At 80 parliamentary seats, 403 state seats, an electorate of 152 million, a 220.8 million sq km land size and a month-long election in seven phases, state polls in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in India are more than an electoral carnival.
The state polls in India’s Hindi belt, which kicked off on Feb 10 and will conclude on March 10, are seen as a barometer of the subcontinent’s political and electoral sentiment.
The polls come at the midway point of the New Democratic Alliance-led Bharatiya Janata Party (NDA/BJP) federal government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in office.
The polls are seen as a bellwether before the next Indian general election, which need to be held by May 2024.
A forerunner to the likely outcome of the Indian general election was seen in the 2017 UP polls, when the NDA/BJP wrested the state from its Samajwadi Party (SP) by winning 325 state seats.
In the 2019 Indian general election, the NDA/BJP led by Modi retained federal power by winning 353 seats in the 545-member lower house of Parliament, or Lok Sabha.
India’s Financial Times said many see the 2022 UP election as a semi-final to 2024 general election, and a win this time will give a big fillip to the NDA/BJP’s prospects.
“If BJP loses in UP, it will lose momentum and will find very hard to return to power in 2024,” said the Zee news channel.
Going against the ruling NDA/BJP led by Yogi Adityanath in UP, who is seeking a second term, is the anti-incumbency sentiment in the Hindi heartland that has plagued previous ruling parties in the most populous state.
The last time the Hindu nationalist BJP ruled the state was in 1991, lasting all but a year before it fell in the polls to the socialist SP.
No party has consecutively retained the most populous state, with the last being the Indian National Congress (Congress) in 1985.
Despite SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) coming to power in UP in subsequent state elections, neither homegrown political outfit was able to clinch consecutive victory in the central Indian state.
Both SP and BSP are hoping to make a comeback this election, whereas Congress, which dominated the state between 1951 and 1967, is also hoping for a revival.
The SP, led by 48-year-old former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, remains the NDA/BJP’s main opponent and has allied with Rashtriya Lok Dal under the SP Plus alliance.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is hoping that being led by a Nehru-Gandhi scion — Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — would see voters flock back to the Grand Old Party of India.
The BSP, led by Mayawati, is hopeful that voters would elect the social reformer for a fifth term.
As per the Zee Final Opinion Poll for the Uttar Pradesh election, the NDA/BJP has been projected to win a majority by taking 241 to 263 seats.
In an earlier poll conducted on Jan 19, the NDA/BJP was projected to get 245to 267 seats.
On the other side, the SP Plus alliance has been projected to win 130-151 seats, BSP 4 to 9 seats and the UPA/Congress is likely to get only 3 to 7 seats in the whole of UP.
The ABP Cvoter, ABPNews-Cvoter, Polstrat-NewsX opinion polls between March 2021 and January 2022 have also given the edge to the NDA/BJP, with the SP Plus coming in second, BSP third and UPA/Congress coming in fourth.
Several challenges would need to be overcome by the NDA/BJP alliance if opinion polls are to be accepted at their face value.
Will voters in the largely agrarian state back NDA/BJP, despite the repeal of the controversial farm laws which had aggrieved them?
Has the NDA/BJP done enough to handle the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant economic fallout and unemployment?
Will there be a likely split in the Hindu and caste-based votes which the NDA/BJP had received backing in 2017?
Who will the Muslim minority voters, long cast as bogeymen, vote for in UP?
These and other regional and local factors will be taken into account by voters as they exercise their franchise in one of the biggest regional elections in the sub-continent.
The writer is NST news editor
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