How Opposition unity could derail BJP

The informal alliance between SP and BSP for upcoming by-polls in UP presents encouraging possibilities for the opposition. On the national level, a united opposition could hit BJP’s prospects hard

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Lesley Esteves

On March 3, as the BJP celebrated its victory in the Tripura assembly elections and its expanded footprint in Nagaland, came news which promised to upend its carefully laid plans for, and years of ground work, in Uttar Pradesh, the state with the most Lok Sabha seats in India.

The Samajwadi Party announced that the Bahujan Samaj Party would support its candidates in the upcoming bypolls to Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in UP. The next day, BSP supremo Mayawati confirmed the news. Some Congress leaders, despite having their own candidates standing in the two seats, welcomed the development.

Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal promptly announced support. The SP had already roped in the Nishad and Peace parties. This late mahagathbandhan changed not only the stakes in these two seats but, should it remain in place for the 2019 general elections, can possibly alter the electoral map of Uttar Pradesh, and thus of India. We say possibly because, to be sure, the mahagathbandhan is as yet only for the bypolls. However, we did a projection of what would happen to the Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha electoral map, if we anticipated a BSP-SP-Congress mahagthbandhan in the next general elections. We applied the combined votes of the NDA parties (BJP, Apna Dal, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party) and the combined votes of the BSP, SP and Congress (the latter two fought the assembly polls together) garnered in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections of 2017, onto the UP Lok Sabha electoral map. The results were dramatic.

The BSP plus SP/Congress outnumbered BJP in a whopping 52 seats, reducing BJP to 28 seats, a deficit of 43 compared to its Lok Sabha tally in 2014. It has not been said without reason that the success of any Opposition alliance in 2019 largely depends on whether Mayawati joins, or not. Our redrawn electoral map of Uttar Pradesh (see UP 2014 and 2017 graphics below) makes clear why.

 How Opposition unity could derail BJP

We also looked at another large state, Maharashtra, which has seen massive churn in political affiliations since 2014. Moves towards an Opposition alliance between the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party are reportedly in advanced stages of discussion for fighting the next Lok Sabha and assembly polls together. At the same time, the Shiv Sena, which fought the last Lok Sabha elections along with BJP only to break off before the Maharashtra assembly polls the same year, announced that it would not fight future elections with BJP. Maharashtra is second only to UP in the number of MPs it sends to the Lok Sabha—a total of 48. In 2014, it sent 23 BJP MPs and 18 Shiv Sena MPs to Parliament. NCP and Congress were reduced to 4 and 2, respectively. The 48th MP belonged to then NDA ally Swabhimani Paksha, which has since left the NDA.

How Opposition alliances could impact Maharashtra

 How Opposition unity could derail BJP

As with Uttar Pradesh, we projected the results of the Maharashtra assembly elections on to its Lok Sabha map (see Maharashtra May 2014 and Oct 2014 graphics below), after combining the votes of the Congress and NCP, and keeping the Sena and BJP separate. We excluded Palghar and Bhandara-Gondiya seats, which are currently vacant. We found the BJP tally fell to 18 seats and the Sena to 5. The combined Congress-NCP led in 23 Lok Sabha seats. However, this picture flatters to deceive the BJP. It is unlikely that BJP will retain even these 18 seats in the next general election. Local body election results over the past three years across rural Maharashtra have shown a rise in the Congress vote, in particular, with the BJP hold getting restricted to the big cities. If we factor in a highly whispered about ‘tacit’ alliance between Congress-NCP and the Shiv Sena, which has been looking for every opportunity to attack the BJP in Maharashtra, BJP’s tally is even more endangered. Lastly, we looked at Gujarat, which sends 26 MPs to the Lok Sabha. In 2014, the BJP famously won all 26 seats in the state. We applied the results of the recent Gujarat assembly elections on to its Lok Sabha Map. The BJP tally fell by 8 seats in Gujarat, with an equivalent rise for Congress. We further projected a tally of Congress votes combined with NCP votes, an assumption based on their overtures to each other in Maharashtra. With this projection, the BJP tally fell by one more Lok Sabha seat, Porbandar, where NCP and Congress together polled more (see Gujarat 2014 and 2017 graphics below).

How Opposition alliances could impact Gujarat

 How Opposition unity could derail BJP

Important caveats are that these projections are for assumed alliances and any alliance faces the challenge of transferring its votes to allies. Different issues are at stake in state and Lok Sabha elections and candidate selection is always crucial.

A lot can happen in the months before the next general election. However, there is no doubt that strategic state-by-state Opposition alliances can do a lot of damage to the BJP’s current Lok Sabha tally. By the above calculation alone, it could be down by approximately 56 seats in just UP, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

It’s present tally, after losses in Lok Sabha bypolls, stands at 273, including the Speaker (with 8 vacancies). Subtracting 56 brings the projected tally towards 217 — without even factoring in the BJP’s expected losses of seats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, to name a few states.

The BJP has the time, means and motivation to overcome this deficit. But if the Opposition can cement alliances well in time, they could inflict a lot more damage than even these calculations suggest, as we saw when a determined mahagathbandhan took on the BJP-led NDA in the Bihar assembly elections of 2015.

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Published: 11 Mar 2018, 8:59 AM