In this election, the alliance in Uttar Pradesh between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), referred to as the mahagathbandhan, was based on the premise that both parties will ensure the transfer of their votes to each other in their corresponding seats. They had tasted the success of this experiment in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections in early 2018 and a few months later in Kairana as well, when the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) joined this alliance. However, the success didn’t last long. The vote transfer that worked in the by-elections did not fully materialise when it mattered most.
Voting by caste
An analysis of the voting choice of various castes and communities as captured by the post-poll survey helps us understand why the mahagathbandhan failed so spectacularly in the Lok Sabha election. First, Jats, who have historically voted for the RLD but have moved away from it since 2014, did not throw their weight behind the alliance in western U.P. Not only did they not vote for SP and BSP candidates, but most of them also did not vote for RLD candidates. According to the survey, 91% of Jats seem to have ended up backing the BJP.
Second, the consolidation of the SP’s core voters, the Yadavs, behind the mahagathbandhan was not as strong as it should have been. While three-fifths of them did vote for the mahagathbandhan, this is lower than what is was in the 2017 Assembly election, when over three-fourths of them voted for the Congress-SP alliance.
Third, the BSP was able to hold on to its core Jatav vote (over three-fourths of them voted for the mahagathbandhan), but it failed to ensure the backing of non-Jatav Dalits for the alliance, as nearly half of them (48%), like in 2017, voted for BJP candidates.
Fourth, even as three-fourths of the Muslim vote went to the mahagathbandhan, about 15% was also cornered by the Congress, particularly in seats contested by the SP. This may well be one of the reasons for the fairly large number of defeats of SP candidates compared to BSP candidates.
Fifth, the consolidation of the upper castes, the Kurmis and Koeris, and the lower Other Backward Classes (OBCs) behind the BJP was far stronger than the consolidation of Jatavs, Muslims and Yadavs. Over four-fifths of upper castes, fourth-fifths of Kurmis and Koeris, and three-fourths of lower OBCs voted for the BJP. Along with non-Jatav Dalits, the three constitute around half of U.P.’s population. On the other hand Jatavs, Muslims and Yadavs together add up to around 40% of the State’s population.
How castes and communities voted in the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh
Party voted for Lok Sabha 2019 (Uttar Pradesh)
|Congress (%)||BJP+ (%)||MGB (%)||Others (%)|
|Other Upper caste||5||84||10||1|
(Source: Lokniti-CSDS Post Poll Survey in Uttar Pradesh. Note: Figures may not add up to 100 due to rounding.)
Popularity of Narendra Modi
Caste aside, the survey also indicates that had it not been for the popularity of Narendra Modi, who was the prime ministerial preference of 47% of the respondents, the BJP may not have been able to win the number of seats that it did in the State. The survey found the BJP-led State government to be fast losing popularity. When respondents were asked to indicate their chief ministerial preference in the event of a snap Assembly election in the State, 28% took SP chief Akhilesh Yadav’s name and 27% took the name of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The State government’s performance too wasn’t rated all that well — 83% of the respondents reported the stray cattle menace in their area to be a serious issue and over half of them blamed the State government for it. What’s more, a far greater proportion of respondents reported that they were dissatisfied with the performance of their sitting MLAs and MPs than satisfied. However, it seems that none of these State or local issues mattered in a national election. When it came to voting in the Lok Sabha election, most voters voted in Mr. Modi’s name. The survey found that about 25% of the BJP’s voters would not have voted for the BJP had Mr. Modi not been the prime ministerial candidate of the party. Put simply, this means that in the absence of Mr. Modi, the BJP may have got around 12% less votes than it actually did. What’s more, in response to another question about what would had mattered to them more while voting in the election — the party or the candidate — one-fourth of BJP voters in the State chose neither of the two options and instead spontaneously said Mr. Modi.
No alternative narrative
To conclude, the Congress and the mahagathbandhan could not give an alternative narrative to the electorate. They did make an effort to capitalise on unemployment, agrarian distress, demonetisation, GST, etc., but could neither convince the voters nor offer a credible alternative. Their campaign was merely negative, with calls to oust Mr. Modi who the survey found to be extremely popular.
Moreover, they were banking only on caste arithmetic. On the other hand, the BJP was successful in consolidating the majority community yet again through its own social engineering. This throws up new challenges for the SP and the BSP, which seem to have been outsmarted by the BJP at their own game. The two parties need to rework their understanding of caste equations.
( Mirza Asmer Beg is Professor of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh; Shashikant Pandey is Professor of Political Science, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow; and Sudhir Khare is Associate Professor (Retd.) DAV College, Azamgarh )