Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections: How Will The Nishad Party, RLD, BSP, And Congress Fare?

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Jan 10, 2022 03:57 PM +05:30 IST
Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections: How Will The Nishad Party, RLD, BSP, And Congress Fare?UP elections ... an analysis.
Snapshot
  • Here's an analysis of the Nishad Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party, and Congress, and how these parties may perform, and possibly exert an influence, in the 2022 UP assembly elections.

This is the fifth part in a series that analyses the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh using historical voter data and ongoing opinion polls.

In the preceding four pieces in this series, our focus was on the two big coalitions in the state. One is a fairly stable, dominant grouping led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has swept the state thrice in the general and assembly elections since 2014. The other is led by the Samajwadi Party (SP), which has radically changed alliances thrice in the last three elections, though with little success.

And yet, the vastness of Uttar Pradesh (UP) means that there is still space for other, smaller forces to either make a limited mark on their own, act as a force-multiplier to their senior coalition partner, or, more significantly, spoil the pitch for one of the big two.

That might not have meant much as long as contests were three- or four-way affairs (like they so often have been in the past few decades), or if the BJP were to hold on to an overweening 51 per cent of the vote share it received in the 2019 general election.

But with matters becoming increasingly bipolar between the SP and the BJP, and a series of pre-poll surveys doggedly forecasting the BJP vote share to be improbably around, or even under, 40 per cent, the influence and impact of smaller parties merit greater, detailed scrutiny. With the consequent possibility of margins tightening, it means that a 5-6 per cent vote share could change the outcome in a number of seats.

Therefore, the focus of this piece will be on two junior alliance partners — one each of the SP and the BJP — and two national parties that have decided to contest the 2022 UP assembly elections on their own.

The SP partner is Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). The BJP partner is the Nishad Party. The two national parties are the Congress and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Together, these four parties command enough votes to tilt verdicts for the big two in around a hundred seats, even if they won’t win a fraction of that.

The Nishad Party

The term ‘Nishad’ is both a surname and an acronym. Its eponymous political form, under Sanjay Nishad, represents the coming together of multiple, backward riparian communities in Eastern UP.

The party contested the 2017 UP assembly elections and won one seat. But it first came to public notice when its candidate won the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat on an SP ticket in a 2018 by-poll — a prestigious constituency held by the BJP since 1989, and home to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

The BJP, however, was quick to grasp the Nishads’ electoral importance and tie up with them shortly thereafter. Historical data shows that the Nishad Party has a marginal presence in about two dozen seats and a material presence in nine.

This is their vote-share distribution map from 2017:

Map 1: Nishad Party vote share in UP assembly elections 2017
Map 1: Nishad Party vote share in UP assembly elections 2017

Some interesting observations emerge when we tabulate the data of those nine seats with a pronounced Nishad factor:

Table 1: Seats with a material Nishad Party presence
Table 1: Seats with a material Nishad Party presence

In 2017, the contest was multi-polar since the SP and the BSP were unaligned, and the BJP’s vote share in these nine seats averaged a meagre 28 per cent. They still won four seats (three by the proverbial whisker).

But in 2019, the BJP’s average vote share in these seats went up by a stupendous 21 per cent in a significantly more bipolar contest, partly because of their alliance with the Nishad Party. While the BJP lost two segments to the BSP, they held on to two and gained two, making their net loss zero.

The inference is that the BJP now stands to make further gains in these nine seats, since the BSP is no longer allied with the SP, the Muslim vote is expected to rally under the SP banner in 2022, and the bulk of the vote gains the BJP made through their tie-up with the Nishad Party will be carried forward into the 2022 elections.

Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)

Chaudary Charan Singh’s party was once dominant enough in UP politics to make him the prime minister for a brief while. Today, though, it has shrunk so much that it takes just more than 3 per cent of the popular vote in barely a tenth of the state.

A map below shows that the RLD is now restricted to a few pockets in Western UP, with a worthwhile presence in just a dozen assembly seats. This is a region where identity politics often pushes the BJP on to the backfoot.

In 2014, the RLD was aligned with the Congress. In 2017, it went alone. In 2019, it was allied with the SP and the BSP. And in 2022, it is with the SP.

Map 2: RLD vote share in UP assembly elections 2017
Map 2: RLD vote share in UP assembly elections 2017

Like with the Nishad Party, tabulating the historical data of the RLD’s key seats provides interesting clues on what 2022 might throw up.

