It is widely believed that the road to Delhi’s throne goes through Uttar Pradesh. There is more reason to believe this political saying given the BJP’s spectacular performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, winning 71 out of 80 seats in the state.
As the next general elections are approaching, the most politically and electorally relevant state is in the news again. The media and political analysts are following each and every political development unfolding in Uttar Pradesh closely in anticipation of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Over the past few weeks two interesting developments took place – the grand alliance of SP & BSP and the appointment of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the Congress General Secretary of Uttar Pradesh east. The former is being considered as the biggest threat to the BJP’s ambitions of repeating a 2014 like performance again. However, if the vote share of- the BJP led NDA and the SP-BSP grand alliance based on 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 state assembly elections- is added then the difference is minimal. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the vote share of NDA (BJP+ Apna Dal) was 43.3% and the combined vote share of SP-BSP- 41.8 %- was redundant as they fought the elections separately. The Congress contested the elections in alliance with the RLD making it a multi polar contest which ultimately benefited the BJP. The Congress-RLD alliance secured an 8.4% vote share.
In the 2017 UP state assembly elections, the BJP fought in alliance with the Apna Dal and another smaller regional ally SBSP (Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party), while the SP-INC formed a pre-poll alliance, and the BSP contested alone. In this three-cornered contest, the BJP led NDA alliance emerged victorious by winning 324 out of 403 assembly seats and grabbing a 41.4% vote share. The total vote share of INC-SP was 28.2% and the BSP managed to secure 22.2%.
Fast forward to 2019, there is a twist in the story. Once bitter rivals- the SP and BSP- have now joined hands to challenge the might of the BJP and save their existence in the state where they have enjoyed political power on various occasions and between different time periods. Initially, the grand-coalition displayed signs of success and delivered promising results by winning the seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur in the By-polls and by extending support to RLD candidate in the crucial Kairana by-poll elections. This boosted the confidence of the grand-alliance (SP-BSP) and they decided to go on with their formula for success in the 2019 Lok Sabah elections also. The SP-BSP announced it would contest on 38 seats each, while leaving two for its other allies. There are speculations that Ajit Singh’s RLD will be getting those two seats as part of this grand alliance. They have also promised not to field any candidates in the Gandhi family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli.
Based on the performance of BSP-SP-RLD in 2014 and 2017, the grand total of their vote share becomes 42.5% and 46%, respectively. On the other hand, the vote share of the NDA in 2014 was 43.3% and in 2017- 41.4%. The INC is left with around 6 to 8% votes in its kitty.
If this much hyped grand-alliance like scenario would have existed in 2014 and assuming that 100% vote transfer would have taken place then the tally would have been completely different. However, 100% vote transfer is not possible by any stretch of imagination. The SP-BSP coalition may look viable at the leadership level but at the cadre level, it is a formula for disaster. They lack a Nitish Kumar like figure to ensure vote transfer like it happened in Bihar. And it’s an open secret that all is not well between Dalits and Yadavs. There exists a traditional rivalry between both the communities and hence a seamless vote transfer in 2019 is just a remote possibility and the chances of huge cross voting are very high.
There are more factors now in the mix than there were in 2014 and 2017. Recently, Akhilesh Yadav’s uncle and influential figure in the politics of Uttar Pradesh- Shivpal Yadav- formed his own party- Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia). It is important to note that Akhilesh has been the face of the party for the last 7 years, but it is Shivpal Yadav who has the cadres and the organizational strength. Shivpal is a crowd magnet and enjoys a good reputation among old loyalists of the Samajwadi party. With his exit, the SP seems to have become weaker. In seats that the BSP contests, if Shivpal puts up a strong Yadav candidate, the entire SP machinery in that area will gravitate to him, as will the Yadav votes.
As far as Mayawati is concerned, so the BJP has already made a significant dent in her Dalit vote bank by bringing non-Jatav Dalit voters in its fold in UP in 2017 state assembly elections. It won 69 of the state’s 85 reserved seats. Rahul Pandita in his article titled ‘Which way will Behenji go?’ writes, “Mayawati lost a portion of her Dalit voters—16 per cent from her own Jatav caste and 35 per cent other Dalit voters in 2014 as compared to 2009, according to data put out by National Election Studies. “New Dalit leaders like Chandrashekhar have also emerged in the state. Recently, BSP’s vice-president and national coordinator, Jai Prakash Singh also joined the Bhim Army.
A recent move of central government’s, providing 10% quota to economically weaker sections belonging to the general category, is likely to help the BJP win since it would provide impetus to consolidate its traditional upper caste voters’ favor ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections especially in the Hindi heartland states. Upper caste voters were angry with the BJP’s stand in the SC/ST row and its backing of reservations for Dalits in promotions in government jobs. With this move, the BJP has also doused the fire of various reservation movements in different states.
The Yadav votes are likely to get divided in UP between Shivpal led Secular Morcha and Akhilesh Yadav led SP. At a time when there are huge chances that votes of caste-based political parties like SP and BSP would get divided, the BJP is working to consolidate its core- Savarna vote bank- and also trying its level best to bring a larger chunk of non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav Dalit votes in its favor.
Last time, there was no Yogi factor, this time he is a huge factor. the BJP has an ace in the form of CM Yogi in its hands to counter the caste politics of the grand-alliance in the state of UP. Yogi’s Hindutva image has united the Hindus like never before, he is considered the tallest Hindu icon in the country and hence UP is likely to repeat a 2014 like unity in 2019 as well. Its votes will cus across caste barriers and unite all the Hindus under one saffron umbrella. Steps taken by him for the development of the state and to ameliorate the law and order situation of Uttar Pradesh is appreciated and admired by many. Caste would be a factor, but not the only factor.
PM Modi- the BJP’s trump card would also be one of the most important factors to play a crucial role in influencing the tally in UP. In 2017, PM Modi was a factor and his popularity played a huge role in deciding the outcome. But back then, his Prime Ministership did not depend on the state assembly elections. This time Modi is up for re-election himself. This time people will judge him on the basis on the development spurred by him during his tenure as PM.
Recently, a grand political alliance suffered a humiliating defeat in Telangana. KCR led TRS defeated Mahakuttami or the grand alliance led by the Congress with TDP, CPI and Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS). The shameful defeat of the so-called coalition ‘Mahakutami’ will affect other prospective alliances of the Congress party’s. The grand-old party is trying to come up with another grand alliance, “Mahagathbandhan” before the Lok Sabha election of 2019 at the center. One of the reasons behind the humiliating defeat of Mahakuttami was that complete transfer of votes failed to take place, and the parties were also organizationally weak in the state. Similar is the case in UP where the SP, BSP, Congress and the RLD all are going through their worst phase. The BSP has some financial issues; the SP is organizationally weak without Shivpal. It would be no surprise if the SP-BSP grand alliance in UP failed to achieve its desired success in the state in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections given that ground realities make clear their organizational weakness and cadre issues.