Do SP & Congress Have An Informal Gathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh?
Video Editor: Mohd Ibrahim
Video Producer: Sonal Gupta
Cameraperson: Nitin Chopra
India’s largest state in terms of Lok Sabha seats, Uttar Pradesh, was supposed to be a two-way fight between the BJP and the Mahagathbandhan of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). But by projecting Priyanka Gandhi as its face in UP, the Congress showed that it cannot be taken lightly in the state.
Many said that the Congress would end up splitting Opposition votes and helping the BJP. But is that actually happening? Not quite. It appears that the Congress and the Mahagathbandhan, particularly the SP, have some sort of a tacit deal in UP.
Let’s cut back to when Priyanka Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia were given charge of the Congress’ UP campaign.
What is obvious in this arrangement is that in a majority of seats in UP, the Congress will not actively harm the Mahagathbandhan. Now, how does this work on the ground? Let’s divide the Congress’ candidates in UP into three categories.
- Weak candidates
- Muslim candidates
- Strong Non-Muslim candidates
If you look at the map, this sea of green are seats where the Congress has fielded weak candidates, in effect giving the Mahagathbandhan a free pass. These include seats where the Congress hasn’t put up candidates as a gesture of goodwill towards the Mahagathbandhan leadership, such as Mulayam Singh Yadav’s seat Mainpuri, Akhilesh Yadav’s Azamgarh, Dimple Yadav’s Kannauj, Ajit Singh’s Muzaffarnagar and Jayant Chaudhary’s seat Baghpat.
But it’s not just these seats. There are also a number of seats where the Congress has fielded candidates in such a way that it helps the Mahagathbandhan. For instance, in Meerut which voted in the first phase of polling on April 11, the Congress fielded Harendra Agarwal who belongs to the same Vaish community as BJP candidate Rajendra Agarwal. This has made the battle easier for the Mahagathbandhan candidate - Haji Mohammad Yaqub of the BSP.
The same thing is happening Rampur. Here nearly 50 percent voters are Muslims, but the Congress has chosen a Khatri candidate, Sanjay Kapoor, making the battle easy for veteran SP leader Azam Khan.
There are 56 seats where the Congress has either fielded weak candidates or no candidates, thereby helping the Mahagathbandhan. But this cooperation doesn’t extend to all seats.
In nine seats, the Congress has fielded Muslim candidates. Since the Mahagathbandhan is counting on a complete consolidation of Muslim votes, naturally the Congress’ Muslim candidates would end up harming the alliance. What’s interesting is that six of these are in seats that the BSP is contesting.
Take Bijnor for instance. Here Congress has fielded Mayawati’s one time close aide Naseemuddin Siddiqui against the BSP’s Malook Nagar. In Saharanpur, it was Congress’ Imran Masood vs BSP’s Haji Fazlur Rehman vs BJP’s Raghav Lakhanpal.
The other BSP seats where the Congress has put up Muslim candidates are Farrukhabad, Sitapur, Sant Kabir Nagar and Deoria.
On the other hand, it doesn’t seem averse to expanding itself at the BSP’s expense.
The tacit understanding between the SP and the Congress becomes even more clear if we look at the third category of seats - constituencies where Congress has fielded strong non-Muslim candidates.
Strong Non-Muslim Candidates
Now why does it matter if the Congress fields a Muslim candidate or a Hindu candidate? A Muslim candidate from the Congress would almost entirely eat into the votes of the Mahagathbandhan but a strong Hindu candidate could harm the BJP’s prospects as well.
For instance in Kanpur, Unnao and Kushi Nagar, the SP has fielded weak candidates so that strong Congress candidates like Shriprakash Jaiswal, Annu Tandon and RPN Singh have a better chance of defeating the BJP.
Interestingly, the SP has chosen not to field a Muslim candidate in any of the seats where the Congress has a good chance of winning. If this isn’t a tacit alliance, we don’t know what is.
But the BSP hasn't been as kind to the Congress. The party has fielded a strong Muslim candidate Arshad Ahmed Siddiqui against senior Congress leader Jitin Prasada in Dhaurahra.
The Big Picture
Let’s now look at the big picture. There are four clear trends in Uttar Pradesh.
- The Congress isn’t harming the Mahagathbandhan in over 50 seats in the state.
- Congress has a much better equation with the SP and RLD and it is helping these parties in a large number of seats. The SP is also helping the Congress in several places.
- Congress and BSP are harming each other in many key seats.
- If there indeed is a tacit deal between the Mahagathbandhan and the Congress in a large number of seats, it is terrible news for the BJP, which could suffer heavy losses in the state which gave it the largest number of seats last time.