Table 2: Seats with a material RLD presence
Table 2: Seats with a material RLD presence

For all their social-media machismo, the RLD were eventually able to raise their tally from one seat in 2017 to four in 2019. Now, optimists and epigones might call that a laudable 300 per cent rise, particularly since the three RLD gains were from the BJP, but readers know better. In reality, the RLD got above 10 per cent of the vote in just 25 seats.

On the other side of the hill, the BJP won 19 of these 25 seats in 2017 — many in tight, three-way contests, and some with thumping majorities. In 2019, its tally in the face of a formidable alliance of the SP, BSP, and RLD was 18 — down just one. In fact, it gained in three segments.

Two of these gains in 2019 were from the BSP: Sadabad and Mant, where the BJP had done deplorably in 2017, and where the RLD’s vote share was around 30 per cent. Yet, in 2019, the BJP registered a remarkable 46 per cent vote swing in Sadabad and added an additional 30 per cent to its previous tally in Mant. (Swarajya’s Arush Tandon posits that more votes shifted to the BJP from the BSP than from the RLD in these two seats.)

And in Baldev, a reserved constituency where the RLD polled 32 per cent in 2017 to finish second behind the BJP, the vote swing to the BJP in 2019 was a whopping 17 per cent.

The obvious inference, therefore, is that a good section of the RLD vote base shifted to the BJP in 2019. This is most probably because efforts to consolidate the identity vote in this day and age trigger a significant counter-consolidative response under the BJP.

In this case, a question to the RLD in 2022 is: how hopeful are they of attracting back the votes they lost in 2019, if efforts to consolidate the identity vote continue unabated? Jayant Chaudhary of the RLD may not deign to answer, but the correct answer is that the probability is low, especially since the BSP is contesting solo this time.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)

In 2017, the BSP won just 19 assembly seats on its own with 22 per cent of the popular vote. Yet, it was a fair measure of the party’s continued hold on a portion of the Muslim and Dalit vote, which the SP wisely capitalised on in 2019, to fashion a few gains.

But, as explained in previous pieces of this series, the 2019 SP-BSP-RLD alliance benefited the BSP more than the others by a fair bit. The SP actually lost seven seats from 2017, and the RLD, as we have just seen, had to suffer the ignominy of watching its vestigial vote base slip incrementally to the BJP.

However, a number of recent surveys indicate that the Muslim vote is being corralled by the SP almost en masse, which means that the BSP vote share can reduce by a third or a half in 2022.

In addition, Mayawati has been ferociously culling her herd over the past two years in a flailing effort to prevent her party from splintering. It hasn’t worked, and the BSP is now down to just six MLAs from 19 in 2017.

Nonetheless, the party and its leader remain an important factor in UP elections, less for how many seats they might win and more for the number of seats in which they will cut votes from the big two.

A map below shows the seat-wise vote shares won by the BSP on its own in 2017:

Map 3: BSP vote share in UP assembly elections 2017
Map 3: BSP vote share in UP assembly elections 2017

It is evident that, until 2017, the BSP was a factor to reckon with in most seats. But the big change since then is the way in which large chunks of votes shifted to the BJP in 2019.

One way to gauge the nature of that dramatic shift is to compare the 2017 data of the 19 seats won by the BSP, with the results of 2019.

Table 3: Assembly seats won by the BSP in 2017
Table 3: Assembly seats won by the BSP in 2017

In 2017, the BSP’s average winning vote share was 36 per cent. Barring three clear wins, its average margin of victory in the balance 16 was just 2.6 per cent. This is in a three-way contest (four-way in two seats where the RLD had some hold).

The SP’s average vote share in these 19 seats, in alliance with the Congress, was 25 per cent, while the BJP polled 29 per cent.

But in 2019, the BJP’s average vote share in these 19 seats went up by 16 per cent, and they managed to gain five from the BSP. In three of these five BJP gains, the vote swing was around 30 per cent or above. That means their average vote-share gain in 2019 was 50 per cent more than what they got in these 19 seats in 2017.

This is how bipolar the contest in UP has become, with one key difference in 2022: the BSP will be contesting on its own.

Consequently, the big question is over the 2019 swing to the BJP. Was it a one-time affair that will reverse itself in 2022?

