Moneycontrol PRO
Register Now : CA Business Leaders 40Under40 Awards registration is LIVE
you are here: HomeNewsPolitics
In-Depth | UP elections 2022: Is BJP on strong ground to retain power in India's most bellwether state?

In-Depth | UP elections 2022: Is BJP on strong ground to retain power in India's most bellwether state?

According to psephologists, defeating the BJP, a party which captured nearly 50 percent of Uttar Pradesh's vote share in the parliamentary polls held less than three years ago, remains a formidable task.

"A victory in UP will open the doors to 2024," said Union Home Minister Amit Shah on his recent visit to Varanasi. His statement underlines the electoral significance of Uttar Pradesh -- India's most populous and political bellwether state. But, is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on strong ground to retain the state?

In terms of numbers, the BJP is entering into the poll battle from a position of strength -- considering the near-50 percent vote share it secured in UP in the 2019 parliamentary elections. However, an array of political and economic factors, that have emerged over the last two-and-a-half years, has raised challenges for the saffron camp.

A possible anti-incumbency sentiment among the public, the high inflation fuelled by soaring fuel prices, the economic distress caused by COVID-19, and the unrest among farmers seeking a legal guarantee for minimum support prices have upped the ante against the ruling party.

The anti-BJP bloc was quick to link Prime Minister Narendra Modi's shock repeal of the three contentious farm reform laws - that had triggered a massive protest in western UP, apart from Haryana and Punjab - to the upcoming polls.

In addition, the opposition which was decimated in 2017 and 2019, is significantly regaining lost grounds, suggest pre-election surveys which have, though, given an edge to the BJP. From a divided opposition, the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party is emerging as a prime challenger, the early opinion polls show.

Given the above odds, the BJP is still considered to have an upper hand considering its unmatched election machinery. The party is considered to be the most dominant currently in the Indian polity, particularly in the Hindi heartland states. Its electoral spread in UP, over the past seven years, has been unparalleled.

Against this backdrop, Moneycontrol attempts to analyse where the BJP stands in this battle for the 403-seat UP assembly, which is expected to be held around February-March 2022.

BJP rise 150

BJP's rise and rise since 2014

The party, after being pushed to the margins in the decade between 2002 and 2012, scripted a spectacular comeback in 2014. In the Lok Sabha elections for the state's 80 parliamentary seats, it wrested 71 seats and ally Apna Dal won two constituencies.

In terms of vote share, the BJP climbed from 17.5 percent votes in 2009 to a massive 42.63 percent votes in 2014, as per the data shared by the Election Commission of India.

It recorded a similar 25 percent upward swing in votes in 2017, when its vote share jumped from 15 percent (in 2012 assembly polls) to 39.67 percent. The party formed the government with a brute majority (winning 312 out of 403 seats) and firebrand Hindutva leader Yogi Adityanath was appointed as the chief minister.

The peak was yet to come.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections -- where UP with 80 seats held the key to Modi's re-election as the prime minister - the BJP ended up securing an unprecedented vote share of 49.97 percent. In terms of seats, this translated to a victory in 62 constituencies, nine less than 2014. The reduction in seat-tally was attributed to the alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which prevented a split of votes between the two major opposition parties.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister <a rel=Yogi Adityanath during a public meeting, in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh (File image: PTI)" width="1280" height="721" /> Recently, eight out of nine new medical colleges in UP, set up with an investment of Rs 2,319 crore, bear names clearly chosen with local caste and religious equations in mind (File image)

BJP spokesperson Vaibhav Aggarwal, while speaking to Moneycontrol, said the party will not suffer a reduction in its vote share as it is witnessing coherent support in all parts of the state, including eastern and western UP.

Due to this coherence, "we will automatically improve on our vote share and come back to power with a bang", Aggarwal said.

According to psephologists, defeating the BJP, a party which captured nearly 50 percent votes in the state in the parliamentary polls held less than three years ago, remains a formidable task.

The BJP has kept its dominance intact in both assembly and parliamentary polls of the state since 2014, said Sanjay Kumar, the director of Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, while speaking to India Today. "With the kind of dominance the BJP has enjoyed in recent years in Uttar Pradesh, both in Lok Sabha and assembly elections, the opposition will find it very difficult to challenge it," he claimed.

Hindutva 150-pto

Hindutva edge

Uttar Pradesh has been the epicentre of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which launched the BJP as a major force in the national political realm.

