Jayant Chaudhary Heads For Rajya Sabha, And RLD For Oblivion
A close look at the numbers returned by the 2022 assembly election shows that the RLD’s real vote share in western UP has stayed stuck well under 10 per cent, with their figures getting a numerical lift only because of isolated pockets.
The news of the week is that Jayant Chaudhary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) has been nominated to Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh by ally Akhilesh Yadav and the Samajwadi Party (SP).
It didn’t attract the headlines it deserved only because this past week has been filled with discordant departures from the Congress, as soon as Sonia Gandhi made an appeal for party unity in Udaipur.
What does Chaudhary’s nomination by the SP mean, and what are its implications?
Uttar Pradesh sends 31 members to the upper house. Eleven are retiring in a month. As per the state’s present house strength, following the provincial elections of March 2022, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should win eight (a gain of three) and the SP-led alliance, three.
Interestingly, the SP’s three nominees are Javed Ali Khan of the SP, a civil engineer from Sambhal who was a member of Rajya Sabha from 2014-20; senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, until recently of the Congress; and Jayant Chaudhary.
This means the SP will not be putting up a candidate from their core base — the Yadavs. Instead, the SP has accommodated a representative of its key Muslim vote base, a Congress defector from another state (Sibal is a Punjabi from Delhi who last won an election in 2009), and a Jat.
We can presume that the absence of a Yadav on the SP’s list won’t arouse too much heartburn or disgruntlement within the SP, because most party members have finally understood that the only way they can ever hope to best the BJP is by staying together, come what may.
Chaudhary’s nomination, on the other hand, means that the SP and the RLD will keep their alliance intact into the 2024 general elections. As a result, the probability of Chaudhary joining the BJP — a strong rumour that has been doing the rounds for some years now — reduces to near-zero for the time being.
But will it bring back those heady days when base identity politics ruled Uttar Pradesh with torturous laws of the jungle?
Will the RLD’s remnant Jat vote find electorally profitable embrace in Muslim arms once again and woo back those many Jats who umbilically attached themselves to the BJP after the Jat-Muslim Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013?
Dare Akhilesh Yadav dream of a caste-faith political equation in which Yadav, Jat, and Muslim bind together on the pedestal of identity to derail the BJP in 2024?
The answer to these questions is a loud No!, and the reasons are self-evident.
In the 2022 Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly elections, the RLD contested just 33 seats out of 403. These seats were in western UP, and went to the polls mainly in the first phase.
It was a loud campaign, with impressive kite-flying by the usual suspects on social and mainstream media, about a potential ‘RLD wave’, yet the party won only eight seats. This was quite an improvement on the 2017 election results when the RLD won only one seat contesting on its own, but it did nothing to dent the BJP.
As the table below shows, there was efficient vote transfer between the SP, RLD, and the Muslim vote previously with the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But, and this is important, the RLD failed to attract back that Jat vote that went to the BJP between 2014 and 2019. On the contrary, the BJP’s vote share went up in these 33 seats that the RLD contested.
In fact, the BJP did better in those eight seats where the RLD won, registering a vote swing of nearly 7 per cent from 2017, compared to the +2 per cent the BJP gained in the balance 25 seats, all of which it won!
This is something Swarajya pointed out in September 2021, well before the elections in Uttar Pradesh — that since the contest would be intensely bipolar, vote banking by the SP and RLD would cause a significant counter-consolidation in favour of the BJP. The tighter the fight, the better the BJP’s chances.
And that is exactly what happened. Indeed, the BJP and its allies would have crossed 300 seats with around 43 per cent vote share, but for the odd fact that the BSP didn’t disintegrate in the last phase of elections, in eastern UP.
Further, the 2022 data shows that the RLD’s victory margin in its eight seats was only 7 per cent on average, even with a vote share gain of 24 per cent, while the BJP’s average victory margin in the balance 25 seats was 17.5 per cent, on a gain of just 2 per cent.