The answer is, no, because even if the Muslim vote consolidates firmly under the SP, and a section of the BSP vote (assume at least 10 per cent) remains with Mayawati, that means the index of opposition unity will be lower than 2019, with a decisive chunk of the traditional non-BJP vote not voting for the SP.

In that case, even if the vote differential between the SP and the BJP reduces due to Muslim consolidation, votes that remain with the BSP will be enough to lower the vote share required by the BJP to win a seat by at least a few percentage points.

On the other hand, if the BJP is able to retain even a portion of the vote swing it got in 2019, then the BSP’s solo journey will ensure a split of the vote, and a veritable BJP sweep in 2022. (The quantification, probability, and permutations of these eventualities will be covered in a future piece.)

Indian National Congress

From the 1930s to the 1980s, the Congress was the party to beat in UP. Many tried, most failed. But in the past four decades, the party has slid to near-oblivion in India’s largest, and electorally most important, state.

So, its decision to contest the 2022 polls on its own, while spun as a masterpiece in astute planning, is actually the result of bitter resignation.

Perhaps, that is why its senior leadership has been raising Cain, and whipping up red herrings with divisive vigour; it’s one last crack at the prize before a moribund relic marches off into oblivion. As a result, its participation in current UP politics is about as relevant or constructive as the Gupkar Gang, whose motto seems to be: ‘If you can’t make it, then break it.’

This is what the Congress vote share looked like in 2019 when it contested on its own:

Map 4: Congress vote share in UP general elections 2019 by assembly segment
Map 4: Congress vote share in UP general elections 2019 by assembly segment

In 2019, the Congress got less than 5 per cent of the vote share in 243 assembly segments. Of these, they got less than 2 per cent in 127, and less than 1 per cent in 71. In fact, they got more than 30 per cent of the vote in just 13 segments, and even that was only because the SP, BSP, and RLD politely stayed out of the fray in Amethi and Rae Bareli parliamentary constituencies.

A string of recent opinion polls gives the Congress 4-7 seats with 6 per cent of the vote. That’s no different from the seven seats they won in 2017, when in firm alliance with the SP.

Indeed, both the SP and the BSP have finally learnt that they are better off without the Congress, since forging an alliance would simply mean there would be too much explaining to do, on everything from the migrant crisis engineered during the first lockdown in 2020, rabid Hindumisia, to a surprisingly widespread ‘anti-national’ stigma that has evolved in the public psyche, through the party’s words and deeds.

On its own in 2022, the Congress may then win about as many seats as the polls say, but the broader implications of this result would be pan-national: no party that has been so thoroughly wiped out of the Gangetic plains may ever hope to secure a popular mandate in a general election.

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In conclusion, these are the main takeaways for the four smaller parties analysed:

- The Nishad Party will pull its weight in about a dozen seats in Eastern UP and help the BJP improve upon its performance in 2017.

- The RLD may win the odd seat in Western UP on account of its tie-up with the SP, but if the vote shift to the BJP noted in 2019 is repeated, then the votes cut by the BSP will end up benefiting the BJP rather than the SP-RLD.

- The BSP is expected to lose the bulk of its Muslim vote base to the SP and shrink from what it was in 2017 or 2019. The bigger question, though, is if a shift of Dalit votes from the BSP to the BJP, sensed in 2019, increases in magnitude. If it does, then that will offset the Muslim switch to the SP and hand the BJP a sweep. If it doesn’t, the votes that stay with the BSP will cut into the SP’s 2019 performance and give the edge to the BJP — especially in tight contests.

- The Congress is no longer a factor in UP politics, and is not expected to influence the verdict in more than a handful of seats. But its national status, along with a continued ability to stay in the news because of media management, may prolong the fiction of its relevance for one or two more elections.

(All electoral data from Election Commission website)

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In the next part in this series, we will essay a forecast for the forthcoming 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.

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Also Read:

In Maps: Why Uttar Pradesh 2022 Will Very Likely Be A Bipolar Affair (Part 1)

In Maps: How The Reserved Seats In UP Voted In 2017 And '19, And What It Could Mean For '22 (Part 2)

Explained In Numbers: Why Akhilesh Yadav May Not Want To Ally With Mayawati Again, And Why He Should (Part 3)

In Numbers: Just How Formidable The BJP Has Become In Uttar Pradesh (Part 4)

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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