Akhilesh-Maya alliance changes poll equation in UP

Akhilesh-Maya alliance changes poll equation in UP

With Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati, the two powerful regional satraps representing two dominant castes, joining hands, the electoral equations in Uttar Pradesh are certain to change drastically. It is on this politically crucial state, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, that the BJP’s hopes of returning to power at the Centre in the April-May general elections hinges.

The two arch rivals had earlier allied in the 1993 UP assembly polls and managed to prevent the BJP from coming to power at a time when the Ram temple movement was at its peak and the state was witnessing extreme polarisation. The two parties had then bagged 176 seats together and had formed the government with Congress’ support.

The alliance could well repeat 1993 in the coming LS polls. ‘’The alliance could be a game changer...It will certainly alter electoral equations in UP,’’ says political analyst Pradeep Kapoor. Kapoor said the exclusion of Congress from the SP-BSP alliance could, in fact, ‘’hurt the BJP and benefit the alliance”. ‘’Those members of the upper castes who are not happy with the BJP will have an option in the form of Congress, thereby denting BJP’s vote bank and helping the alliance.’’

The electoral arithmetic seems to support the view. Mayawati has the backing of Jatav (Dalit) voters (12% of the population), while Yadavs (10) are expected to go with Akhilesh. The support of the state’s 20% Muslims does make the combine the favourites. The results of the three LS by-polls in the state last year also lend credence to the claim. The SP-BSP combine captured the saffron bastions of Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the Lok Sabha constituencies of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. In 2014, Adityanath had romped home from Gorakhpur by more than three lakh votes. The combine then went on to win the Kairana LS by-polls also.

In fact, the by-poll wins provided confirmation to Akhilesh and Mayawati that they could thwart BJP’s march in the state by joining hands. The by-poll results showed that there was a huge erosion in the BJP’s OBC vote bank. In Phulpur, the ‘Kurmi’ voters numbered around three lakh and a majority of them had voted for the BJP in 2014 and also in 2017 Assembly polls. In the by-poll, however, it was split and a major chunk went to the SP nominee, a ‘Kurmi’.

Similarly, in Gorakhpur, a large section of the powerful ‘Nishad’ (fishermen) community voters, who numbered around 3.5 lakh, had supported Adityanath in 2014, enabling him to win by over three lakh votes, supported the SP nominee.

In Kairana, the powerful ‘Jat’ community, which had supported the BJP in 2014 and again in 2017 assembly polls in the state, appeared to have voted for the SP-BSP-RLD nominee.

In the 2014 LS polls, when the BJP won 71 of the 80 LS seats in the state (and ally Apna Dal another two), the saffron party’s vote share was 42.6%. The SP got 22.3% and BSP 19.8% votes. Congress’ vote share was 7.5%. BJP had polled more votes than the SP-BSP together. In the 2017 UP assembly polls, however, BJP’s vote share came down to 39.7%, though it decimated the rivals and won 325 of the 403 seats in the state. The SP got 21.8% and BSP 22.2% votes. Their combined vote share this time was more than BJP’s. Congress had secured 6.3% votes in 2017.

But pure arithmetic may not be enough to defeat the BJP in 2019 given PM Narendra Modi’s appeal among voters and the caste rivalries in the rural areas.

‘’In the rural areas, Dalits and Yadavs have been rivals for decades. In the western region, Jats and Jatavs do not see eye to eye. Transfer of votes from SP to BSP and vice-versa may not be as easy as it appears on paper,’’ says analyst J P Shukla. Shukla also feels that the new reservation for the upper castes could work for Modi. ‘’In the Lok Sabha polls, Modi will be the most important factor...he is still very popular.’’

Most analysts say, however, that the BJP will find the going tough if some smaller, caste-based outfits like the Peace Party, the Rashtriya Nishad Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal also join the SP-BSP alliance. 

Akhilesh has been trying to woo the smaller parties and has even offered them nomination on his party’s election symbol. He had done the same in Gorakhpur and Kairana LS by-polls.

State BJP leaders exude confidence in the open, but concede in private that the saffron party will have to devise a new strategy to counter the alliance. ‘’We will have to now change our electoral strategy. It will be a huge challenge if some other outfits also join SP-BSP,’’ said a senior UP BJP leader.

The BJP has already started wooing non-Yadav OBCs and SC communities barring the Jatavs. BJP leader Vijay Bahadur Pathak, however, says there is no alternative to Modi. ‘’People want a stable government at the Centre. We have taken measures for every section of society. We have support in every community.’’

Will the ‘Bua-Bhatija’ (Mayawati-Akhilesh) combine be able to overcome that and defeat the BJP? This will be the most consequential electoral battle of the 2019 general election.

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