Third, and equally interestingly, the RLD’s primary vote gain in these 33 seats came from ‘Others’ rather than the BSP’s Muslim vote (the Congress had very little left to give in 2022, and the bulk of the Muslim vote was probably already with the SP). They got materially nothing from the BJP.
To explain: as the table above shows, the BSP lost 9.8 per cent; the Congress, 2.1 per cent; and ‘Others’, 11.3 per cent, of which 16.1 per cent went to the RLD, but only 3.2 per cent to the BJP.
This means that the RLD was able to win only eight seats in spite of more than doubling its vote share. Of these eight, the RLD actually gained only six from the BJP, because one seat, Chapprauli, was an RLD hold from 2017, and another, Sadabad, was a gain from the BSP. And of these six gains, the RLD won three with extremely narrow margins.
The inference is stark: the RLD’s real vote share in western UP has stayed stuck well under 10 per cent, with their figures getting a numerical lift only because of isolated pockets like Siwalkhas, Baraut, Khair, Goverdhan, or Loni, where they still retain a somewhat material yet quite distinctly secondary popularity.
Votaries of identity politics may delude themselves into thinking that the RLD did better in 2022, in alliance with the SP, than it did in 2017 on its own. They may also then conclude that Chaudhary’s nomination to Rajya Sabha by the SP is a good step in the building of a Jat-Yadav-Muslim caste-faith combination to take on the BJP in 2024.
But the bald truth is that Chaudhary’s electoral larder has been lying bare for some years now. There is nowt on its shelves to put in the SP’s bowl, and chances of an RLD rejuvenation are poor.
Their problem is their stasis while the world changed around them. As Arush Tandon of Swarajya pertinently asked once: what is the rational end point of Jat politics in UP if not Hindutva? This very question will be asked of Yadav politics too, before long.
Similarly, electoral data of the past decade shows that Uttar Pradesh votes differently in assembly and parliamentary elections. The BJP’s efforts to expand its vote base may be curtailed in Vidhan Sabha contests by dissent, defections, or local issues, but in Lok Sabha elections, it enjoys a clear, additional vote swing of 4-6 per cent, thanks to the coalescent quality of national issues like security or defence and the continued popularity of Narendra Modi.
Another depressing fact for the RLD and the SP is that the index of opposition unity needs to be above 100 per cent (sounds crazy) if they are to gain a popular mandate, because the BJP polls over 50 per cent in nearly a 100 assembly seats. But such a high index cannot be achieved because 10 per cent of the vote is still with the BSP, and the probability that this vital vote will go, in time, to the BJP is exponentially higher by orders of magnitude than of it ever going to the SP-RLD.
Thus, if these realities are projected on to the 2024 elections, with other factors staying the same, the BJP and its allies would win over 70 of the state’s 80 Parliament seats.
This is what irreversible political decline looks like, and it is not a pretty sight, because we mustn’t forget that Chaudhary’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Charan Singh, and Akhilesh’s father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, were both astute politicians who knew exactly how to leverage their strengths to maintain their positions at the national level.
Therefore, in closing, here are two apocryphal anecdotes to highlight the difference in quality of leadership and political nous between generations:
When Charan Singh became the prime minister in 1979, he asked senior civil servants to read ‘The R Document’ — a gripping political thriller by novelist Irving Wallace about a coup d’état engineered by dark forces from within government using constitutional means. It was meant to remind people of how Indira Gandhi enforced an undemocratic emergency in 1975 and fully belies Charan Singh’s image as a simple, rustic soul. He was anything but that, and in fact, extremely well-read.
When Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amit Shah met by chance at Lucknow airport, a month or so before the 2014 general elections, Shah asked Yadav about the BJP’s prospects in Uttar Pradesh. Yadav’s reply was that the BJP would win over 60 seats. He was right, and the story shows how well Yadav could read the pulse of the people in his prime.
From there to now marks the rational end point of dynastic identity politics. So, Jayant Chaudhary will go to Rajya Sabha, and his party into oblivion, while Akhilesh Yadav scrabbles around for the Muslim vote.
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