BJP workers struggle to turn out supporters in Sakshi Maharaj’s Unnao constituency

Sachchidanand Hari, popularly known as Sakshi Maharaj, faced widespread anger in his Unnao constituency, which voted on 13 May. ”We meet him only during elections—his phone is switched off the rest of the time,” one voter said. MOHD ZAKIR / HINDUSTAN TIMES

A persistent narrative in Uttar Pradesh during the first four phases of the 2024 general election has been the low turnout in the state, which has lagged behind the national average by around ten percentage points. Of the 39 seats to have voted so far, only six have seen their turnout increase over their 2019 level, and just 11 had more than sixty percent of their registered voters casting their ballots. Traditionally seen as a sign of satisfaction with—or, at least, indifference to—the incumbent government, the turnout is being interpreted by many observers as the formidable Bharatiya Janata Party machine, which was instrumental in securing landslide victories in the state’s last four elections, struggling to get its supporters to the polling booths.

Ground reports suggest that, despite the euphoria over the consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, on 22 January, there is widespread discontent among party workers over the distribution of tickets, the marginalisation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the perception that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would use another landslide victory to cut the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath, down to size. The BJP’s ubiquitous panna pramukhs—party workers charged with reaching out to all the voters on a single page of the electoral rolls—as well as RSS cadre, whose mass mobilisation during the 2014 campaign laid the groundwork for Modi’s rise to power, have reportedly been missing in action in several constituencies.

The fall in turnout is reported to be higher among the BJP’s traditional upper-caste base. The lack of enthusiasm among the party’s core supporters is a bad omen, since it relies on them to mobilise their friends and neighbours on polling day. With a polarised electorate and no discernible nationwide wave, a low-turnout election often becomes a contest to get out one’s own supporters rather than persuading undecided voters. Even a moderate share of BJP voters staying home could have serious consequences, as the party is defending margins of fewer than fifty thousand votes in 14 of the 62 constituencies it won in 2019.