Both parties successfully transfer votes to each other and have some similarities
I believe that the alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will be successful in Uttar Pradesh.
This is not merely an alliance between two parties but between two social bases: the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the Dalits. While it is true that both these parties do not command the support of all OBC and Dalit groups, it is also true that the Yadavs, who form the caste base of the SP, constitute a large chunk of the OBC population and are likely to attract other OBCs and Most Backward Classes (MBCs) through social networking. Similarly, the BSP’s influence among the Jatavs, who form the largest Dalit community, is likely to attract a few smaller Dalit groups. Many MBC communities, such as the Nishads and Pals, who voted for the SP in the last election have an easy interaction with the Dalits in their everyday life.
Both these parties also successfully transfer votes to each other, which may hold the key to the success of the alliance. At a recent press conference, BSP chief Mayawati said that past experience suggests that the SP and the BSP successfully transfer votes to each other. This happened in the 1993 Assembly election in U.P. and the alliance was successful in forming the government. In the byelections in Phulpur and Gorakhpur in March 2018, even without a formal alliance the BSP’s votes got easily transferred to the SP. This suggests that there is not much work needed to create a chemistry between the two vote bases. The only thing that the alliance needs to do now is disseminate its message to the voters.
Besides these caste-based relationships and electoral calculations, there is also the question of ideology. Ram Manohar Lohia’s ideology and B.R. Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram’s ideology bear certain similarities. Both the leaders talked about bhagidari, or representation to social groups supporting a party in accordance with their strength. This was emphasised in Kanshi Ram’s slogan: “Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari.”
Despite being archrivals otherwise, it is clear that the politics of the BSP and the SP have a lot in common. Many Lohiaites, such as Ramswaroop Verma, had worked hard to create Ambedkarite-Lohiaite unity in the State in the 1970s. So, there are trained cadres in the Lohiaite movement who may emerge as opinion-makers of this unity. This will help disseminate the message of this alliance at the grass-roots level.
The Muslim vote
The Muslims in the State will also view this alliance with some consideration. There is a sense of fear among Muslims given the strong opposition to cow slaughter in the State. Plus they are not adequately represented in politics. Muslims usually vote after assessing the winnability of non-BJP political parties. If many vote for the alliance (some will also vote for the Congress), that would ensure a big victory for the SP and the BSP. Muslims are an important group in the State as they constitute 20% of the population.
If the Congress emerges as a third bloc to make the contest triangular, it would benefit the alliance. If the Congress manages to obtain the votes of the upper castes and the urban middle class from the BJP, this too would help the SP-BSP alliance.
Badri Narayan is the director of the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Institute
An opportunistic alliance at the top will not easily percolate down to the cadres
Given that it is the most populous State in India, Uttar Pradesh is certainly a very important piece in the electoral puzzle of 2019. The much-talked-about mahagathbandhan, or alliance of non-BJP parties, to defeat the BJP is primarily based on the hyper narrative of the prospective success of the BSP-SP alliance in U.P. However, a deep dive into the electoral numbers and political equations makes this citadel look pretty vulnerable.
Examining vote shares
The SP-BSP combine is setting its hopes on the bypoll victories in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana in 2018. There are multiple flaws in this assumption. First, the unsuccessful seat-sharing arrangement in the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Assembly elections between the “arrogant” Congress, as BSP chief Mayawati put it, and the SP and the BSP has pushed the Congress out of the opportunistic mahagathbandhan in U.P. for 2019. With the Congress out of the equation, going by the 2014 Lok Sabha figures, the SP and the BSP, which had a combined vote share of 42.1% then, will have a lower vote share than the BJP and the Apna Dal, which had a vote share of 43.6% then. Even with the addition of the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s vote share, the combined vote share of the BSP-SP-RLD combine (43%) will be lower than that of the BJP-Apna Dal combine.
Second, the bypoll victories came with a wafer-thin margin, with considerably lower voting percentages. In 2014, for example, Yogi Adityanath won the Gorakhpur seat with a margin of more than 3 lakh votes, but in the bypoll, SP candidate Praveen Kumar Nishad won by a margin of only 21,000 votes. Every parliamentary seat has around 2,000 polling booths and every booth has around 1,000 votes. A margin of 21,000 votes can be reversed just by improving the vote share in two or three dozen booths. Besides, bypolls never generate the political euphoria and engagement that a general election does, so there’s a lower voter turnout. The 11 percentage point drop in voting in the Gorakhpur bypoll went against the BJP, which can easily be reversed.
