraged the CPM by forecasting a two-digit tally for the Left and a landslide for Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, which eventually came true.

If the final outcome in Uttar Pradesh matches the forecast, it will be the Congress’s longest leap since 1989 when its free fall in the heartland started. The jinx was somewhat broken in the last Lok Sabha polls but the performance in the coming Assembly elections will determine whether that was a flash in the pan.

The Congress is projected to upset the BJP as Uttar Pradesh’s third favourite party. The BJP which peaked in the nineties in the afterglow of the Ram temple “movement” hit its nadir in 2007 with 51 seats (down to 48 after by-polls). The tally of 65 forecast for next year is just a 14-seat (27 per cent) improvement. Uttar Pradesh BJP veteran Kalraj Mishra said: “This survey is premature and unrealistic.”

However, BJP sources said that if the trend was confirmed in the elections, it would seriously dent the party’s hopes to fill the anti-Congress space at the Centre. Uttar Pradesh is being viewed as the booster the BJP will need to attract more allies to the NDA so that it can position itself as a potent alternative to the UPA.

The survey attributes the Congress’s anticipated success to the “Rahul factor”. Rahul Gandhi has hit the roads in the recent past, campaigned from the front and taken on Mayawati with a slogan, playing on the BSP’s pachyderm symbol, that might become the election’s defining catch-phrase: “There’s an elephant in Lucknow that gobbles up the funds meant for you.”

If the Congress does stem its slide, a decisive factor will be the support of Muslims. The Jatavs the most influential Dalit sub-caste--remain firmly with the BSP.

However, the projected fall in the BSP’s vote share (see chart) suggests Mayavati has not been able to retain the support of Brahmins, Banias and Muslims who pitchforked her to the top in 2007.

Unlike the BJP, the Samajwadis appear to have taken the survey as a wake-up call to make a more aggressive push for the minority and non- Yadav OBC votes. “Let campaigning intensify. We will ensure we get an absolute majority,” Samajwadi spokesperson Mohan Singh said.