In 2019, the road to New Delhi goes via Lucknow and the bua and bhatija have realised that.
Let me begin with a forecast about the 2019 polls: now that the alliance between Samajwadi Party(SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is done, a few million man-hours are going to be spent over the next four months in the dhabas, paan shops, taashmandalis, drawing rooms and TV studios debating the outcome of the elections in UP.
Since I am going to face this question a few hundred times, thanks to the sins of my previous birth, here is my answer. This is not a forecast. This is just an invitation to think systematically about the realistic range of possible outcomes.
Let us begin with 2014. The outcome of the Lok Sabha election in UP stunned everyone—laypersons, journalists and pollsters. The BJP swept the state with 71 seats. Add to it two seats for its ally Apna Dal and the NDA tally was an unbelievable 73 out of 80. This was way above the BJP’s best performance at the peak of Ramjanambhoomi movement. This happened because both the swing and the split factor favoured the BJP. The BJP and its allies secured over 43 per cent votes, higher than ever before.
Results of Lok Sabha election in 2014: Divided opposition, positive swing
Its opposition votes were hopelessly divided: the SP secured 22 per cent, the BSP got 20 per cent and the Congress had 6 per cent. They contested all seats against one another and lost all over. A similar story was repeated in the Assembly election of 2017. The BJP more or less retained its vote share, shedding a couple of points and repeated an electoral sweep.
The SP allied with the Congress but that disastrous alliance did not secure even the combined vote share of the two parties in the Lok Sabha election. The BSP added a couple of percentage votes but that did not help.
The lesson was stark: as long as the SP and the BSP fought against each other, they were no match for the BJP. This is what brought bua and bhatija together.
Let us begin our calculation by merging the votes of the SP and the BSP. It is now clear that Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are not going to accommodate the Congress beyond the two dynasty seats. So let us keep the Congress out of this equation. For the time being, let us assume that the Apna Dal votes stay with the BJP, irrespective of its leadership.
In this scenario, the BJP has 43 per cent votes and the SP+BSP 42 per cent votes—and the seats would be as follows.
Step1: Simple effect of SP-BSP coalition, no vote swing
So, we can see that the simple addition of SP and BSP votes will tilt the scales and the BJP would lose nearly half its seats. SP+BSP would get more seats than the BJP despite securing fewer votes.
But alliance is not about simple addition. There is subtraction too. In a real-life complex situation, we know that all the votes of SP and BSP would not come together. The BSP is down to its hardcore, loyal votes, which it can more or less fully transfer. But all the SP votes may not transfer to the BSP.
Let us assume that the BSP would be able to transfer 90 per cent of its votes to the SP, while the latter would transfer 70 per cent of its votes to the BSP. Let us also assume that the remaining votes would be distributed among all other parties.
Let us also take into account the impact this alliance would have on the Congress. Clearly, a lot of the Congress’ existing votes will shift to the SP-BSP alliance and some will move to the BJP. The grand old party may be able to retain only half of its existing votes.
Essentially, this would mean that the simple arithmetic of SP+BSP would be diluted and the BJP would retain upper hand with 46 seats.
Step 2: Complex effect of SP-BSP coalition, no vote swing
Now let us take the final step. The calculation so far assumes that the BJP will retain its vote share of 2014. Everyone knows that it is not going to happen.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is nowhere close to his popularity of 2014 or even 2017. The initial fascination with demonetisation has swung to the other end of the pendulum. Farmers are facing one crisis after another: droughts, demonetisation, collapse in prices and now the menace of stray cattle. Opinion polls have recorded a sharp decline in the Yogi government’s popularity. The law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh is a joke. The promise of loan waiver has turned sour. Sugar cane farmers are waiting for their dues to be paid and potato farmers are desperate to recover their costs.
The real question is: what would be the swing against BJP?
The table below presents three scenarios. If the BJP can somehow contain its vote loss to just 3 per cent points it, would retain 36 seats, about half of its tally last time. The second scenario looks at a moderate swing of 6 per cent points against the BJP.
Remember, that would still put the BJP above its vote share in any other recent election in the state. But the alliance effect is so powerful that it would be reduced to just 23 seats, down 50 seats from its tally in 2014. The SP-BSP alliance will have 54 seats in its kitty in that situation.
And should the swing be as much as 9 per cent, the BJP would still enjoy a decent vote share, but it would be decimated in terms of seats. In that eventuality, it could be reduced to just 12 seats, compared to 65 for the alliance.
Step 3: Scenarios of swing against BJP with complex alliance effect
Which of these is the realistic outcome? Frankly, we don’t know. What we do know is the trend of the three Lok Sabha by-elections in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana held within the last one year.
The BJP lost all the three to SP-BSP-RLD alliance. But it was not just opposition unity. In each of these seats the BJP lost its own vote share. The average vote swing against the BJP compared to its performance in 2014 in these three seats was 8.7 per cent. If that is replicated, the third scenario is not all that improbable.
I reiterate, I am not making a forecast here. This is a very rough model. There are still many imponderables here. Can the SP-BSP alliance offer any real hope to the voters? Would the BJP succeed in communal polarisation?
What happens during ticket distribution and the final campaign? And what about small allies like Apna Dal and Rashtriya Lok Dal?
What this simple exercise shows is that if the SP-BSP alliance holds on the ground, the BJP is looking at anything from a serious setback to a decimation in Uttar Pradesh.
Let me end with another forecast: if there ever was an election where the cliché ‘The road to New Delhi goes via Lucknow’ was more than a trite reminder of the number of seats in the state, it is going to be the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. One in every four of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seats in the current Lok Sabha came from Uttar Pradesh. ‘How many seats will the BJP lose in UP’ will decide whether it ends up close to 200 or somewhere near 150 seats in the next Lok Sabha.
Yogendra Yadav is National President of Swaraj India.