The failure of the BSP-SP alliance is not about vote transfers
It’s not their inability to transfer votes that resulted in their poor performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections; the two, in fact, did manage to transfer their votes to each other though the degree varied. The reasons for the alliance’s dismal performance lie somewhere elseUpdated: Jun 12, 2019, 19:59 IST
It was after more than two decades of fighting each other in Uttar Pradesh that arch rivals Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) had come together to arrest their electoral slide that started in the 2014 Parliamentary polls. Add to that the results of the 2017 assembly polls and the decline appeared more steep than ever. But after the 2019 Lok Sabha results, they are back to their squabbling days, with Mayawati announcing that she will field her own candidates for the upcoming bypolls.
The reason for the break up of the alliance (gathbandhan) is being cited as the inability of the two parties, which champion the cause of the marginalised, to transfer their captive voters to each other. But let’s not jump to conclusions. It’s not their inability to transfer votes that resulted in their poor performance in the 2019 elections; the two parties did in fact manage to transfer their votes to each other, though their degrees varied. The reasons for their dismal performance lie elsewhere.
The 2019 elections witnessed a decline in the number of core supporters — Yadavs in the SP’s case, Dalits in the BSP’s — who traditionally voted for the two parties. Besides, the non-Yadav Other Backward Class (OBC) no longer supports the SP; similarly, the BSP, too, can’t count on the non-Jatav Dalits.
The post-poll surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies clearly indicate that 64% of the Yadavs voted for the alliance’s BSP candidates. For the SP candidates, their number stood at 57%. The Jatavs, on the other hand, voted for the alliance candidates in equal numbers irrespective of the party that represented the alliance; the surveys indicate that 75% of them voted for the gathbandhan. It was, thus, the loss in the numbers of their core voters that did them in.
This was not the case in previous elections since the emergence of these parties after the beginning of Mandal politics: more than 80% of Jatavs voted for the BSP, and more that 70% of Yadavs for the SP. Surveys indicate that a quarter of the Yadav votes shifted towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); some of them even preferred Shivapal Yadav’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party. As for Mayawati’s Jatav votes, the BJP managed to make some dent in that too; 18% of them voted for it.
The gathbandhan’s problems did not end there. Non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav lower OBC castes shifted significantly towards the BJP. In the constituencies where there was either an SP or BSP candidate, 39% of non-Jatav Dalits voted for the BSP candidates, while 46% went for the SP candidates. The data indicates that nearly half the non-Jatav Dalits voted for the BJP. Among the non-Yadav OBCs (lower OBC castes), only 17% voted for the gathbandhan, with a large proportion (between 72-75%) shifting towards the BJP. Clearly, it’s an overstatement to say that the gathbandhan failed because the alliance partners failed to transfer their votes to each other. The real reason for the alliance’s poor performance is the massive shift and consolidation of the voters of all other castes — except the Yadav, Jatav and the Muslims — towards the BJP. The electoral arithmetic favoured the alliance but the consolidation of their non-core voters in favour of the BJP unsettled their plan.
The durability of political alliances is always suspect. And their susceptibility to failure goes up if the alliance partners fail to perform as expected. The UP gathbandhan is a case in point. It is natural that the partners will rethink their future electoral strategy if the alliance did not work out. For example: Mayawati’s announcement to contest the upcoming by polls alone.
One would have expected that the announcement to break away from the alliance will come from the SP since it performed much worse compared to its ally. It won only five seats, the same as in the 2014 elections, and polled 17.9% votes. It is the BSP that gained from the alliance, winning 10 seats with 19.3% votes. In the 2014 polls, the party had drawn a blank.
The SP was the runner-up in 31 seats but was a distant second in 25 of them. It was only in six constituencies that the party lost by less than 50,000 votes. The BSP, however, emerged as the runner-up in 21 seats, out of which it lost six by less than 50,000 votes. Clearly, the BSP fared better than the SP. And looking at the narrow margins with which the BSP lost many seats, a slight deviation could have easily helped get a few more seats.
These results, however, should not be read as an end of alliance politics. But they certainly highlight the limits of alliance politics based only on negativity. Alliances, in short, can still be successful if they are formed on positive agendas.
Sanjay Kumar is professor and director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)The views expressed are personal