The BJP managed to create a rainbow alliance of Hindu castes in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh. Now, the SP-BSP Mahagathbandhan is gearing to breach into that coalition of castes.
The recent bypoll losses for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and the formation of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ (MGB) in the state have raised the pitch for Lok Sabha 2019. Former chief minister and Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav has even said that he is willing to contest a few seats less for the sake of unity and for the ‘larger cause’ of defeating the BJP. The BJP won one-fourth of its overall national tally in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from UP (71 out of 282) and that is why it is very important for it to repeat its performance. In many ways, the road to 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, goes through the terrain of the state. If the MGB parties, SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), had contested together in the 2014 central elections, BJP would have got 41, MGB 37 and the Congress, two seats.
Tight contest in 2019
The MGB enjoys the support of constituencies such as Dalits, Muslims, Yadavs and Jatavs, accounting for 53 per cent of the population of UP. The BJP’s anchor vote segment consists of non-Yadav Other Backward Castes (OBC) and Upper Castes, accounting for 47 per cent of the population. Congress in all likelihood is expected to join the alliance. It may be given five to seven seats, mostly family stronghold seats of Rae Bareli, Amethi and a few others. This, along with the composition of the vote share and proportionate share of population, makes the contest tight. For example,
- SP received 23 per cent vote share in 2014. More than 90 per cent of this support was received from Muslims, Yadavs and OBCs.
- BSP received 20 per cent vote share in 2014, and 85 per cent of this support was received from Jatavs, Muslims and OBCs.
- Congress received 8 per cent vote share in 2014, and half of this support was received from Muslims and OBCs.
- NDA received 42 per cent vote share in 2014, and two-thirds of this support was received from OBCs, Brahmins and Thakurs.
Battle of the castes
Alliances are not about arithmetic but also about chemistry, we have often heard. Despite acrimonious history, the chemistry between the allies, SP and BSP, worked fine during the by-polls. One of the key questions in any alliance is the ability of parties to transfer votes seamlessly to each other without leakages.
The results in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana show that the index of chemistry of MGB is pretty high. This is compounded by the fact that BJP will also have to battle triple anti-incumbency as councillors, MLAs and MPs are mostly from the BJP.
Can allies transfer votes seamlessly?
The combined vote share of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Congress, SP and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) was 51 per cent in 2014. Despite the ability of the alliance partners to transfer votes in bypolls, national elections will be different as there are certain antagonistic social groups in this caste alliance which may not vote for other parties. For example, upper caste voters of Congress may not vote for BSP-SP and may shift allegiance to BJP. Taking out the upper caste support reduces the combined vote share of MGB to 47 per cent from 51 per cent. Adjusting this for translation loss (leakages) of 10 per cent, which is normal in my opinion, this further reduces the MGB vote share to 42 per cent which is similar to the vote share of NDA.
Significant challenges remain for MGB
However strong the bonhomie they try to project, there is an element of distrust between Mayawati and Akhilesh. Conceding a high number of seats to BSP in the Lok Sabha polls could be a long-term strategy of the SP to poach voters owing allegiance to Mayawati in state elections due in 2022. To recall, in 2012, when the SP won a historic mandate in UP, the SC/ST voters of BSP, disillusioned with Brahmanisation of the party, had supported Akhilesh.
On the other hand, BJP is attempting to consolidate its OBC vote bank through sub-reservations through classification of OBCs into backward, most backward and extremely backward castes. The strategy is to take over whatever non-Yadav OBC vote is left with SP, BSP and Congress (9 per cent of their combined vote share in 2014). This could further alienate Jatavs and Yadavs from the BJP but help consolidate the upper caste and Non-Yadav OBC voters.
BJP would also try to lure the non-Jatav Dalits who account for 7 per cent of the population. The party succeeded to a certain extent in 2014 Lok Sabha polls where 45 per cent supported the party. In my opinion, BJP should come up with something like a ‘Mahadalits’ category in Bihar to prevent their return to BSP.
Test of social engineering
Uttar Pradesh will decide the course of 2019 and it’s going to be a bitter contest. The elections may happen in the backdrop of the Ram Mandir case judgement which could further polarise the environment. What the MGB has managed to do though is puncture the all-inclusive and unified Hindu vote bank theory of BJP in the state. Now, BJP may be forced to follow exclusionary politics, excluding Yadavs and Jatavs, from their target group segment. The social engineering and caste combinations created in each seat will ultimately decide who will win UP. Smaller parties like Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) will play a key role and BJP should work to allay their concerns. All in all, a cracker of a contest in UP in 2019.