How long can the opposition maintain their cohesion only in the name of opposing Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
Among the four Lok Sabha and 11 assembly seats for which by-polls were conducted recently, Kairana and Noorpur held the greatest significance because of the importance of Uttar Pradesh in national politics. It is also in Uttar Pradesh that the opposition unity index is expected to affect the electoral prospects the most come 2019 Lok Sabha election. Although Kairana and Noorpur seats have been wrested from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there is more to the results in political terms.
Given the demography, elections to both these constituencies were a much tougher challenge for the BJP than the Gorakhpur and Phoolpur by-elections two and a half months ago. In the face of a united opposition, elections to the Kairana and Noorpur seats were a test of the BJP’s sway over the consolidated Hindu vote bank.
The Kairana Lok Sabha seat has roughly 17 lakh voters, of which Muslims account for about five lakh. There are about 1.5 lakh Jatavs and one lakh Scheduled Caste voters from various other castes. Jats are 1.5 lakh in number and along with one lakh Sainis, 75,000 Thakurs, 60,000 Brahmins, and 55,000 Vaishya voters constitute other significant caste groups. However, the seat is considered a Gujjar domain because of three lakh votes cutting across religious lines. About 1.5 lakh Hindu Gujjar votes and a similar number of Muslim Gujjar votes have made the Hukum Singh and Hasan families chief rivals in the constituency.
Tabassum Hasan, whose son Nahid Hasan lost to Hukum Singh in the 2014 election by a margin of 235,000 votes, trounced the latter’s daughter, Mriganka Singh, by 44,618 votes this time.
Tabassum, primarily a Samajwadi Party (SP) leader fielded on a Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) ticket, polled 481,182 votes as against the BJP candidate Singh’s 436,564 votes. The BJP has polled 46.4 per cent of the total votes – 5 percentage points less than the votes it got in 2014. In light of a higher turnout by Muslim voters in comparison to Hindu voters, testified by various reports, and a high proportion of Muslim vote share for it, it can be safely assumed that RLD candidate Tabassum received about two-thirds of her votes from the Muslim electorate.
As a party with a well-functioning organisation and solid base in the region, the Samajwadi Party, whose member Hasan has been for long, would have about 15,000 to 20,000 non-Muslim committed voters also in each of the five assembly segments that make up the Kairana Lok Sabha constituency. This would leave not more than 70,000 to 80,000 incremental votes drawn from the touted Muslim-Jat-Jatav alliance. The figure suggests that it was either the Jats or Jatavs who were enthusiastic about the RLD candidate, not both segments. Reports from Shamli and Thana Bhawan Assembly segments suggest that emotional appeals by Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary in the name of astitva, or survival, led to the transfer of a large number of Jat votes for the RLD. In either of the two cases, rest of the Hindu consolidation was almost completely behind the BJP.
It is the scrutiny of votes in assembly segments and their comparison with 2017 assembly elections that throws up interesting observations. While the BJP has substantially improved its performance in Kairana, Shamli and Gangoh Assembly segments, it has more or less held its vote share in Nakur. It is only in the Thana Bhawan Assembly segment, represented by minister Suresh Rana, that its performance has taken a beating. In Nakur too, there is a slip in terms of absolute votes, but given a lower turnout, the vote share remains stagnant
However, for a consolidated opposition, the numbers fall drastically short of the expected votes in Gangoh, Nakur, and Kairana. In Gangoh, the Bahujan Samaj Party had polled 44,717 votes in the 2017 assembly election. Adding 61,418 votes polled in favour of the Congress party’s Nauman Masood and 47,219 votes in favor of Samajwadi Party candidate Inder Sain, the total votes for the united opposition should have been around 150,000, which is way short of 106,941 votes polled for the RLD candidate in this election.
Similarly, the numbers fall short by 50,000 votes in Nakur, 30,000 in Thana Bhawan, and 40,000 votes in Kairana. The only cohesion achieved by the united opposition appears in Shamli due to addition of Jat votes. The RLD had received 33,551 votes in Shamli in the 2017 assembly election. It is very clear that the BSP has failed to deliver its votes to the alliance. The only constituency where a substantial BSP vote has shifted in favour of the RLD candidate is Thana Bhawan. This also seems to be significantly a shift of Muslim votes polled in favour of the BSP candidate Abdul Waris Khan in 2017. Mayawati’s lukewarm call asking her supporters to vote according to their discretion and the traditional Jat-Jatav acrimony might have created the ambivalence.
If the BSP’s core voter seems to have been cold towards the RLD candidate in the Kairana Lok Sabha seat, Jats have clearly favoured the BJP candidate Avani Singh in the Noorpur Assembly constituency. Avani Singh, wife of former BJP member of legislative assembly Lokendra Singh, whose demise necessitated the by-poll there, lost the election by a whisker despite securing 10,500 votes more than her husband. Like all the eight assembly segments in Bijnore district, Noorpur has Muslims as the largest voting block followed by Scheduled Caste voters. The Noorpur Assembly constituency, with 269,000 voters, accounts for 120,000 Muslim votes, 40,000 Scheduled Caste votes, 60,000 Thakur votes, and about 13,000 Yadav votes. Considering the demographics, the results indicate that the BJP might have lost the seat to a united opposition, but its Hindu consolidation is by and large intact.
Both Kairana and Noorpur results show that despite the victory of united opposition candidates, transfer of votes by parties to alliance partners will not be smooth. For how long can opposition parties retain cohesion in their single-point anti-Modi agenda also remains to be seen.