As per press reports, a deal has been sealed between SP, BSP and RLD for a grand alliance (mahagathbandhan) in Uttar Pradesh to take on the BJP. As per the deal, the SP and BSP will get 37 seats each to contest, while Ajit Singh’s RLD will get three seats and Nishad Party one seat. The mahagathbandhan has left out Congress from the seat-sharing arrangement, however, it will not field any candidate in the Gandhi family-stronghold seats of Amethi and Rae Bareli. 

The BJP had swept the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, bagging 71 out of 80 seats, representing one-fourth of its overall tally of 282. An informal mahagathbandhan defeated the BJP in three by-polls of Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana held last year which ultimately crystallised in this form. This has given hope to the anti-Modi / anti-BJP parties that by restricting the party tally in UP, they can stop Modi from coming to power again in 2019. However, in politics two plus two is not always four. Additionally, we have often heard that in alliances, chemistry is more important than arithmetic.

Even though the mahagathbandhan has successfully sealed the alliance, there are significant challenges ahead.

Seamless transferability of votes

Any alliance is built on the assumption of seamless transferability of votes, but that seldom happens as we have seen in the past. There are leakages and the quantum of leakage ultimately decides whether an alliance is successful or not. Even after adding the vote shares of SP, BSP, and RLD, they are still a notch below NDA on the basis of 2014 numbers.

The key question is whether all the supporters and cadre of one party would vote for the candidate of the other parties in their respective seats with the same zeal and enthusiasm as if it’s their own candidate. The question becomes trickier because of the acrimonious relationship shared by the SP-BSP in the past with Mayawati accusing SP leaders of attempt to murder. The case is still on. 

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Trust deficit between members

Mayawati is a pale shadow of her past. The BSP has received a serious drubbing in UP, both in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. Today, it has no MP in Lok Sabha, just four MPs in Rajya Sabha and less than 5% of the house strength as MLAs in Vidhan Sabha. The SC voter has moved away from the BSP in large numbers. New outfits like Bhim Army and new leaders like Jignesh Mewani are attracting the Dalit youth. The BSP was facing an existential threat, and to revive her political fortunes she has for the time decided to work with bete noire Mulayam’s son Akhilesh. But this alliance will always be marred by trust deficit.

Babua may be pitching for Bua for PM, but Bua is missing the point that there is a threat to her vote bank which can shift to SP in the Assembly elections in 2022. Both are using each other. Bua to get maximum seats, prevent a 2014-like performance and then bargain with whichever party/group emerges as a contender to form the government; while Babua, not interested in national politics as of now, is working on a long-term strategy of finishing the BSP. And on top of it, you have Ajit Singh, who has been a minister in PVNR as well as the Vajpayee government.

Antagonistic vote blocks

The mahagathbandhan is banking on DJMY (Dalits, Jats, Muslims and Yadavs) combination, accounting for 44% of the state’s population. But herein lies a big problem. Yadavs don’t vote for BSP (only 3%), Jatavs and Other Scheduled Caste don’t vote for SP (only 4% and 11% respectively). The caste combination consists of antagonistic vote blocks who don’t see eye to eye. Dalits accuse Yadavs of exploiting them and many SC-ST Atrocities Act cases are registered against powerful OBC groups like Yadavs. To assume they will vote for candidates from the community is wishful thinking.

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Congress could play spoilsport

The Congress, which on an average has 6%-8% vote share in the state, has been kept out of the alliance. While it is true that the party doesn’t have much support left in the Hindi heartland state having lost its anchor vote segment of Brahmins to BJP, Dalits to Mayawati and Muslims to SP.

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Source: politicalbaba[dot]com

In a close contest where both the NDA and mahagatbandhan are even stevens in terms of vote share, this extra 6%-8% even after accounting for leakages could have been handy. Data shows that if the SP and BSP had contested together in 2014, the NDA could have been reduced to 37 seats. If the Congress would have joined the alliance, the tally of NDA would have dropped by another 13 seats.

Reverse polarisation

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, according to many analysts, the BJP benefitted due to the split of the minority vote between BSP (18%), SP (58%) and INC (11%). So much so, that the BJP won some of the minority-dominated seats as well. Minorities account for 18%-20% of the state’s population and not a single MP was selected from the community in 2014. Proponents of the alliance claim that this time the vote wouldn’t split and get consolidated behind the mahagatbandhan as they are in the best position to defeat the BJP. Even the Congress may not be able to retain previous support.

This is however fraught with big risk of counter polarisation, more so in the overhang of Ram Mandir construction demand at its peak in the state. Any polarisation or perceived polarisation could consolidate Hindus behind the BJP cutting across caste lines upsetting mahagathbandhan’s calculations.

To sum up, the mahagatbandhan poses a stiff challenge to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh which is considered as a gateway to power at the center. However, that said, it is not going to be so easy for the mahagathbandhan because elections are not all about arithmetic alone!