With Lok Sabha elections drawing to a close, all eyes will now be on Uttar Pradesh, the state known to make or break political fortunes in India.
The big questions playing on everyone’s mind are how will the BJP perform in the state and can the Akhilesh Yadav-Mayawati gathbandhan click with the voters?
The gathbandhan was formed on the assumption that Akhilesh could transfer the SP votes to the BSP and Mayawati could get Dalit votes transferred to the SP.
But calculations on paper often miss the bigger picture on the ground. Past precedents, as well as current realities, tell us that both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav may not be able to successfully achieve 100 per cent transfer of votes, and this will blunt their chances against the BJP.
2014 & now
In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) got 22.2 per cent votes and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 19.6 per cent votes in Uttar Pradesh. If we club them and presume cent-per cent transfer of votes, then the gathbandhan vote share will be 41.8 per cent.
In 2014, the BJP’s vote share in UP was 42.3 per cent, and its ally Apna Dal’s was 1 per cent. Comparing these numbers, the NDA with a 43.3 per cent vote share has a slight edge of 1.5 percentage points over the SP-BSP gathbandhan.
Where SP stands
Transferring votes to an alliance partner is easier said than done.
Let us look at the Samajwadi Party first. Akhilesh Yadav is not known for his ability to get his party’s votes transferred. In 2017 assembly polls in UP, he failed to transfer the SP votes to the Congress, which polled just 6.25 per cent votes and won seven seats of the 114 it contested.
In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the SP had lost votes across all communities expect Muslims – the party’s Muslim vote share went up by 28 per cent. (Source: Lokniti-CSDS National Election Studies Data)
But now, even these Muslim votes can get divided after the Congress launched an effective campaign in the state and made Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Scindia the party’s campaign in-charge in eastern and western UP.
For some Muslims in UP, gathbandhan candidates are not serious bidders in national politics. Since the Congress has better national credentials than the SP-BSP combine, some Muslims are likely to vote for the Congress where gathbandhan candidates appear weak. For instance, in Kanpur, Congress candidate and former Union minister Sriprakash Jaiswal has a direct fight with BJP despite a gathbandhan candidate contesting from the seat.
Further, there has been no evaluation as yet on the negative impact of the resentment of the guillotined candidates of the Samajwadi Party. With Akhilesh Yadav agreeing to contest on 37 seats, one less than Mayawati’s BSP, hopes of several SP ticket aspirants were dashed.
Another area of concern for the SP is retaining its core supporters – the Yadavs. Many of them are likely to have shifted to Akhilesh’s uncle Shivapal Yadav’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party.
And finally, the animosity between Yadavs and Dalits (BSP supporters) runs deep in UP and that is why transfer of votes for either of the parties in the gathbandhan is a huge challenge. Yadavs believe they have been falsely implicated under SC/ST Act in the past. Yadavs are not known to vote for the BSP except when a Yadav is contesting on the party ticket.
Where Mayawati stands
In political circles, Mayawati is seen as a leader who can successfully transfer the BSP’s Dalit votes to whichever party she desires. But this traditional outlook and her hold over Dalits have been challenged in recent elections.
In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Mayawati lost 16 per cent Jatav and 35 per cent ati-Dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh (Source: Lokniti-CSDS Data 2014). This trend continued in 2017 UP assembly election as well (Source: Lokniti-CSDS Data 2017). This shows that Dalits no longer see Mayawati as their only leader.
The BJP, on the other hand, has performed well in predominantly Dalit constituencies. It won all the 17 reserved constituencies in 2014 and 70 of the 86 reserved assembly seats in 2017 state elections. The party has a huge contingent of Dalit MPs and MLAs who can access Dalit areas and build support for the party.
Also, given the Dalit-OBC animosity owing to the socio-economic conflict that defined their political positions for almost quarter of a century (1995-2019), Dalits mostly voted for the BJP where they did not find the elephant, the BSP symbol.
Like the SP, the BSP too faces the threat of the cumulative resentment of ticket aspirants, who had to be overlooked after the gathbandhan was formalised, affecting its performance in the elections. This resentment can work against the coalition’s vote transfer strategy.
Who has the edge?
Given the challenges the SP-BSP alliance faces in Uttar Pradesh, arithmetic of gathbandhan vote share may not hold as per the expectation of both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav.
If that happens, all eyes will be on depreciation of their cumulative vote share. A rough, but liberal, estimate, based on my field trips, can put the gathbandhan vote share at 35 per cent.
In this scenario, the more interesting question would be: what is the Congress’ vote share in 2019? The Congress’ vote share in UP was 7.5 per cent in 2014 and 6.25 per cent in 2017 assembly election in UP.
If Priyanka Gandhi makes any impact on the Congress’ electoral fortune, one can expect a marginal rise in its vote share to 10 per cent. If we club gathbandhan and the Congress’ votes, the total comes to 45 per cent.
If one were to add 10 per cent votes of marginal parties and Independents (their vote share in 2014 and 2017 elections), then the combined vote share of non-NDA players reaches 55 per cent.
Theoretically, the remaining 45 per cent votes go to the BJP-led NDA. But on the ground, the alliance is likely to shed a few percentage points in its vote share. As per a rough estimate, it can maintain its 2014 vote share of 43 per cent.
As gathbandhan and the BJP are frontrunners in UP, their respective vote shares could be approximately 35 per cent and 45 per cent. That gives BJP/NDA advantage over gathbandhan.
In 2014, the difference between the BJP and the SP was approximately 20 percentage points whereas in 2017, the difference between BJP/NDA and the SP-Congress gathbandhan was 10 percentage points. Should the BJP have a lead over gathbandhan by 10 percentage points in Uttar Pradesh this time, it can surprise us all on 23 May.
The author is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics (CSSP), Kanpur