With Ram Mandir's construction underway, Yogi Adityanath's firebrand rhetoric, and what appears to be a calculated strategy to brush the opposition as minority appeasers, the BJP may attempt at reaping benefits through its Hindutva poll plank, say political observers.

In elections where polarisation plays a factor, the BJP holds a strong ground, claim experts as they cite the example of the recently held assembly polls in Assam where the saffron party had levelled the 'pro-infiltrators' charge against the Congress for aligning with cleric-politician Badruddin Ajmal's All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

Similarly, in his first set of poll rallies in Uttar Pradesh, Amit Shah reiterated the minority appeasement charge against the Congress. His rhetoric was sharper against the Samajwadi Party, whom he accused of supporting "JAM", saying that the J stands for Pakistan's founder (Muhammad Ali) Jinnah, A for (jailed Rampur MP) Azam Khan and M for (jailed Mau MLA) Mukhtar Ansari.

This was preceded by Yogi Adityanath's apparent attack at Samajwadi Party, saying people who say "abba jaan" used to digest all the ration under the previous regime.

Amit Shah's 'JAM' jibe against Samajwadi Party comes amid <a rel=Yogi Adityanath repeatedly targeting the party with 'Abba Jaan' remark. (File image)" width="1280" height="720" /> Amit Shah's 'JAM' jibe against the Samajwadi Party comes amid Yogi Adityanath repeatedly targeting the party with 'abba Jaan' remark. (File image)

According to political analyst Ravi Srivasatava, polarisation on religious grounds has led the BJP to victories in the past elections in UP. But it "will not work in this election", he told Moneycontrol.

"The messages of communal hatred have not gone down well with the population of UP at large...The whole claim of minority appeasement is being used as a propaganda by the BJP to malign the opposition," added Srivastava, who is also a co-founder of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) but is currently not actively associated with it.

BJP workers have been asked by the party to ensure that all people aged 45 years and above get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine


Uttar Pradesh, since 1989, has witnessed the incumbent ruling party being voted out. Considering this trend, anti-incumbency remains a major factor ahead of the assembly polls in the state.

Critics of the Yogi Adityanath-led regime claim that it has failed to deliver on development, education, employment and law and order.

"There is high unemployment; no significant work of development undertaken; education, health and medical sectors lag behind and the law and order situation is poor. The second COVID-19 wave was completely mismanaged and we saw bodies floating in the Ganges," Srivastava said.

"The Hathras rape-murder case in which the victim was cremated at 3 am in the night...and the Lakhimpur Kheri incident where a convoy including a BJP minister's car ran over protesting farmers are a blot on the state government," he added.

The BJP, however, has reiterated in successive poll rallies that it has brought development to UP which was "plunged in darkness" during the rule of the Samajwadi Party, the BSP and the Congress.

Uttar Pradesh CM <a rel=Yogi Adityanath (File image)" width="1280" height="720" /> Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath (File image)

Over the last five years, the Centre and the state were "connected with the same ideology" of development, Aggarwal said.

Since 2017, the state has witnessed enhanced road connectivity, electrification of all villages, consistent supply of power, and improved law and order, he argued.

"There has been inflation but it has been checked from time to time. Fuel prices went up but that has also been checked from time to time," he said, adding that there was a severe pandemic but the Centre and the state delivered on its welfare role for citizens.

The BJP leader further claimed that the state's economy has picked up due to the prime minister's vision and its effective implementation by the chief minister. "PM Modi's vision of Make in India was executed in UP by Yogi Adityanath who invited FDI to boost the state's manufacturing sector," said Aggarwal, who is also a tech entrepreneur.

The employment opportunities have increased in UP, he further suggested, claiming that many of the migrant labourers who returned to the state amidst the second COVID-19 wave "have not gone back".

Despite the BJP's performance in the past five years, "some amount of anti-incumbency remains inevitable in an electoral democracy", he noted. "We are bound to have ideological and political differences with a set of people...But a majority of the state will vote to give us another term."

uttar pradesh sp bsp alliance,<a rel=akhilesh yadav,mayawati" width="180" height="120" />

Fragmented opposition

One of the factors that apparently runs in favour of the BJP is a fragmented opposition in Uttar Pradesh.

While the erstwhile-ruling Samajwadi Party has aligned with smaller parties including the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Suheldev Bhartya Samaj Party (SBSP), it has categorically ruled out any form of tie-up with former alliance partners BSP and Congress.

