Lok Sabha elections 2019: Alliance math formidable challenge for BJP in Uttar Pradesh
The BJP’s gains from a divided Opposition will be limited in 2019. The SP, BSP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) have significantly increased the index of Opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh with a pre-poll pact in place.Updated: Mar 21, 2019, 13:12 IST
How many seats will the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) get in Uttar Pradesh in 2019? Predictions are always hazardous. However, retracing how the BJP actually achieved what it did in 2014 can help us understand the state of play.
Logically speaking, the BJP’s overwhelming victory – it won 73 out of the 80 seats in the state along with its ally in 2014 – was an outcome of two factors: an extraordinary vote share and a fragmented Opposition. BJP’s Uttar Pradesh vote share of 42.6% in 2014 is the highest any party has managed after the 1984 elections. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) had a combined vote share of 42.1% in 2014. This was nearly the same as the BJP’s, but almost equally divided.
The BJP’s gains from a divided Opposition will be limited in 2019. The SP, BSP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) have significantly increased the index of Opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh with a pre-poll pact in place. Even if one were to assume that party-wise vote shares remain unchanged between 2014 and 2019, the BJP’s UP tally could come down significantly due to the alliance. This number could vary, depending on whether SP-BSP alliance galvanises each party’s supporters or drives them away. This has been discussed in detail by Neelanjan Sircar in March 20 edition of HT.
Let us now come to the question of the BJP’s vote share in 2014. A party can increase its vote share in two ways. It can either eat into the support base of other major players, or attract floating voters, who are not aligned with any particular party.
HT has looked at vote shares of four major political players – Congress, BJP, BSP and various factions of the Janata Dal – since the 1989 Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh to understand the role of these two processes in 2014. Our analysis uses the database created by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data at Ashoka University and excludes parliamentary constituencies which were carved out to form Uttarakhand in 2000. The Janata Dal factions include Janata Dal (1989-1998), Janata Party (primarily 1991), RLD (1999 onwards) and the SP (1996 onwards).
A sum of vote shares of these big four political players suggests that while it was the second highest in 2014, political consolidation behind four major players in 2014 was not unprecedented. This suggests that interparty transfer rather than floating voter consolidation had a bigger role in the BJP’s extraordinarily high vote share in 2014.
Let us look at the Janata Dal factions and the BSP first. Their combined vote share of 42.7% in 2014 is not the lowest during our period of analysis. In 1991, their vote share was 41.4%. Why did the BJP not sweep Uttar Pradesh like it did in 2014?
The simple answer is that the Congress had still not collapsed in 1991. Its 1991 vote share of 15% was twice the 7.5% it got in 2014. In fact, the combined vote share of the Congress and BJP in the 1991 and 2014 elections is the same (49.8%). Actually, any significant revival/decline in fortunes of the Congress or the BJP in our selected time-frame has always come at the cost of the other party. This makes sense, given the fact that both these parties compete for almost one-fifth (22%, according to the 2015-16 National Family and Health Survey) of the non-Muslim upper caste population of the state.
The Janata Dal factions and the BSP are seen as OBC and Dalit centric parties in the state. While these two have seen tactical upper caste support, they have never been the strategic choice for upper caste voters.
That the BJP has consolidated upper caste votes in its recent dominance in Uttar Pradesh is clear from the fact that the share of upper caste MLAs in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 was the highest since 1980 as was pointed by Gilles Verniers from Ashoka University in an Indian Express article.
To be sure, the combined vote share of the SP-BSP in 2014 was significantly lower than what it had been since the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. What explains this? One possible explanation could be that both the SP and the BSP ended up looking like parties for their subcastes (Yadavs and Dalits) rather than broad caste groups (OBCs and Dalits). In other words, the BJP achieved a rainbow Hindu consolidation comprising upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav dalits.
How does this discussion help us in making sense of the 2019 scenario in Uttar Pradesh?
Two vulnerabilities can be underlined for the BJP. If the Congress is able to make even a small dent in the BJP’s upper caste support base, it would be a net loss for the latter. Priyanka Gandhi hopping across temples in the state instead of waxing eloquent about secularism or championing Muslim politics could be a strategy to do just that.
Given the fact that the BJP’s recent rise in Uttar Pradesh has led to a resurgence of upper castes in the state’s politics, the dominant Yadav and Jatav leadership in the SP and the BSP has a real opportunity to strike deals with other OBC-Dalit groups in the elections. Whether or not such processes are at play would be clearer once the ticket distribution is over in the state.