In the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh assembly poll early next year, the alliance-making process is picking up pace. The contours of rival political formations in the electoral fray will become clearer once the alliances are given finishing touches with deft negotiations.
In UP, this process and how it shapes up in the next few weeks is important for two reasons.
First, there hasn’t been a settled pattern of rival alliances in the last five years, even if the Bharatiya Janata Party and Samajwadi Party have been the two axes along which battle lines were drawn in the 2017 assembly poll and the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.
In 2017, the governing SP had tied up with the Congress to counter the stiff challenge from the BJP and a significant degree of anti-incumbency. Neither the chemistry nor the results worked well, as the combine only went on to win 54 of 403 seats – the SP winning 47 and the Congress seven. Together, they got 28.1 percent vote share, with the SP registering 21.83 percent and the Congress 6.25 percent of votes.
In the 2019 poll, the SP formed an unlikely alliance with its once arch-rival, the Bahujan Samaj Party, but results showed that the transferability of votes didn’t happen to any significant degree. The SP could win only five of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state and had 19.26 percent vote share, while the BSP bagged 10 seats with 17.96 percent vote share.
Along with a dismal outcome in the seat tally, the element of instant chemistry was missing between the SP and Congress in 2017, while the lingering distrust between the SP and BSP could never be overcome to a point at which it could get a warm response from their supporters. Unsurprisingly, both alliances were short-lived and the SP has neither of these parties in the alliance it’s forming for the 2022 poll.
Second, the past five years have also seen new social constituencies being mobilised in the political contest in the state. This has led to the emergence of a number of regional parties whose appeal may not extend beyond a few districts, which can play a role in swelling the final numbers for bigger parties. This is especially true for new political voices emerging from a number of caste groups within the non-Yadav OBC communities as well as non-Jatav groups within the Dalit constituency.
In many ways, this has worked to the disadvantage of the SP and BSP in the last assembly and Lok Sabha polls. Based on his area studies, social scientist Badri Narayan, in his recent book, reflected on how the efforts of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in celebrating the social ancestry and icons among the marginal caste groups have made them part of identity politics. To an extent, this benefited the BJP in the last two elections.
But these groups have now diversified to have numerous representatives ready to side with different big players. The SP is eyeing these parties to broaden its support base, as much as the BJP is trying to retain the advantage by having the more important representatives of these groups within its fold.
One example can be seen in how the Rajbhar community, built around celebrating the legacy of Suheldev, has found voice in political parties that have allied with the BJP as well as the SP now. The Bharatiya Suheldev Janata party, led by Bhim Rajbhar, and the Shoshit Samaj Party, led by Babulal Rajbhar, have tied up with the BJP but the SP has also managed to strike an alliance with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party. Constituting around 18 percent of the electorate in eastern UP districts, the Rajbhars and their emergent political voices cannot be overlooked in firming up alliances.
The SP’s efforts at making inroads into the non-Yadav OBC support base of the BJP is also visible in its bid to woo the Kurmi votes by allying with the Apna Dal (Kamerwaadi) led by Krishna Patel. The SP hopes this could act as a counter to the BJP’s alliance with Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal (Sonelal). However, the BJP has also persisted with its wider OBC combine. The need to seek the support of the Nishad community, for instance, is evident in the way the party has firmed up its electoral ties with the Nishad Party led by Sanjay Nishad and the Bharatiya Manav Samaj Party led by Kewat Ramdhani Bind.
In the midst of seeking alliances with new parties representing caste groups and area interests, the major players in the state poll are also mindful of the need to retain their traditional strongholds. This week, for instance, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav with his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia). This might help Akhilesh minimise any split in the SP’s Yadav votes, even if Shivpal’s party hasn’t been a major force to reckon with.
Besides these factors, the alliance-making has also been shaped by the need to ride on the momentum of the time in certain pockets. For instance, the SP’s alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal hopes to leverage the recent Jats-led agitation against the farm laws in western UP districts. If the alliance appeals to the electorate in western UP, this could dent the BJP’s impressive performance in western UP in the last two elections.
However, the challenge for the SP-led alliance is that the agitation was largely restricted to the western part of the state, and new social constituencies would need to be explored in other parts to invade BJP’s strong bastions. For this purpose, the SP would be eyeing the task of chipping away a part of the support base of its poll ally in 2019 Lok Sabha election.
With the BSP becoming a pale shadow of the formidable electoral force it once was, the SP would be keen on foraying into its non-Jatav votes among Dalits. Moreover, by positioning itself as the principal challenger to the BJP-led alliance, the SP-led formation would like to extend its support among Muslim voters to the point that even those voters from the community who have been voting for the Congress or the BSP opt for the electoral potency of the SP.
As the first-past-the-post poll systems tend to follow the Duverger’s law of tilting towards the two party contests, the same could be said about its incline towards a two-alliances competition. In UP, election studies a bipolar alliance contest shaping up as the key contenders are accommodating region-specific and community-based small parties. This, however, is happening at the cost of the electoral decline of the BSP and the Congress. In order to benefit from the shrinking appeal of the Congress and BSP and the bipolar contest, SP will need to exceed its social base which, even at its best performance of 224 seats in 2021. couldn’t exceed 29 percent vote share. It’s here that the SP is seeking not only new social constituencies in alliance-making but also eyeing the support base of the BSP and Congress.
For the BJP, however, the road to retaining power in Lucknow is also the same: retaining its strongholds and winning a larger part of the new social constituencies it has created in recent years.
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