What the political realignment in Uttar Pradesh means

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) defeat in the recent UP Lok Sabha bypolls has been mainly attributed to the successful alliance between two erstwhile arch-rivals: the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The brute arithmetic in favour of the alliance proved to be unassailable for the BJP even in Gorakhpur, a seat held by the party since 1991, vacated recently by chief minister Yogi Adityanath. The smooth sailing of the SP-BSP alliance in the UP bypolls and evident bonhomie among the leaders of the two parties after tasting victory have raised expectations of a similar front being put up against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Evidence from post-poll surveys conducted by the Lokniti research programme at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) suggests that the narrowing social base of both parties since 2014 has made it politically pragmatic for them to bury differences and come together. Our analysis also suggests that the combined electoral strength of the two parties will pose a formidable challenge for the BJP in the country’s largest state, which sends 80 Lok Sabha members to the 543-strong Lower House.

The decision of the SP and BSP to explore the possibility of an electoral alliance seems to be driven by the threat that the BJP poses to their respective electoral bases. As the chart illustrates, the BJP has been very effective in mobilizing social groups which were reluctant to vote for it prior to 2014. The party has managed to wean away non-Yadav OBC (other backward classes) voters from the SP and non-Jatav Dalit voters from the BSP.

The BJP’s ability to mobilize support among these social groups during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 UP elections sent alarm bells ringing in the state as it restricted the support base of the SP to Muslims and Yadavs, and that of the BSP to Jatav voters. The challenge is more acute for the BSP which has lost a section of its core support base—non-Jatav Dalits—to the BJP. It may be difficult for the BSP to arrest the decline in its support base unless the BJP’s juggernaut in Uttar Pradesh is halted.

At the moment, it seems that a grand alliance is the only effective strategy to consolidate anti-BJP votes, and to potentially damage the BJP’s prospects in the state. At the aggregate level, in both 2014 and 2017, the combined vote share of SP and BSP exceeded that of the BJP and its allies.

This is also true at the constituency-level, when we compare the seat-wise BJP vote share with the combined vote share of BSP and SP. Of the 73 Lok Sabha constituencies that the BJP and Apna Dal won in 2014, the vote share of the BJP alliance was higher than the combined vote-share of the SP-BSP in only about half of them (39 seats). More importantly, only in 22 of the 73 seats did the BJP have a lead of more than 10 percentage points over the SP-BSP alliance.

In the 2017 UP elections, the BJP alliance’s vote share was greater than the combined vote share of the Congress, SP and BSP in 116 of the 325 assembly constituencies won by the BJP and its partners.

The SP and BSP may have successfully tested waters in Gorakhpur and Phulpur but it remains to be seen if they actually decide to extend this cooperation to 2019 Lok Sabha elections. If they do so, the road ahead would not be entirely bereft of challenges. The top leadership will have to convince the local leadership and keep party workers enthused to campaign for their respective alliance partners. Negotiations on seat sharing are unlikely to be smooth. Also, anti-BJPism cannot be the only glue that holds the alliance together. Unless there is a broader synergy between the parties and their workers, the alliance may unravel. How the Congress engages with the SP-BSP alliance could also have an impact on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

All eyes will be on these dynamics over the next few months as Uttar Pradesh is known to determine national fortunes.livemint

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