UP Mahagathbandhan: Why The Arithmetic Isn’t As Simple As It Looks

Dr A K Verma

Jan 21, 2019, 01:15 PM | Updated 01:15 PM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath  in Lucknow. (Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via GettyImages) 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Lucknow. (Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via GettyImages) 
  • For the SP-BSP alliance to work in this year’s Lok Sabha elections, there has to be a perfect transfer of votes between the two parties. And that is where the trouble begins for the mahagathbandhan.
  • The coming together of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati and Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh (UP) through a pre-poll alliance is a watershed in the politics of the state.

    This alliance has been able to do two things. Firstly, it has broken the acute animosity between the BSP and SP after almost a quarter of a century since the Lucknow guest house incident in 1995. It must be remembered that the Lucknow guest house incident was where SP goons tried to kill Mayawati, thus making a long standing dent in the relationship between the two parties. Secondly, it has turned the wheels of history back to 1993, when Kansiram and Mulayam Singh Yadav of BSP and SP respectively formed a pre-poll alliance in the assembly polls.

    In 1993, SP contested 256 seats and BSP contested 164 seats. The SP won 109 seats with a vote share of 17.94 per cent and BSP won 67 seats with a vote share of 11.12 per cent. The SP got 17.94 per cent and BSP 11.12 per cent votes. Their combined vote share was 29.06 per cent. Interestingly, SP vote share in 256 contested constituencies was as high as 29.48 per cent and BSP vote share in 164 contested constituencies was equally high at 28.53 per cent.

    The near identical vote share of SP and BSP in contested constituencies and that too almost identical to their combined aggregate vote share was clear indication that both parties had got their votes transferred to each other. That led to the formation of SP-BSP government with Mulayam Singh Yadav as Chief Minister (CM) on 4 December 1993.

    SP-BSP performance in UP assembly polls in 1993

    Source: Election Commission of India
    Source: Election Commission of India

    Can Akhilesh-Mayawati Repeat History?

    The important question to be asked here is, can Akhilesh and Mayawati repeat history in 2019 Lok Sabha elections in UP?

    Much water has flown down the Gomti since 1993. The SP-BSP coming together in 1993 was preceded by long social bonhomie between the Other Backward Class (OBC) and Dalits through Kansiram’s ‘All India Backward (SC, ST and OBC) And Minority Communities Employees Federation’ (BAMCEF) since 1978. Another reason behind the coalition was their common animosity against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) owing to the ‘Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid’ demolition a year earlier on 6 December 1992. In 2019, their coming together is preceded by quarter-of-a-century’s acute animosity between them and the social groups which they represent namely the — Dalits and OBCs.

    The other factor to be noted here is the rise of the BJP in UP since 2014. The BJP, in fact, has put the pressure from the Hindu right wing on the construction of the Ram temple aside, and has pursued a purely developmental agenda and inclusive politics with the result that both Dalits and OBCs have been largely integrated into the party.

    Additionally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s caste has given the backward communities a choice in OBC leadership. Massive BJP victories in Lok Sabha (2014) and assembly elections (2017) have provided the party with a big contingent of Dalit-OBC MPs and MLAs who could access Dalits and OBCs and further integrate these two subaltern groups.

    In this light, the impact of the present SP-BSP coalition on BJP fortunes in 2019 Lok Sabha polls in UP needs to be assessed carefully.

    Transferability of Votes: Myth or Reality?

    Many have tried to draw inference about the transferability of votes based on the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls in March 2018. The SP-BSP coalition defeated the BJP in both these by-polls, though they were represented by the BJP’s Chief Minister in the state Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. However, they forget that in the by-polls, the BSP did not participate and, hence, Dalit votes could have easily got transferred to SP candidates. Will such transfer of Dalit votes to SP still be possible in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?

    Chances are very bleak for many reasons.

    One, the BSP will have to upset many among the 80 Lok Sabha aspirants who had been preparing for 2019 parliamentary elections, as it will be contesting only 38 seats. The political future of the rejected aspirants will face a huge blow as their constituencies would be handed over to SP owing to seat sharing. Every probable BSP candidate must be having sleepless nights apprehending whether she/he will be ‘guillotined’ or not by Mayawati. Will the guillotined aspirants still support SP candidates against whom they have long history of political animosity? The same would be true of SP aspirants too. Akhilesh Yadav will have to ‘guillotine’ 40 candidates. Probably, the two parties have not factored the intensity of party revolt owing to their sudden and artificial seat-sharing decision just to defeat the BJP.

    Two, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav have considered the arithmetic of electoral alliance but not the chemistry of social coalition. The OBCs had been placed in a position of conflict vis-a-vis the Dalits in the social hierarchy and, hence, the joining of top leaders of SP-BSP may not necessarily mean the coming together of the two social groups. Even presuming some party loyalists abiding by the commandments of their respective leaders, many may turn away to either the Congress or BJP.

    Third, Mayawati is known for her ability to transfer BSP voters to whichever party she wants, but Akhilesh is not known for any such ability. That was amply demonstrated in the Akhilesh Yadav-Rahul Gandhi alliance in the 2017 UP assembly elections. Yadav had assumed that with the seamless transfer of votes, the alliance would get over 300 seats. But it ended with Akhilesh Yadav getting just 47 seats and Congress gasping with just seven seats.

    Finally, a bipolar contest between BJP allies and SP-BSP-Congress combine would have been certainly very challenging for the BJP, but now Congress will be a good splitter of votes in a three-cornered contest to the disadvantage of the SP-BSP alliance. Additionally, Shivpal Singh Yadav’s Progressive Samajwadi Party Lohia (PSPL) would dent Akhilesh Yadav’s vote-bank.

    Assuming for a moment that the SP and BSP contested half of the total seats each in the 2017 assembly elections as well, their cumulative vote share comes out to be 22.03 per cent (half of cumulative vote share they got by contesting on all seats). That was far below the 29.06 per cent cumulative votes obtained in 1993 assembly polls.

    SP-BSP performance in UP assembly polls in 2017

    Source: Election Commission of India
    Source: Election Commission of India

    Hypothetically, if we presume that SP-BSP would be able to retain its 2017 vote share, at least, then, in that case, they may win 13 to 15 Lok Sabha seats in UP in 2019. But, if they fail to transfer votes to each other, and face desertions from their ranks, then, they may face the same humiliation that they suffered during 2014 Lok Sabha polls in which SP was reduced to just five Lok Sabha seats, and BSP drew a blank.

    So, even in the face of a formidable SP-BSP coalition, the game is still wide open in Uttar Pradesh.

    A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.

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