Third, these were just three bypolls where the BSP silently supported the SP and RLD candidates. A larger exercise of seat-sharing for the 80 seats in U.P. between the SP and the BSP and possibly the RLD will not be smooth, given the complex electoral arithmetic and clash of egos. This is the same BSP whose leader publicly declared to never do business with the SP after the infamous guest house attack on her by SP leaders in 1995. The BSP and SP field cadres have worked against each other for more than two decades. An opportunistic alliance at the top will not easily percolate to the cadre level. On whichever seat the SP loses the ticket to the BSP or vice-versa, the respective party cadres will be highly demoralised and the vote share of the two parties will simply not add up in all the seats. The BSP has a far more committed and loyal cadre than the SP. Ms. Mayawati will be able to transfer the BSP’s votes to the SP’s candidates. But in seats where BSP candidates will contest, it will not be easy for SP president Akhilesh Yadav to transfer the SP’s votes to the BSP.
The only motive that this alliance has is to beat the BJP. Caste is its only trump card. But by promulgating an ordinance to reaffirm the SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and by providing 10% reservation to economically weaker members of the upper castes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken even this away from these regional satraps.
Shantanu Gupta is the author of ‘The Monk who became Chief Minister’, a biography of Yogi Adityanath
Victory is not about arithmetic alone, but about chemistry between the allies and their voters
The BSP-SP alliance in U.P. for the general election this year has begun a debate on the wider political implications of this electoral agreement. Uttar Pradesh sends over a seventh of the members of the Lok Sabha and accounts for about one-fourth of the BJP MPs in the House. Any change in electoral equations in the State is bound to have an impact on the nature and structure of political competition in the country in general and the ruling BJP in particular.
On the face of it, this looks like a decidedly winning combination if we consider the electoral arithmetic. Yet, victories and defeats are not merely about simple arithmetic and the mechanical adding up of past trends in voting and extrapolating them to the future. It is also about political chemistry between the allies — between their leaders, their workers, and, more crucially, among their voters.
If one were to just bring together the votes secured by the SP and BSP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in U.P. as well as the Assembly elections of 2017, one notices that in terms of sheer numbers they could pose a formidable challenge to the BJP. In 2014, the SP and BSP together secured just 0.5% votes less than the BJP. In the Assembly elections of 2017, their combined vote tally was a good 9 percentage points ahead of the BJP. This by itself, and the results of the three byelections to the Lok Sabha from the State, must be giving the BJP sleepless nights as it had a 70-plus contingent in 2014 in the Lok Sabha from this State (it is less than 70 now).
Yet, two important factors need to be considered in this discussion. First, it would be politically naïve to simply add up the SP-BSP votes in the past and assume that those numbers would hold for this election. Will this political chemistry work at the ground level? While SP president Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati have patched up and stitched an alliance, will this be logically carried forward by the local party units and leaders? Let’s not forget that the SP and the BSP have been traditional rivals, and the Yadav-Dalit rivalry at the local level has been in some ways a key factor in State politics. A lot depends on the ability of both Mr. Yadav and Ms. Mayawati to persuade their local leaders to sink their differences and work in unison, at least in this election. Both parties are making no pretensions of a long-term alliance. Local leaders of both the SP and the BSP are probably mindful of this fact, even as they are encouraged to work together this time around.
The ability of leaders and cadres to get voters loyal to the party to switch votes to the alliance partner in a seat that they are not contesting will be critical. Past experience has shown that the BSP has not faced a serious challenge in transferring votes to whoever it allied with. On the other hand, the allies of the BSP have found it difficult to convince their supporters to vote for the BSP. This explains why Ms. Mayawati has been so lukewarm to alliances in the past.
Finally, the continued split in the anti-BJP vote in the State will also have to be kept in mind. The Congress has announced its intention to contest all the seats. This will result in a split of the anti-BJP vote. Whether the Congress will reach a tacit or even an open understanding with the SP-BSP combine prior to the elections will be closely watched. This could decidedly tilt the balance in favour of the non-BJP alliance.
At this stage, it looks quite complicated.
Sandeep Shastri is a political scientist and the national coordinator of the Lokniti network