How a Congress-BSP pact can be a game changer in MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh
The Congress accused the Janata Dal (Secular) of being the Bharatiya Janata Party’s “B-team” during the campaign for the Karnataka assembly elections.
Post-results, it offered unconditional support to the JD(S) to prevent the BJP from forming a government in the state. The Congress’s actions show that its posturing vis-à-vis the JD(S) was rooted more in rhetoric rather than any ideological conviction. This is bad strategy. An HT analysis shows that the Congress and JD(S) could have won as many as two-thirds of the total seats in the assembly had they contested the elections together.
Whether or not the Congress has learnt its lessons from this episode will be tested in the next election cycle, when the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh go to the polls. HT’s analysis shows that a pre-poll alliance between the Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) could be a game changer in these elections. Here’s why.
We look at the vote shares of the three relevant parties — the Congress, the BJP and the BSP in the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assembly elections since 2003. Except the 2008 Rajasthan elections, the BJP has won all of these while the Congress has been the second largest party. The BSP has a much smaller footprint in terms of vote share and seat share in these states. But what is noteworthy is that the combined vote share of the Congress and the BSP exceeded that of the BJP in six out of these nine elections (See Chart 1).
To be sure, the effect is different across states. The BSP-Congress vote share taken together has always been greater than the BJP’s in Chhattisgarh, while it is not always the case in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Our analysis shows that the Congress seems to have been following a sub-optimal electoral strategy in these states. Except the 2008 Rajasthan elections, it has always had a lower seat share to vote share ratio than the BJP in these states. The seat share to vote share ratio is a good proxy of how effective a party is when it comes to converting popular support into seats in a first-past-the-post system (See Chart 2).
The BSP’s seat share to vote share ratio has been much lower than that of both the Congress and the BJP. This performance, however, needs to be evaluated in the context of the wider strategy of the party. The BSP made its first entry into the Lok Sabha in the 1989 elections. Between 1989 and 1999, it used to contest less than 250 Lok Sabha seats. This changed drastically 2004 onwards, when the party started putting up candidates in many more seats. It is reasonable to believe that the BSP’s success in Uttar Pradesh gave a boost to its ambition of becoming a pan-India party of Dalits. The strategy yielded results when the BSP was recognised by the Election Commission of India as a national party in 2013.
This achievement, however, was followed by a disaster when the party failed to win even one Lok Sabha seat out of the 503 it contested in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections (See Chart 3).
This failure was followed by another poor showing in the 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh when the BSP ended with its worst ever seat share to vote share ratio in the assembly (See Chart 4).
The short point is that while its aggressive strategy of contesting elections alone helped the BSP expand its national footprint, it seems to have become counter-productive in terms of its seat-winning ability in recent times.
It is this experience that has perhaps led to a rethink in the party and pushed it towards a pre-poll alliance with the Samajwadi Party by supporting the latter’s candidates in the bypolls for the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh.
Our analysis shows that both the Congress and the BSP could improve their seat tally in a big way by entering into a pre-poll alliance in the forthcoming elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. At a time when the anger of Dalits is emerging as an important political fault line, the success of such an alliance could be greater.
However, it is the Congress which would have to take the initiative for making this happen — for two reasons. One, the BSP’s reluctance to enter into pre-poll alliances comes from the fact that while Dalits, its core support base, transfer their votes to the alliance partners, reciprocity in transfer of votes for BSP candidates is often missing. The Congress would have to do something tangible to assuage these concerns. Two, a large section of Dalits in India was invested in the Congress for a considerable period after independence.
It was disenchantment with the Congress’s commitment to furthering the cause of social justice that led to creation of parties such as the BSP in the first place.
It would take more than the promise of electoral gains for the BSP to be able to convince its support base to invest in the Congress once again.