The feud in the Samajwadi Party, the exodus of leaders from the BSP and the Congress’ poor show in opinion polls have reignited talks of a grand alliance in UP to take on the BJP, which appears to be steering ahead and consolidating its position in the aftermath of the post-Uri attack cross-LoC surgical strikes.
In this scheme of things, the Congress, which is ranked fourth in UP since the past 25 years, has become hot property. On one hand, both factions of the SP are interested in an alliance with the Congress, while on the other, the BSP-Congress alliance could potentially change the election scenario in UP.
A Bihar-Like Mahagathbandhan
UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has already sent feelers to the Congress in the event of his breaking away and forming his own party. Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh are said to share a good equation.
Shivpal Yadav has spoken to JD(U) leaders and Sharad Yadav reportedly spoke to Congress President Sonia Gandhi to be part of a grand alliance.
The BSP-Congress negotiations, which reached a dead-end, have now been revived through back-channel talks. Anything between 75-100 seats could be offered to the Congress, which is a good deal for the party.
Wooing the Congress
The Congress has limited presence in UP and polls carried out over the past three months show that its vote share hovers around 6%. The lower share is probably because voters do not see the Congress as an important player in the scheme of things.
1) In a four-cornered contest, 6-8 percent vote bank is crucial
Opinion polls show that the BJP is ahead with 30-32% vote-share and the BSP and SP lagging behind with 25-28% vote share each. With the Congress on their side, the arithmetic could tilt in favour of the party forging alliance with the Congress, and they could surpass the BJP.
2) Decent influence among three key vote banks accounting for 37 percent of UP’s population
The three biggest vote banks of the Congress are Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins. It has decent to good influence among Muslims (average 16% in last five polls), Brahmins (20%) and other Scheduled Castes (non-Jatavs 10%). If the Congress manages to get the same vote share from its anchor vote segments as in the past, it could easily cross the 6% overall vote share mark.
3) Consolidation of minority vote bank
Muslims account for about 20% of the state’s population. Their vote is predominantly anti-BJP and hence, easily transferable to the SP or the BSP. The Congress’ Muslim vote alone translates to 3%, which is very crucial in the forthcoming elections. The Congress’ best performance was in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when it garnered 25% of Muslim votes.
Muslims determine the results of 73 seats where their population is more than 30%. While the SP has traditionally got majority support of the community, its vote share declined from 54% in 2002 to 39% in 2012. It rebounded to 58% in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The BSP's Muslim vote share has more than doubled from 9% in 2002 to 20% in 2012.
Azam Khan recently cautioned the SP about feud within the ruling Yadav family had Muslim voters worried.
Muslims would ally with a party better positioned to defeat the BJP and the SP can’t take them for granted. The Congress’ participation in any grand alliance lends it credibility and converts it into a potent force capable of defeating the BJP.
The SP’s calculation is that with the Congress and the Quami Ekta Dal on its side, it can consolidate Muslim vote and a bulk of the Muslim-Yadav combination (30%) would pull it through.
My own estimate is that the Congress vote bank is strong in 50-75 seats where it could do very well in alliance with either the SP or the BSP. In a situation where 200+ seats can help form the government, a party that can win 50+ seats becomes extremely important.
Vote Transferability is Key
In the past, the BSP has raised question marks over the Congress’ ability to transfer votes. Mayawati believes that any such alliance would benefit the Congress more than the BSP. In 1996, when the BSP allied with the Congress, the latter’s vote share doubled from 15% in 1993 to 29.1% in seats contested, while the BSP’s vote share declined marginally from 28.7% in 1993 to 27.7% in 1996.
In some past elections – Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu – the Congress was able to transfer votes when it was part of an alliance perceived to win. If an alliance takes shape in UP, either an SP-Congress or a BSP-Congress combine will emerge as a front-runner and help tackle the transferability issue.
Leaning Towards SP?
Prashant Kishor may nudge the deal in favour of the SP. A split in the SP would complicate matters and then Rahul would have to take a call on who to ally with. Akhilesh would also be wary of splitting the party due to the ‘M’ factor. While young voters could see Akhilesh as a champion of development, a majority Muslim voters could remain with Mulayam.
In the event of a Congress tie-up with either the SP or the BSP, the strategy to pitch Priyanka Gandhi for campaigning could have a bigger effect on consolidating neutral voters in favour of the alliance. This could deliver 1-2% more votes and even deliver an overall landslide to the alliance.
(This article has been co-authored by Amitabh Tiwari and Subhash Chandra. They are independent political commentators and can be reached at @politicalbaaba and @schandra_100 respectively. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)