The BJP has made a monumental comeback in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly election. The party alone has been able to win 255 seats with 41.3 per cent vote share. The BJP alliance has 274 seats. However, the principal opponent, the Samajwadi Party has won 111 seats with 32.1 per cent vote share. The SP alliance all together has been able to win only 124 seats. The result shows that although the BJP alliance won, it could not repeat its performance from 2017 when it won 326 seats. So, the BJP alliance has seen a decline in the number of seats, which is also a sign of anti-incumbency.
I analyse why the SP alliance led by Akhilesh Yadav could not defeat the BJP despite signs of anti-incumbency.
Huge difference in vote share
One component of election analysis is investigating a party’s performance by comparing it to previous elections. From these vote shares, the impact of anti-incumbency on decline or surge in voting percentage is estimated.
In the 2017 assembly election, the BJP had secured 41.57 per cent votes on the seats it had contested whereas the SP got 28.32 per cent votes. The difference between these vote shares is 13 per cent, and so, it has been argued that this much vote swing is impossible in one election. The 2022 result has proven this assertion.
Inability to dent BJP’s vote share
The SP has put herculean effort into consolidating votes of opposition parties. Under this strategy, the party has continuously inducted disgruntled leaders of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and also formed alliances with smaller parties, but these efforts were only meant to consolidate anti-BJP voters. The party did not do enough effort to make a dent in the BJP’s support base.
The only sign of dent in the BJP’s support base appeared when three ministers – Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, and Dharam Singh Singh belonging to the backward castes – resigned from the Yogi Adityanath government and joined the SP. But it appears that their switching sides did not get their caste/community to vote for the SP. The principal reason behind this could be the late joining of these leaders, which prevented them from campaigning among their communities. In fact, during my visit to Lucknow in June 2021, I had heard that these three ministers had made up their minds to jump ship, but Akhilesh Yadav could not expedite the process and waited for the declaration of the model code of conduct. As a result, these leaders could not effectively campaign for the SP.
Weak organisational structure
The SP has never been a cadre-based party. It has always functioned through the personal network of Mulayam Singh Yadav with local leaders across Uttar Pradesh – a patronage-network model. A senior officer of the SP told me, ‘The SP is a party of representatives rather than cadres.’ As a result of this, Akhilesh Yadav has never paid serious attention to building the party organisation. This can be understood by the fact that the state executive council of the SP was announced only in mid-October. The SP supremo had announced on the birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar that his party would launch an ‘Ambedkar Vahini’ to facilitate the entry of Dalit voters, but the name of the national president of this wing was also announced mid-October. The president did not get enough time to constitute his national team and its state executive. The same is the story of the Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha. The national president of this wing was found appointing office bearers during the election period.
These examples show how the SP has been far behind in terms of organisation compared to the BJP, which works like a machine. In addition to this, the BJP runs a year-long training programme for its party office bearers to teach them campaign and election management.
Late campaign and lack of election management skill
Akhilesh Yadav started his election campaign very late. Initially, he remained in his house due to Covid, and when the lockdown was lifted, he was busy shortlisting candidates and building his team. So, he could not use the time between the lifting of lockdown and announcement of the model code of conduct effectively. In addition to this, he didn’t utilise his senior party leaders in terms of campaigning. Only in the last three-four rounds of election, Swami Prasad Maurya and Om Prakash Rajbhar were seen campaigning with helicopters. However, the party has many other leaders who could have made an impact in other constituencies if they were sent for campaigning. But the lack of election management skills showed through.
Last but not the least, Akhilesh Yadav remains un-expressive in terms of communication. He was not able to communicate about the schemes and policies that he would launch if voted to power, and how they would benefit the masses. He was also not able to highlight issues such as cattle menace, corruption of police, and harassment of people by electricity officials. More importantly, he was busy pointing fingers at Yogi Adityanath but could not firmly say that he would solve these problems if voted to power.
The problem of law and order during Akhilesh Yadav’s time as chief minister was glaring, and UP saw small and large communal riots. When he was attacked for it, instead of firmly promising that under no circumstances will he let law and order deteriorate again, Yadav kept avoiding the question, which seems to have reduced the trust of voters.
The result of Uttar Pradesh shows that the political parties wishing to challenge the BJP cannot just rely on anti-incumbency, but have to build a compatible party organisation and offer clear solutions to the problems of the marginalised people.
Arvind Kumar (@arvind_kumar) is a PhD scholar in politics, Royal Holloway, University of London. Views are personal.