Chasing the vote in Uttar Pradesh


With its oversized cast of fiercely competing players, continually changing caste and communal loyalties, and a host of other imponderables, political Uttar Pradesh can be a challenge for the shrewdest of pundits. As the State goes to the polls, the picture is extraordinarily hazy, with none among the many claimants seen to have a clear edge. Logic and ground reality suggest that, in the main, the fight will be between the incumbent Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party. But this has not stopped Congress propagandists from foreseeing a Rahul Gandhi-led sweet victory. The Bharatiya Janata Party, for its part, is looking to Uma Bharti to recreate the magic of the 1990s when the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and forward castes came together to propel the Hindutva party to power. Since then, of course, new caste combinations have taken hold, resulting in power shifting from the mainstream parties to their regional, ‘subaltern' counterparts. Will the trend change in 2012? For years, no party could carve a majority out of U.P's fragmented polity until Mayawati, in a remarkable display of political acumen, conjured up the numbers through a fusion experiment that united the Dalits and the forward castes. The BSP's 2007 success was based on a simple calculation. It had a transferable Dalit vote of about 15-20 per cent upon which a block of other castes could be built, making the party unbeatable. For the forward castes, disillusioned with the BJP and desperate to oust Mulayam Singh, the BSP was the perfect fit.

Five years on, the ‘Brahmin jodo' (add the Brahmins) chemistry has largely dissipated. Clearly, it was expediency rather than a genuine change of heart that brought the forward castes into the BSP fold then. The BSP, however, continues to be uniquely positioned: it has the largest committed core vote which is also transferable. Indeed, even in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, seen as a low point for the BSP, the party topped the chart in terms of votes, polling about 27.5 per cent to the SP's 23.3 per cent. The Congress was ahead of the BSP by one seat (BSP: 20; Congress: 21), but on a narrow vote base of around 18 per cent. It turned out that the Congress benefited from a concentration of votes in the constituencies it won, whereas the BSP suffered seat losses disproportionate to its three percentage point vote erosion. The SP more or less maintained its vote base. Today, the BSP is admittedly in trouble, battling anti-incumbency, internal dissent arising from the dismissal of over a dozen Ministers, and desertion by forward castes. The SP's Muslim vote is under threat from the Congress and a string of Muslim parties. The Congress, its high-pitched campaign notwithstanding, has no core vote on which to build a winning strategy. For the parties as much as the pundits, it is time for a reality check.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 6:38:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/chasing-the-vote-in-uttar-pradesh/article2766572.ece

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