Getting a handle on the battle for Uttar Pradesh

There are signs of the political fight in the Assembly election becoming a bi-polar contest between the SP and the BJP

December 10, 2021 12:02 am | Updated September 27, 2023 10:27 am IST

Lucknow: Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav uses bow and arrow during 'Vyapari Mahakumbh' programme at Indira Gandhi Pratishthan, in Lucknow, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (PTI Photo)(PTI12_05_2021_000236A)

Lucknow: Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav uses bow and arrow during 'Vyapari Mahakumbh' programme at Indira Gandhi Pratishthan, in Lucknow, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (PTI Photo)(PTI12_05_2021_000236A)

If one is to go by the number of political parties contesting elections in Uttar Pradesh, it may be seen to be a multi-cornered contest. But the way alliances have been formed, the Assembly elections to be held next year seem to be headed for a clear bipolar contest — between the Samajwadi Party (SP) on the one hand and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the other hand. Having formed alliances with various smaller regional parties, the SP has been able to create a strong perception of being the only challenger to the BJP.

The BJP remains a formidable force being the ruling party, having registered three formidable victories in the State, i.e. the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 Assembly elections. There seems to be some unhappiness with the Yogi Adityanath government, but I do not get a sense of there being strong anti-incumbency against the ruling BJP government, which may be required to defeat this government. The BJP has also managed to form alliances with smaller regional parties which would only help the party in consolidating its support base. The stepping back by farmers in terms of slowly withdrawing their agitation may help in mellowing down Jat anger against the BJP in western U.P., a region that had voted for the BJP in large numbers in the earlier election.

The other contenders for power, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress, seem to be getting marginalised as except for their core supporters, other voters may not vote for either of these parties as it would be seen as their vote getting wasted. Evidence from surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) suggest that nearly a quarter of non-committed voters vote for the party which they think is winning an election as they do not want to waste their vote. Since the BSP and the Congress are seen as parties out of the electoral contest, it would be difficult for these parties to attract votes beyond their core supporters.

The SP’s plan

With the election clearly becoming a bipolar one, these are the questions that are being asked: Has the SP established a lead over the BJP? Is the BJP still firmly holding ground? Will U.P. now be a neck-and-neck contest? It would certainly be difficult to say how the U.P. election is pitched at this moment, but various political developments in the State give one a clear picture. When compared to the 2017 Assembly elections, the support base of the SP is on the rise, while the BJP seems to be vulnerable given some unhappiness with the government among various sections of voters.

It is important to note that the SP has formed an alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Aam Adami Party (AAP), Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) and Krishna Patel’s Apna Dal (Kamerwaadi). This will help the SP in mobilising votes of various Other Backward Classes castes besides the Yadavs who are its core supporters. An alliance with the RLD would help in mobilising the Jat votes in its favour.

Since Jats and non-Yadav OBCs had voted for the BJP in large numbers, this alliance may be able to dent the non-Yadav OBC and Jat support base of the BJP, as there would be some shift among these voters. An alliance with Om Prakash Rajbhar will help the SP in mobilising the votes of Rajbhar community with its sizeable presence in about 20 Assembly constituencies of eastern Uttar Pradesh. An alliance with the Apna Dal (Kamerwaadi) will also bring some Kurmi votes in its fold.

The SP is also in talks about forming an alliance with the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party-Lohia headed by Shiv Pal Yadav and Janwadi Party-Socialist headed by Sanjay Singh Chauhan.

Though there have been large crowds in the various rallies of Akhilesh Yadav, crowds do not always turn into voters. There may be strong supporters, but there are also a sizeable number of “hired people”. The proportion of such a “hired crowd” in election rallies may differ from one party to another. A study of rallies by the CSDS during the 2019 Lok Sabha election showed that 25% of those attending election rallies confirmed having been called or brought to the rally by the party concerned based on some promise or other. The study also indicated that nearly a third of those participating in the rally might attend the rally of other parties as well.

Past experiments

Concerns are being raised why the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav did not even make an attempt to form an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party or with Congress, or with both these parties to consolidate his position. Would not an alliance with the Congress or the BSP, or both, have helped the SP in mobilising greater support, rather than stitching up an alliance with smaller regional parties?

The experiment of contesting elections based on an alliance with the Congress and the BSP has failed miserably in the past. The SP-Congress alliance managed to win only 54 Assembly seats (the SP 47, the Congress 7) during the 2017 Assembly election with a 28.1% vote share (the SP 21.83%, the Congress 6.25%). Similarly, the SP-BSP alliance failed during the 2019 Lok Sabha election — the SP won only 5 seats and polled 19.26% votes while the BSP won 10 Lok Sabha seats, polling 17.96% votes. Going with an experiment which had failed in the past would not have been a sensible strategy despite looking strong on paper; voters would not have trusted such an alliance. Perception plays an important role in Indian elections.

BJP’s outreach

Despite its getting a number of parties as allies, the SP must note that the BJP too has managed to build similar alliances with various other regional parties. The BJP’s alliance is with the Apna Dal (Sonelal) led by Anupriya Patel, the Nishad Party led by Sanjay Nishad, the Bharatiya Manav Samaj Party led by Kewat Ramdhani Bind, the Shoshit Samaj Party led by Babulal Rajbhar, the Bharatiya Suheldev Janata Party led by Bhim Rajbhar, the Bharatiya Samata Samaj Party led by Mahendra Prajapati, the Manavhit Party led by Krishna Gopal Singh Kashyap, the Prithviraj Janshakti Party led by Chandan Singh Chauhan, and the Musahar Aandolan Manch (also known as the Gareeb party) led by Chandramani Vanvasi. These parties do not have a very large support base but are popular among some marginal OBC castes and Dalits.

In a way, these alliances would help the BJP in counter-balancing the SP’s alliance with smaller parties. Finally, the electoral contest in U.P. remains wide open with the BJP having a slight edge as farmers appear to be satisfied with the Government’s move on repealing the farm laws.

Sanjay Kumar is a professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi and a political analyst. The views expressed are personal

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