Internal assessments by the BJP have shown that the party may have suffered “significant losses” in the first two phases of elections in Uttar Pradesh, party insiders said. But the sources said they remained hopeful of retaining power in the largest state despite setbacks.
The party insiders maintained that the BJP could continue to lose ground in the third phase scheduled on Sunday.
In 2017, the BJP had won 312 seats on its own and extended the tally to 325 along with allies in the 403-member Assembly. The extent of the victory had overwhelmed even the BJP leadership, so this time party managers appear reconciled to suffering losses.
The first two rounds of polls were held in west Uttar Pradesh, dominated by Muslims and Jats. BJP managers are certain that the revival of the “bhaichara” (brotherhood) among the two communities during the farmers’ movement against the Narendra Modi government’s farm laws would cost them dearly.
“We could suffer significant losses in the first two rounds, particularly in the first phase,” a BJP manager on the ground said, acknowledging that post-poll assessments had revealed that Jats and Muslims had voted in large numbers for the Samajwadi Party-RLD combine.
“We could lose anywhere between 15-20 of our seats in the first round,” the leader said, attributing the damage primarily to the mobilisation during the farmers’ protest.
In the first phase, 58 seats had gone to the polls. The BJP had won 53 of these seats in 2017. In the second phase, 55 seats have voted while 59 constituencies in central Uttar Pradesh will go to the polls in the third leg on Sunday.
Another BJP leader manning the polls on the ground, however, claimed that the damage may not be as bad as is being feared, hoping that many Jats may have silently voted in favour of the party. This leader said the loss could be restricted to around a dozen seats compared to 2017.
In the second phase of voting on February 14, the party managers appeared resigned to setbacks but claimed post-poll feedback suggested that the extent was tolerable. “Of the 55 seats, we had won 38 last time. This time, we could lose around 8-10 of the 38 seats,” a BJP leader said.
This leader said the loss would be primarily because many seats in the second phase had large Muslim populations ranging from 30 to 50 per cent and unlike last time the community was firmly united behind the SP-RLD.
The party insiders maintain that despite the BSP, Congress and Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM fielding candidates, Muslim voters had shown no signs of division. A split in Muslim votes had in 2017 helped the BJP win many seats dominated by the community.
Most BJP leaders, however, sounded confident of retaining power. “We will manage a comfortable victory with over 240 seats,” an MP involved in strategising said.
The BJP managers are anticipating trouble in the third phase as well, particularly in areas popularly known as “Yadav land” that straddles eight districts. Of the 29 seats here, the BJP had bagged 23 in 2017. It was a mind-boggling performance since the BJP had never been strong in this OBC-dominated area and had won just three seats in 2012.
“Unlike last time, the Yadav voters, like the Muslims, are firmly behind the SP. So we cannot hope to repeat our 2017 performance,” a BJP leader, camping in Etawah (Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav’s backyard), said.
Curiously, many BJP leaders, both in Delhi and Lucknow, feel that a mandate as resounding as last time may not be good for the party organisation as it may breeds “authoritarian leaders”.
There has been simmering discontent against chief minister Yogi Adityanath inside the party, given his abrasive style of functioning in the last five years.