As far as arithmetic goes, a better pre-poll alliance is not possible.
It’s rare to see a pre-poll alliance as perfect as the one the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) have struck in Uttar Pradesh. Here’s what makes the alliance formidable.
1. BSP and SP don’t overlap: On most of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, the two parties don’t overlap.
In fact, in five of the state’s six regions, it’s pretty clear which party has greater sway.
In western UP’s 15 seats, it is mostly the BSP that holds sway. Rohilkhand, the region in and around Bareilly, is largely a SP stronghold. It has 11 seats.
In most of Awadh’s 12 seats, it is the BSP; Doaba’s 9 seats are mostly part of the Yadav belt; most of Purvanchal’s 29 seats see the BSP dominating the fight with the BJP.
In Bundelkhand’s four Lok Sabha seats, the BSP and the SP will have to come to a finer understanding as they all have a good presence there.
Other than these four seats, the SP and the BSP will be able to easily distribute most seats among themselves, with little risk of rebellion and resentment.
In the 2014 elections, the BSP won zero seats but stood second in 34 of the 80 seats. The SP won five seats and stood second in another 31 seats. No wonder, the two parties have easily decided to contest 38 seats each.
2. Your party, my candidate: What about the seats, such as the four in Bundelkhand, where past results don’t make it clear which party should contest? In such seats, the two parties are likely to apply the “your party, my candidate” formula. This formula tries to keep both sides happy and prevents resentment and rebellion among party workers.
This has been tried and tested in the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypoll, where the leader of a locally influential Nishad Party contested from a Samajwadi Party ticket and won.
Once again, the formula was used in the Kairana bypoll in May 2018. Samajwadi Party leader Tabassum Hasan joined the Rashtriya Lok Dal just days before contesting and won the bypoll. She’s now likely to re-contest on an SP ticket.
This formula could be applied to resolve the differences between the SP and the BSP over the few remaining seats. It also allows the alliance to potentially accommodate other small parties here and there.
3. Congress in supporting role: The best part of the SP-BSP alliance is that the Congress is not part of it. The Congress’ vote-bank outside Amethi and Raebareli is insignificant.
If at all there’s any loyal vote outside these two constituencies, it is the upper caste vote that would rather go with the BJP than with the SP or the BSP. Mayawati specifically said in her press conference that the Congress vote was not transferred to the BSP in their 1996 alliance and neither was it transferred to the Samajwadi Party in 2017.
All indications are that the SP-BSP alliance will work out a tactical understanding with the Congress on a seat-by-seat basis. The Congress is likely to play the role of a “vote katua” to cut the BJP’s votes and help the SP-BSP candidates win. The Congress can achieve this by putting up candidates belonging to those castes that are likely to vote for the BJP. This is going to be especially effective where the Congress puts up Brahmin candidates.
It’s a seat by seat alliance now. There are six seats where the Congress stood second to the BJP in 2014. On these seats, it is logical that the SP-BSP should play “vote-katua”. These are Ghaziabad, Barabanki, Kushinagar, Saharanpur, Moradabad and Lucknow. (However, with Azharuddin’s exit from Moradabad and Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s from the Congress, the party’s prospects in these seats are in doubt.)
In 2014, the SP did not put up candidates in Amethi and Raebareli, but the BSP did. In 2019 even the BSP will give these seats a miss, thus putting to rest any hopes Smriti Irani had of giving Rahul Gandhi a tough time in Amethi.
4. What about RLD? It is obvious that the SP-BSP alliance has left two seats for the Jat-led Rashtriya Lok Dal. Baghpat is left for party patriarch Ajit Singh and Mathur for son Jayant Chaudhry. The RLD expects more, which is why the alliance has not been announced. The SP could accommodate the RLD in one or two more seats in west UP, such as Muzaffarnagar, with the “your candidate, my party” formula.
If the alliance works out, it could help the BSP on a number of seats in west UP, which have a sizeable Jat presence.
The BJP did extremely well in this region in 2014 due to the anti-Muslim polarisation of Hindu voters after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The BJP could do well again here if the RLD alliance with SP-BSP does not work out.
5. Will Yadavs vote for the BSP? Pre-poll alliances work if participating parties are able to transfer their votes to each other. The BSP’s core voters, Jatavs, easily vote for another party on the instructions of the party and its leader, Mayawati. But will SP’s Yadav voters vote for the BSP candidates?
They likely will. Thanks to the BJP’s sweeping victories in 2014 and 2017, Yadavs, Dalits and Muslims alike feel marginalised, cut off from access to power, and discriminated on account of Thakur domination in state and society. The reason why this alliance is taking place is because of the pressure from voters – otherwise, the BSP does not like to do pre-poll alliances. Yadavs know that this election they will have to sink or sail together with the BSP.
6. 2019 is not 1993: The BSP and SP have contested an election in a pre-poll alliance before. It was the 1993 Uttar Pradesh assembly election. The alliance was successful in so far as it managed to make Mulayam Singh the chief minister, just 12 months after the Babri Masjid demolition.
However, the BJP still emerged as the single largest party with 177 of the undivided state’s 422 assembly constituencies. The SP and the BSP together won 176 seats. These numbers are cited to show that even if the SP and the BSP come together, the BJP may be able to hold some ground.
Elections 2019 are not the same as 1993’s. For one, that election in 1993 was the first after the Babri Masjid demolition. 2019 has – so far – neither witnessed a peak Hindutva moment nor a 2014-like Modi wave.
The 1993 election also saw the Congress win 15 per cent vote share and the Janata Dal over 13 per cent. The Janata Dal is now dead, except for its RLD avatar. If the Congress arrives at a tactical understanding with the SP-BSP and if the RLD agrees to settle at two seats, we are looking at an effectively bi-polar contest in Uttar Pradesh of the sort the state hasn’t seen since 1985.
7. 2019 is not 2014: If we add just the SP and the BSP’s 2014 votes in each of the 80 constituencies, the BJP was still ahead in 35 constituencies, with ally Apna Dal getting another seat. The BJP won 71 seats. Therefore, if the SP and BSP neatly transfer each other’s votes, the BJP tally comes down to 35 seats even during the Modi wave.
Considering Brand Modi is on a decline and the party faces double anti-incumbency in the state, the BJP could get less than even 35 seats.
The only way the BJP can beat this arithmetic is by engineering another Modi wave with a dash of polarising Hindutva. Both seem to be somewhat elusive, as of now. Can the party change that in the next two-three months?
The BJP’s hope and strategy is that the swing demographic – non-Yadav OBCs – will stick to it. Yet, this is also the demographic most hurt by cows in the fields, rural distress and unemployment. Even a minor shift of non-Yadav OBCs to the SP-BSP alliance or even the Congress could spell disaster for the BJP.