Will SP-Congress Mahagathbandhan in UP Prove Fatal for BJP?
According to press reports, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav is thinking along the lines of Nitish Kumar in Bihar to create a mahagathbandhan of sorts with the Congress and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal. The SP hopes to puncture the BJP’s prospects in UP. A BJP loss in UP will have an impact on Gujarat, as admitted by Amit Shah in an interview to a newspaper recently.
This alliance could be a win-win situation for both the SP and the Congress. The SP will benefit from the consolidation of Muslim as well as a section of Brahmin votes. The Congress will benefit from the SP’s cadres and its grassroots workers and the grand old party would be able to repeat the performance in recent elections in Bihar and West Bengal.
Till now, Mayawati has not responded to the Congress’ overtures and Prashant Kishor is not left with many options. It is very clear that the party would struggle to make an impact on its own. To improve its tally, the Congress is looking for partners for a piggyback ride.
But will the alliance work wonders in Uttar Pradesh? Here are five factors which could seal the deal in favour of the alliance:
1. Arithmetic of Alliance
Opinion polls (ABP-Nielsen, ABP-CSDS) indicate that UP is likely to throw up a hung assembly. Neither the BSP nor the SP is in a position to win the election. In this context, the Congress vote share of 8-10 percent can tilt the scales in favour of the SP. In 2007 and 2012, UP saw a predominantly two-way contest, and the party which secured 30 percent of the votes won. However, in 2017 there was a three-cornered contest and 30 percent vote share may not ensure victory for a party. That’s where the Congress’ vote share (paltry as it may seem) is crucial.
The transferability of votes should not be an issue, because anchor vote segments of both parties are the same. As much as 54 percent of voters of both the SP and the Congress belong to Muslim and other OBC communities (research by Amitabh Tewari and Subhash Chandra). These two segments could easily transfer their votes to either party candidate.
The third-largest voter segment for the SP constitutes Yadavs (23 percent) and for the Congress, Brahmins (14 percent). Less than 5 percent of the SP’s voter base comprises Brahmins. Similarly, less than 5 percent of Yadavs constitute the Congress’ voter base. This is where transferability of votes will be the key. Yadav voters are fully behind Mulayam and won’t mind voting for the Congress. On the other hand, the Congress, which is gaining some traction among traditional vote bank of Brahmins, could struggle to transfer their votes to SP candidates.
The SP is perceived as anti-Brahmin. A deft strategy of naming a Brahmin
as deputy CM candidate will seal the deal in favour of this alliance. Sheila
Dikshit may not want to work under a much younger Akhilesh, so someone like Jitin
Prasads or Pramod Tiwari or even Sheila’s son Sandeep Dikshit could be promoted. There is no chance of a rebellion
as Sheila’s political career has been in
Delhi and not UP. It won’t affect the Congress’ prospects if she feels upset.
2. Consolidation of Muslim Votes
Muslims account for 20 percent of UP’s population and could be kingmakers in the forthcoming elections, having good enough numbers to exert significant influence in 143 of 403 seats. Going by their past voting behaviour, they would vote for a party or an alliance which is in a position to beat the BJP. Initial trends suggested the BSP could emerge as a winner, but recent desertions have put Behenji on the back foot.
According to the CSDS opinion poll, 68 percent of Muslims are expected to vote for the SP. If the Congress manages another 15 percent (historical average in last five elections), this would translate into 16-17 percent overall vote share for the alliance (half of what is needed to win the polls). If these two parties come together, Muslims will see them as the most viable option and won’t look elsewhere.
Apart from the usual arithmetic, alliances are also about chemistry. Here, the bonhomie between Akhilesh and Rahul will come to the rescue, unlike Mulayam and Sonia, who have had a love-hate relationship.
3. Constituency-Level Benefits
There are about 50-60 seats where a combination of Congress plus SP can gain at the cost of the BJP and the BSP. It is unlikely that they will win if they contest separately. These are seats where both the BSP and the BJP are strong, while the SP and the Congress are what we call ‘medium strong’. When combined with the bare minimum that the Congress (25) and the SP (75) will win on their own, these could add up to a formidable 150-160 seats.
4. Take Other Parties On Board
Similar to the grand alliance in Bihar, a Congress-SP alliance will attract other partners, including the JD(U), the Peace Party and even the RLD, delivering another 20-25 seats to the alliance. Adding these to the above 150 seats could take such an alliance to the 175-180 mark, just 25-30 shy of the majority mark.
5. Winning Party Likely to Get More Momentum
As we have seen in recent elections, if voters sense that such an alliance is likely to win, many rural voters previously open to voting for the BJP and the BSP may consider voting for the SP-Congress alliance. A small 2-3 percent last minute swing can also deliver the 25-30 seats needed to win the election
The biggest argument against such an alliance is the conflicting vote bank of dalits and Brahmins unlike the BSP-Congress combination. The same can, however, be tackled by way of a deputy CM belonging to the Brahmin community.
The arithmetic is not so straightforward, which came to the fore when the SP walked out of the alliance in Bihar at the last minute.
That said, the combination has interesting potential given the decent ratings for Akhilesh Yadav. The alliance can play the development card far more aggressively than it did in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In the case of BJP, a Congress-SP alliance will simplify its effort to choose a CM candidate. It can take the risk of going with an OBC candidate without large scale losses of its upper caste and dalit base.
The big question is whether Netaji is willing to take the gamble of aligning with the Congress and in turn offer its traditional MY support base to Congress, providing a fresh lease of life to a party that has been dead in the state for the past 2.5 decades. A larger common goal, that of defeating BJP in the Hindi heartland, second in row after Bihar, may nudge Mulayam in favour of the alliance.