While the election results gave 324 seats to the BJP alliance in Uttar Pradesh, the dissection of voteshare for different parties from different castes, religions and regions have started pouring in — showing whether UP voted its “caste” or casted its vote. This dissection is not altogether new in Indian elections, specially in states like UP and Bihar, where people have been substantially voting on identity. To understand whether UP continued the trend of identity-based voting, it is imperative to understand the themes of identity politics. That is how political parties woo the electorate and the electorate responds to such wooing. This is generally done in two ways. First is the consolidation of some social and religious groups as a core votebank by almost every political party. For instance, the SP’s core votebank lies with substantial part of Yadavs and Muslims, the BSP’s core votebank lies with dalits, specially Jatav dalits and a moderate portion of non-Jatav dalits and Muslims. Yadavs, Muslims, Jatav dalits and non-Jatav dalits form about eight per cent, 19 per cent, 12 per cent, nine per cent, totalling to about 48 per cent of UP’s voter base, and the SP and BSP share this with about 24 per cent and 20 per cent, leaving the rest to other parties.
The BJP managed to create a core and peripheral vote base among the left-out social groups, which constituted about 52 per cent of the total population. The Congress has been moving into oblivion, and hence the question of constituting core or peripheral vote base does not arise for there. However, the core vote base is not enough to win elections, even in a multi-cornered contest. Second, political parties strategically distribute tickets to various caste and religious groups based on at least three dimensions to increase their winnability, which is rather a complex optimisation problem. When political parties are sure that the core vote base is intact, they may give less number of seats to its core votebank, keeping enough to field candidates from peripheral and non-core groups. For instance, the BSP restricted dalit candidates to reserved seats and fielded only two dalit candidates from general seats. Political parties also give a good number of seats to their newly-acquired base or peripheral vote base to ensure that they vote in favour. For instance, the BSP and BJP gave 97 seats and 154 seats to Muslims and OBCs, excluding Yadavs.
In addition, when parties realise that some caste or religious groups are not going to vote for them anyway, they either don’t give seats or give minimum seats to them. For instance, the BJP gave only eight seats to Yadavs and no seats to Muslims. The BJP alliance got about 42 per cent of the total votes. It is generally believed that the major portion of BJP votes could have come from social engineering it exercised by combining general castes and OBCs, excluding Yadavs. But to its surprise, the BJP got 44 per cent, 42 per cent, 41 per cent, 45 per cent and 38 per cent of general votes, OBC excluding Yadavs, SCs, Jats and Yadavs respectively, which means the BJP got its mandate from all communities evenly. It is true even for the SP-Congress alliance and the BSP. The SP-Congress alliance got about 29 per cent of the total votes and it got 24 per cent, 28 per cent, 26 per cent, 22 per cent and 32 per cent of general votes, OBC excluding Yadavs, SCs, Jats and Yadavs respectively. The BSP got about 23 per cent of the total votes and 21 per cent, 23 per cent, 25 per cent, 21 per cent and 22 per cent of general votes, OBC excluding Yadavs, SCs, Jats and Yadavs respectively.
What does this show? Voters have cast their vote to a reasonable extent, and not voted their “caste” as it used to happen in UP. Both surveys and interviews showed that voters below 35 years of age, constituting about 40 per cent of the total electorate, brought this change. It was reported time and again since 2014 that when Jats and Yadavs wanted to vote for Ajit Singh’s RLD and SP respectively, based on caste identity, young voters wanted to vote for Narendra Modi. However, there is a glitch. Did Muslims follow the pattern of various caste groups? The answer is yes and no. The exit polls showed that about 70 per cent of Muslims voted for the SP-Congress alliance and 20 per cent for the BSP, and the remaining 10 per cent for other parties, including the BJP. It was reported that about nine per cent of Muslims voted for the BJP in 2014 general elections. Did the trend of Muslims voting for the BJP continued or expanded in 2017 UP Assembly elections? Take the case of Deoband, where Muslims constitute 65 per cent of the total electorate, the BJP managed to get about 44 per cent voteshare. Two reasons could be attributed to the victory of the BJP.
Either the Muslim turnout was extremely low compared to the non-Muslim turnout, or some Muslims voted for BJP candidates in Deoband. The boothwise data in all-Muslim and numerically dominant Muslim booths may anyhow reveal whether some Muslims voted for the BJP or not. Mayawati’s poser — “How did the BJP manage to win in Muslim bastions?” — indicates the slowly changing trends in Muslim voting patterns. Some young educated burqa-clad Muslim women joined the BJP victory celebrations across UP. The triple talaq issue, which has been hanging above the head of Muslim women and the government’s commitment to the Supreme Court that it will support the abolition of triple talaq, might have made Muslim women vote for the BJP. Although the change of pushing aside identity-based voting was brought in by young voters, it could never have been possible if the climate was not created. The development agenda put forth by Mr Modi in 2014 marked the beginning of the end of identity-based voting patterns. To some extent, Akhilesh Yadav followed the narrative. It is this changed narrative since 2014 that paved the way for people voting over individual preferences than as a group.