Bloodbath awaits BJP in Uttar Pradesh if SP, BSP, Congress team up in 2019

If the BSP and SP extend their bypoll camaraderie and, with the Congress, put up a combined front in the next elections, the BJP’s tally in UP may dramatically reduce to 24 from 71 seats it now holds

Getty images
Getty images

Ashis Ray

A bloodbath awaits the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the central battleground of Uttar Pradesh (UP), if the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress have a seat adjustment in the state in the next Lok Sabha election. If, for instance, voters in UP cast their ballots exactly the way as they did in 2014, the best case scenario for BJP+ is a reduction to 24 seats from their currently commanding height of 73.

In such a scenario, SP would lead the pack with 26 seats, followed by BSP with 25 seats and the Congress with five seats.

But first about the pilot experiment presently underway that should provide a fairly concrete clue to the shape of things to come in UP and India in an ensuing general election. One, of course, refers to next week’s bye-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, where the BSP has decided to support the SP candidates, thereby potentially pooling together their votes to give the BJP a run for its money in its strongholds.

It is still, though, an uphill climb for the SP. Gorakhpur has grown into a citadel for the BJP, with Yogi Adityanath, now chief minister of UP, undefeated here since 1998. In 2014, the combined votes of SP, BSP and the Congress were 90,662 less than what were cast for the BJP. Similarly, in Phulpur – once the constituency of a giant of a Congressman, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru – the trio were cumulatively 86,471 votes behind the BJP in 2014, whose winner was Keshav Prasad Maurya, now deputy chief minister of UP.

In Gorakhpur the challengers will need a 7% swing in their favour to dislodge the BJP. In Phulpur, the pendulum would also require to sway by the same percentage to unseat the incumbent party. In last year’s state elections, the BJP’s vote share declined by 2.96% from its showing in the general election in 2014, which is obviously insufficient for it to lose. It would be interesting to see what the final figures are. These would indicate whether the trend is of the ruling party recovering, holding its own or losing further support.

A significantly reduced margin of victory would be worrying for the BJP. A loss of either seat would be disastrous, for this could raise the spectre of it ending up with fewer than the 24 seats the 2014 numbers signify.

In the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, if the statistics remain unaltered vis-à-vis the 2014 result – obviously unlikely, as it is well-nigh impossible to maintain such a peak – Narendra Modi would stand a chance of holding his seat in Varanasi, as would Rajnath Singh in Lucknow, Hema Malini in Mathura, Maneka Gandhi in Pilibhit, Murali Manohar Joshi in Kanpur and Kalraj Mishra in Deoria. But many a stalwart, including Uma Bharati in Jhansi, Varun Gandhi and son of Sanjay Gandhi in Sultanpur would be in danger of losing their seats. Jagdambika Pal, who defected from the Congress to the BJP before the last general election, could be on the casualty list in Domariyaganj, as well. But PL Punia of the Congress, who sounds unhappy about the SP-BSP tie-up in Gorakhpur and Phulpur bye-elections, is, in fact, poised to be a beneficiary in Barabanki, should he be fielded.

The BJP registered a spectacular increase in electoral support in UP in 2014 as compared to 2009, when it mustered a mere 17.5% of the votes (lower than the Congress’ 18.25%). In 2014, it attracted a staggering 42.63% of voters, or an almost two and a half times rise in ballots in its favour. This was achieved by a combination of consolidating Hindu votes cutting across caste lines by stirring communal riots in the state and an intelligent targeting of scheduled castes and other backward castes (OBCs) unhappy with or neglected by the BSP and SP, respectively. That notwithstanding, it also reflects a volatility among UP voters, which is discomforting for any party. In other words, while the state undoubtedly expressed faith in BJP in 2014 and 2017, it does not automatically mean it will persevere with such a verdict in future.

Just as much as SP and BSP have thrown down the gauntlet in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the BJP with its unmatched money and muscle power and the state machinery at its disposal will leave no stone unturned to hold on to these seats. It is both a prestige and psychologically important battle. Propaganda apart, the BJP knows only too well that spreading its tentacles in the North- East of the country would at best win it 10 out of 25 seats in the region. It was the showing in the Hindi belt, particularly UP, that catapulted it to government in 2014. This was unprecedented and now virtually impossible to repeat. Recent bye-elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have, in fact, demonstrated that voters are beginning to melt away from the BJP. So, the question really is: how great will the carnage be if the SP-BSP-INC alliance takes off ?

Needless to mention, no election is identical. The voting numbers will obviously not be the same as 2014. There will be gains and losses based on innumerable factors. There are vagaries and unpredictable phenomena that would arise at macro and micro levels that are impossible to gauge until after the event. Therefore, what rabbit can Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath pull out of the hat? If Gujarat, the BJP’s biggest fortress, is a bell-weather, urban voters have not abandoned the BJP yet, but the distressed rural electorate may well have, as both the Gujarat assembly elections of 2017 and local body polls of 2018 show.

It is not inconceivable that the BJP – after its failure to deliver on its false promises – will opt for hard Hindutva. How the Ayodhya issue plays out in this respect would, thus, be relevant. The party might re-employ sectarian divisiveness to scare segments who normally don’t vote for it, to do so. The BJP reaching out to Mulayam Singh Yadav and thereby splitting the SP and the OBC vote cannot be ruled out, either.

In 2014, the SP won five seats, the Congress two and the BSP none. If the Samajwadis stand united against the BJP’s likely inducements and machinations and the BSP appreciates it could be finished as a political party if it encounters another empty election, alignment is the only logical and sensible course.

The outcome in UP in the next general election will not be immune to results in upcoming state elections in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. If recent headwinds faced by the BJP in bye-elections convey a message, then it may not be good news for it. And this in turn could persuade voters in UP to tilt towards what in their eyes may be mushrooming as a winning combination, rather than be impressed by a declining duo of Modi and Yogi. The mathematical advantage is certainly with a SP-BSP-INC coalition, which enjoyed a 49.83% vote share in 2014.

How Opposition alliances could impact Uttar Pradesh

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NH Graphic

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Published: 11 Mar 2018, 12:59 PM