Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav presents a bouquet to Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati during a joint press conference in Lucknow. (Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via GettyImages) 
Snapshot
  • The coming together of SP-BSP does pose a challenge to BJP and it will have to slog to retain its tally.

    However, alliances are not all about arithmetic but also chemistry.

The bua and babua jodi in Uttar Pradesh announced their alliance in the state on Mayawati’s birthday on Saturday. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) will contest on 38 seats each, leaving four seats for the others, not clear for whom. Mayawati thundered that this alliance will give sleepless nights to Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Anti-BJP parties and opposition are placing their hopes on this duo to defeat BJP in their stronghold. To note, BJP won one-fourth of its total tally in 2014 from Uttar Pradesh. Prime Minister Modi is a member of Parliament from Varanasi. While the mahagathbandhan hopes to defeat BJP in Uttar Pradesh and unseat Modi from Delhi, party president Amit Shah thundered at BJP national convention that National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would better its record and win 74 seats in 2019, one more than 2014 tally.

By-Poll Victories Not An Honest Measure Of Mahagathbandhan

In by-polls held last year, an informal mahagathbandhan handed defeat to BJP in three seats of Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana, giving a boost to opposition confidence and necessitating the need for them to come together. Mahagathbandhan hopes that it will be able to defeat BJP across the state like they did in by-polls. Their strategists forget that by-polls are contested on local issues.

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When voters went to exercise their franchise, they didn’t have to select central government and prime minister, only their local representative. Phulpur and Kairana cannot, by any standards, be called BJP strongholds, with party winning Phulpur for the first time in electoral history in 2014. People might also have been unhappy at the chief minister and deputy chief minister leaving their Lok Sabha seats for roles in state government.

Arithmetically, Mahagathbandhan Poses A Threat But It Faces Many Challenges

The combined vote share of mahagathbandhan is almost equal to NDA based on 2014 actuals. The proportion of vote blocks of both alliances, BJP’s upper caste and non-Yadav Other Backward Classes are equal to mahagathbandhan’s Dalits, tribals, minorities and Yadavs. If the SP and BSP would have contested together in 2014, the honours would have been split with NDA at 41, mahagathbandhan at 37 and Congress at two seats.

However, even the new students of politics know that it is dangerous to assume full transfer of votes in any alliance. Even a small leakage of 5 per cent-10 per cent could change the arithmetic. While BSP has shown its ability to transfer votes in previous alliances, same cannot be said about SP votes to BSP candidates.

Source: CSDS NES 2014. Source: CSDS NES 2014.

Both SP and BSP contested on most of the seats in 2014. Now almost half of SP and BSP candidates are likely to not get a chance this time, this could lead to big rebel headache for mahagathbandhan. Some of them could be latched up by Shivpal Yadav’s party, which has announced that it will contest all seats.

Some could even be accommodated by Congress, which has been excluded from mahagathbandhan in the state. A united SP contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Chacha Shivpal has the backing of the old Samajwadis while bhatija Akhilesh represents the new Samajwadi Party. Even if his party is able to get 2 per cent-3 per cent vote share, it will be damaging for mahagathbandhan.

SP’s vote share is concentrated in some parts of UP while BSP vote share is comparatively more spread out, that’s why BSP failed to win a single seat in 2014. This means that SP could end up winning more seats than BSP, which will increase tensions between partners post polls with Mayawati accusing Akhilesh of not reciprocating transfer of votes.

Source: CSDS NES 2014. Source: CSDS NES 2014.

Mayawati is well past her prime. While she did manage to retain the Jatav voters (12 per cent-14 per cent of population), she has lost her grip over non-Jatav voters (7 per cent-9 per cent of population), who have shifted to BJP.

Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal was missing from the alliance, which has a sizeable presence among Jats in western Uttar Pradesh. While Mayawati was very critical of BJP as well as Congress at press conference, Akhikesh ducked the question on Congress, already showing signs of perhaps a disagreement on the issue.

The fact that they have criticised Congress will push the grand old party to contest fiercely in UP. Congress bagged 7.5 per cent vote share in UP in 2014, winning two and finishing runner-up on six seats. It has an influence on eight to 10-odd seats, which could spoil the arithmetic of mahagathbandhan.

…And Provides Narrative To BJP For 2019

SP and BSP, which last formed an alliance in 1993, were at loggerheads for past two-and-half decades with each other with Maywati accusing Mulayam Singh Yadav and company of trying to assassinate her (infamous guesthouse case). They have been top contenders and hence opponents competing fiercely for many years.

BJP will drive home the opportunistic alliance point to stop Modi and attempt to dent the credibility/reliability of mahagathbandhan. The party will try to wean away the young Dalits and Yadavs from mahagathbandhan. The minority vote was split between BSP (18 per cent), SP (58 per cent) and Congress (11 per cent) in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

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Mahagathbandhan hopes minority votes (20 per cent) would consolidate behind them. This provides an opportunity for BJP to allege that mahagathbandhan is engaging in minority appeasement politics. This could well consolidate Hindu votes in favour of BJP and hand a similar result as in 2014.

Mayawati Waiting For Her Development Gowda Moment?

Mayawati, who hopes of winning sizeable seats from UP, could propel her to become the prime minister of India, in case of a hung Parliament situation, like Deve Gowda in 1996. That is a tough task for the leader of a party, which has currently not a single MP in Lok Sabha.

For Mayawati, these elections are very important for BSP’s survival. If it is routed once again, party could face extinction. So, for that she has held the hand of bete noire Mulayam’s son Akhilesh.

To sum up, the coming together of SP-BSP does pose a challenge to BJP and it will have to slog to retain its tally.

However, alliances are not all about arithmetic but also chemistry. A fascinating contest is on in UP, both sides have respective strengths and weaknesses. It could well boil down to each seat.

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