Why the imminent Mahagathbandhan between SP and BSP may look better as a plan than in reality.
The recent by-election results in Uttar Pradesh that saw Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) come together and win three Lok Sabha seats – Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana – and Noorpur Assembly seat has made them euphoric about their impending success in coming Lok Sabha elections in the state early next year. To many, SP-BSP coalition has almost become a certainty making the defeat of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) quite imminent in 2019 LS elections in UP.
Without going into feasibility of the SP-BSP pre-poll alliance, let us analyse the underlying assumption of this euphoria, which is founded on the transferability of SP and BSP votes to each other.
There are, at least, three pitfalls in this assumption.
One, do the leaders of SP and BSP – Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati respectively – have hold over their respective vote-banks to get them transferred to each other en bloc? Getting votes for their own parties is fine, but transferring their votes to another party, especially a party that had been its traditional rival at grassroots for a long period of time, is very different.
This suspicion emanates from SP’s earlier bonhomie with Congress during 2017 UP assembly polls that produced huge public presence at their joint rallies but turned out to be a total fiasco. Akhilesh Yadav’s claim to win 300 seats on arithmetical logic of combining SP and Congress vote share of the previous assembly (2012) or Lok Sabha (2014) polls went totally haywire as SP was reduced to a humiliating 47 seats and Congress to just seven. The SP-Congress arithmetic got washed away by the new found social chemistry of the BJP.
Two, will SP-BSP political coalition also mean a social coalition at the constituency or booth level? The Yadavs had been core support base of SP and Jatavs/Chamars traditional constituency of BSP. For long, these two groups had unhealthy social relations with each other on the ground. Their animosity had been due to conflictual agrarian economic relations where dominant Yadavs had exploited Dalits as labours on their agricultural fields. Will it be possible for Dalits to forget all that and vote for their exploiters? When Mayawati attempted Dalit-Muslim social engineering during 2017 assembly polls, it fizzled out because there was no tradition of Dalit-Muslim cordiality at the grassroots level.
Three, the recent by-polls in UP, there was no BSP candidate and results demonstrated one-sided picture of BSP transferring its votes to SP. But the crucial question of SP being able to transfer its votes to BSP is yet to be tested. Many believe that Mayawati has the potential to get some of her Jatav votes transferred to whichever party or candidate, but can the same be said about Akhilesh Yadav?
Akhilesh Yadav suffers from two inhibitions; one, he may not have the same influence over Yadavs unlike his father Mulayam Singh Yadav; two, SP suffers from the same single caste syndrome called yadavisation and had neglected homogenisation of 78 Other Backward Class (OBC) castes, meaning thereby that eight more-backward and 70 most-backward castes had never been the constituency of the SP, nor of any other party. Since Narendra Modi’s arrival, more-backwards and most-backwards have steadily shifted towards BJP, thanks to the backward caste credentials of Modi. If the BJP can reassure them that it cares for them and the party is the best destination for them, then SP-BSP alliance would have no impact on BJP’s electoral fortunes.
Micro Vs Macro Political Contestation
We have also to factor in the differences between the limited and atomistic nature of a micro contest in one or two constituencies in a by-poll and the larger macro contest all over the state in a general election. In a by-poll, not much has to be factored in because the objective of various parties is limited to defeating the incumbent party in the constituency, without caring for wider electoral ramifications.
Let us consider some of the crucial issues that would certainly crop up when SP-BSP would finally have pre-poll alliance for 2019 LS elections.
The first issue would be whether they should go for exclusive SP-BSP coalition or also accommodate Congress, RLD and others to form a mahagathbandhan?
Both SP and BSP had contested 2014 LS polls on almost all seats in UP. Should they decide to form pre-poll alliance, seat sharing may become a ticklish issue though we may presume 50:50 seat sharing arrangement. But, that would be like opening pandora’s box because the moment it materialises, half the SP aspirants and half the BSP aspirants for tickets will lose hope of contesting LS elections 2019.
There would be panic among probable contestants in both the parties as all sorts of wild conjectures would float around as to who is going to be sacrificed for the sake of alliance. That would lead to a lot of heartburn and threats of revolts in both. Both the parties have not factored in the fallout of that situation and how that would adversely impact their electoral fortunes. The situation may worsen further if SP-BSP succumbs to the pressure of mahagathbandhan allies and share some seats with them too.
The second question would be about raising issues during election campaign; should they raise national or parochial issues? If they raise national issues, they would hardly appear convincing; but if they raise parochial or local issues, they may sound irrelevant. Will then, SP-BSP alliance not become counterproductive in a macro political contestation where issues of national and international importance, defense and national security, leadership and long-term policy initiatives and reforms are debated?
Will people like such ganging-up by parties to displace a government which they had elected only five years back by throwing out an inefficient, dysfunctional, irresponsible and scam-laden government at national level? It is also an important question whether people can be fooled by such forced and forged alliances or mahagathbandhan that has just to do with caste arithmetic and nothing with governance. There are already pointers suggesting that people desire Modi to continue as Prime Minister for next five years.
The curiosity, euphoria or panic about SP-BSP coalition hinge on caste calculus and how these parties may manipulate social engineering to defeat BJP. But what about peoples’ concern for good governance and development?
Do people expect the same kind of United Progress Alliance (UPA) regimes – corrupt and inefficient to the core, or much worse, a conglomerate of various parties without any cohesive ideology, definite policies and defined programmes – just operating on the politics of negativity and anti-BJPism? Will people really like that or weigh the pros and cons of removing Modi and bringing in either a faceless UPA-III or a multi-faceted khichri mahagathbandhan?
Will the hard, honest and spirited work of Prime Minister Modi and the goodwill and reputation earned by him worldwide be no factor in the decision of the Indian electorate in general and UP voters in particular? Perhaps many analysts, in their anti-Modi drive, tend to underestimate the sagacity and political wisdom of the Indian people.