A senior editor at Forbes India, Dinesh Narayanan sits in Delhi and writes on policy, politics and economy.
The heat and dust has settled in much of Uttar Pradesh as the state elections, billed as a political game changer for India, enters the final slog overs. The equations have remained largely unchanged from the beginning and most parties have been cautious in criticizing one another as most believe that the state is headed towards a hung assembly and power would have to be shared to be enjoyed.
Mayawati anyway never enters into a pre-poll alliance as she has an absolutely loyal vote bank. Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta wrote that during five days of travel in UP, he or his colleagues did not come across a single dalit who would vote for anyone but the Bahujan Samaj Party. As everyone knew right from the beginning the fight for the top slot is between Mayawati and Mulayam Singh. The Congress and BJP are fighting for the last two positions.
High voter turnout has made forecasting even trickier. A little under 60 per cent of voters have voted this time compared to a little over 46 per cent five years ago. That is a jump of nearly 14 percentage points in a state where a 30 per cent vote share means victory. In the last Lok Sabha elections when the Congress won 21 seats, its vote share was just 18 per cent.
No one has any idea who the new voters are rooting for. By new voters I mean not only first time voters, who may be swayed by the relatively young age and modern rhetoric of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, but also those who were registered but stayed away from the box in previous elections.
Typically, it is the cynical voter who skips the tread to the booth. Usually, they are also educated, upwardly mobile and if I were to hazard a guess, upper caste whose relative preference always seems to be argument than action. The upper caste voters are disillusioned with Mayawati this time, and do not vote for Mulayam anyways. A few days before the elections when I travelled to the state, they were gripped by a frustrating indecision as BJP, their party of choice, was making a complete hash of their chances. The few who had placed their faith in Mayawati in 2007 were already disillusioned and the only thing they had decided was they would not vote BSP. Judging by the turnout, they may have come back to vote and most likely cast their lot with the the Congress or BJP.
The voting percentage has also been boosted by the huge number of women lining up at polling booths – 60 per cent compared with 57 per cent men. Women tend to have a longer memory than men and I would imagine that their memories of the Samajwadi Party’s reign are not exactly pleasant. Dalit men and women vote in full strength anyway. So it is unlikely that their numbers have added to the voter turnout by much though their presence at Mayawati's rallies had swelled considerably. If it is OBC and upper caste women who have stepped out of their homes on election day, they are more likely to have voted for the SP and the two national parties. If the BJP leadership's lacklustre campaigning – national leaders were mostly conspicuous by their absence – is any indication, it seems to have already resigned itself to playing an insignificant role once the results are out.
Since the Bahujan Samajwadi Party already suffers from the incumbency factor and its voters turn out in strength irrespective of the importance of the election, the higher turnout is unlikely to be beneficial for Mayawati. That means the beneficiaries are most likely to be the Samajwadi Party and the Congress. It brings us to two possibilities – as we suggested in Forbes India's assessment before the elections began, the SP in a position to form the government with Congress support or, as coal minister and Congress leader Sriprakash Jaiswal controversially said, if the Congress so desires, President’s rule.