The BSP and the Congress both have decided to go solo in all 403 seats of the state.

In a four-cornered election, the BJP is expected to benefit as it has remained the party with the largest vote share since 2014. In the 2019 general elections, even the SP-BSP combine had failed to halt the saffron juggernaut.

In alliance during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP managed a win in 10 out of the state's 80 seats, whereas, the SP was restricted to five constituencies (File image) In alliance during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP managed a win in 10 out of the state's 80 seats, whereas, the SP was restricted to five constituencies (File image)

"In India, whenever a political party has become extremely dominant, it has been challenged only by a united opposition. Thus the dominant party of the present times, the BJP, can only be challenged by a united opposition," Sanjay Kumar of Lokniti-CSDS had written in a column for The Hindu on October 25.

File image of BJP supporters during a political rally in January 2020 (Image: PTI)

Modi's campaign blitz

Since 2013, a recurring phenomenon of BJP's campaign in the national as well as state-centric polls has been the "Modi factor". The prime minister's rally blitz, during the electioneering phase, is considered as shot in the arm for the party's campaign in the respective states.

Modi's popularity in UP is considered to be one of the key factors that have driven the BJP's massive surge in vote share in 2014, 2017 and 2019. However, critics of the ruling party claim that the prime minister has been "overutilised" as a campaigner, and has begun to "lose his charisma".

They point towards the recently contested assembly polls in West Bengal, where the BJP failed to wrest power despite an aggressive campaign led by the Modi-Shah combine.

PM Modi had addressed 23 rallies in West Bengal, in a span of 14 days, for the elections held in April-May, 2021 (File image/AP/Bikas Das) PM Modi had addressed 23 rallies in West Bengal, in a span of 14 days, for the elections held in April-May, 2021 (File image/AP/Bikas Das)

Aggarwal, however, staunchly disagreed with this assessment as he pointed towards the meteoric rise recorded by the BJP in Bengal despite failing to form the government.

The popularity of the prime minister was reflected when the "BJP improved its tally from 3 seats (in 2016) to 77 seats in the 2021 elections" in Bengal, he suggested.

"The opposition is trying to create a narrative that Prime Minister Modi's popularity is on the wane. But that is not true," the BJP spokesperson added.

Bicycles decorated with India's main opposition BJP flags and an image of Modi, prime ministerial candidate for BJP, are parked inside BJP headquarters in New Delhi

What opinion polls predict so far

While the first set of opinion polls predict the BJP's return to power, they forecast a reduced tally for the party vis-a-vis 2017.

The ABP News-C Voter survey, whose outcome was released on November 12, predicts the BJP's tally to drop by around 100 seats in the 2022 polls. From 312 seats, the party may slide to 213-221 seats, the opinion poll said. The numbers are still above the halfway-majority mark of 202.

The survey projected the Samajwadi Party to win 152-160 seats, way higher than 47 seats it secured in the previous assembly polls. The BSP, as per the ABP-C Voter opinion poll, was likely to be restricted to 16-20 seats. The party had won 19 constituencies in the 2017 elections.

The second major opinion poll, released by Times Now x Polstrat on November 16, predicts 239-245 seats for the BJP, 119-125  for the Samajwadi Party, 28-32 for the BSP and only five-eight seats for the Congress.

While the surveys project the BJP as favourite, they also point towards a momentum behind the Samajwadi Party. This momentum may grow moving into the elections -- which are expected to be held in several phases in UP.

Furthermore, analysts also doubt whether the initial surveys will hold credence in the months to come. "Opinion polls are losing credibility," said Srivastava, as he pointed towards the pre-election surveys of Bengal which projected the BJP in a neck-to-neck contest with the TMC. "However, when the results were out, the BJP was restricted to 77 seats," he quipped.

Experts also suspect that the BJP's internal survey has raised red flags for the party in Uttar Pradesh, which, they claim, has compelled it to withdraw the contentious farm laws.

"So how much trouble is the BJP in according to its prepoll UP surveys if the government has done what it said it never would? Obviously the BJP is very worried about the UP election (sic)," veteran journalist Vir Sanghvi tweeted. The ruling party had, notably, ruled out scrapping the farm laws earlier this year. In a reversal, however, Modi announced its withdrawal in a live televised address on November 19.