Late on Saturday night came news which punctured the Bharatiya Janata Party's celebrations of its historic victory in Tripura, it’s 2 out of 60 seats in Meghalaya and 12 of 60 in Nagaland. Even as the BJP was revelling in its newly established presences in new corners of the country, came news of a development that could possibly reduce its tally to less than half in a state where the BJP and RSS have fruitfully invested vast energies for decades, and which was the key to their majority in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.
Pankhuri Pathak, spokesperson of the Samajwadi Party, on Saturday night tweeted a development that alters the scenario for the upcoming Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls in Uttar Pradesh—and potentially, of national politics. Pathak said that former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party would support Samajwadi candidates in the bypolls. Calling it a “Much-awaited decision by Mayawati Ji”, Pathak significantly added, "Looking forward to contesting together & creating a larger Bahujan secular alliance”.
This “larger Bahujan secular alliance” is a potentially winning combination in Uttar Pradesh that could take BJP’s tally of 71 Lok Sabha seats in UP in 2014, closer to just 30 in 2019. Bringing together Dalits, Muslims and OBC communities beyond only Yadavs on one political platform, a BSP-SP combo can undo the BJP’s years of groundwork in creating winning caste combinations. If the Congress, as is highly likely, joins a possible BSP-SP alliance, it will bring a section of upper caste votes to the combined kitty, besides ensuring complete consolidation of Dalit and minority votes.
Whether in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 or the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2017, the combined vote share of the BSP, SP and Congress party was approximately 50% of all votes polled, far outstripping that of the BJP. In 2014, the BJP got 42.63% of votes in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP, SP and Congress parties combined got 49.83%. In 2017 UP assembly polls, the BJP’s voteshare dropped to 39.6% of votes polled; the BSP, SP and Congress parties combined got 50.3% (BSP 22.23%, SP 21.82% and Congress 6.25%).
To see how this combination could potentially devastate BJP in Uttar Pradesh, let’s take the results of the five Uttar Pradesh assembly seats each, which make up Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituencies. In Phulpur, the BJP won four and Apna Dal one of the five seats in 2017. But the combined voteshare in these seats of BSP and SP plus Congress, which fought the assembly elections in alliance, would give three to SP, one to the BSP and one to Congress—wiping out the BJP tally. In Gorakhpur, BJP won five out of five assembly seats. But the combined voteshare of BSP, SP and Congress would have left BJP with only one seat. Two would go to SP, one to the BSP and one to Congress. From 9 out of 10, the BJP would fall to 1 out of 10.
To see how BSP, SP and Congress combination could potentially devastate BJP in Uttar Pradesh, let’s take the results of the five UP assembly seats each, which make up Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituencies. BJP won 9 out of the 10 seats in UP assembly polls. But the combined votes of BSP, SP and Congress could have left BJP with only one seat out of 10
Arithmetics of vote percentages do not, of course, indicate how many seats a party or combine can actually win. In the 2014 Modi wave, the combined votes of the three parties in several seats still fell behind the BJP. And while the BJP is already gearing up for 2019 elections, the cementing of an Opposition alliance is yet to happen. No student of Indian politics would make the mistake of predicting the actions of Behan Mayawati, without whose participation any opposition alliance would be weak. In August last year, the BSP stayed away from Lalu Prasad Yadav’s “BJP Bhagao, Desh Bachao” rally in Patna, which brought together many Opposition parties. Last November, ahead of elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, BSP supremo Mayawati did indicate that she was open to an alliance “if given respectable share”. However, alliance talks with the Congress in both states fell through.
Yet, a new pragmatism can definitely be seen among traditional rivals within Opposition ranks—with Mamata Banerjee telling the Left she would have been happy had they had won in Tripura, Sharad Pawar making his support for Congress as the anchor of any Opposition alliance unambiguous, and now Mayawati backing Akhilesh Yadav in the bypolls. The BJP’s unmatched ground organisation, resources, months of hard work put into election campaigns and sheer appetite for victory remains its biggest advantages. However, it can equally be argued that the sum of all Opposition votes may produce an even larger tally of seats for them than mere arithmetic of vote percentages indicates, as was seen in the two-thirds majority won by the JDU-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan in the Bihar assembly elections.
Yesterday, March 3, a column on this website presciently said that lack of Opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh was giving a free run to the BJP in Phulpur and Gorakhpur. Overnight, the decision of BSP to support SP candidates makes it 'Game On’ for the bypolls contest. This development could yet make it ‘Game Over’ for BJP in 2019 too.