New Delhi:The ‘mahagatbandhan’ between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh has failed to seriously dent the BJP’s performance in the state. While the party has not repeated its performance of 2014 when it won 72 of the 80 seats in the state, it is leading in 59 seats or over 73% of the seats. The BSP and the SP, on the other hand, are leading in 10 and five seats respectively.
In a major shock for the Congress, party president Rahul Gandhi has lost to BJP Union minister Smriti Irani in Amethi.
With 80 constituencies, Uttar Pradesh has the most representatives in the Lok Sabha. The state has given the maximum number of prime ministers to the country. Yet, it is one of the most underdeveloped provinces of India.
Over the last few decades, multiple caste groups have been asserting themselves against upper caste hegemony in politics. As a result, political parties have tried to forge strategic caste alliances large enough to get them to power.
A look at the data for the last few elections would indicate that a political party which manages to secure a vote share of anything around 30% is most likely to come to power.
However, in 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party toppled these political equations and appealed to a large section of the population, comprising multiple non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits along with its upper caste base, to come to power. The saffron party’s vote share was more than 40%. No other party was anywhere close to it.
Its strategy to mix its traditional Hindutva politics that takes aim at minorities and target the dominant OBC group Yadavs represented by the Samajwadi Party (SP) and politically-influential Jatavs or Chamars, represented by the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) worked wonders.
The policy put the BJP at a distinct advantage electorally. By denying Muslims election tickets, the Hindu nationalist party could represent the lower OBCs and Dalits in greater numbers than the other parties. Muslims form almost 19% of the state’s population and usually a political party gives Muslim leaders commensurate candidatures. Since the social justice movements in UP hinged on the question of fair political representation, the less-populous OBC and Dalits felt neglected.
BJP consolidated these groups and it turned out, that if put together, they were in a great majority.
The saffron party won a whopping 71 seats out of 80 in 2014 with a vote share of 42.30%. With its allies, the National Democratic Alliance posted an unprecedented victory with 73 seats.
Whereas the SP and the BSP finished with a poor figure of 5 and 0 seats respectively, their vote shares being 22.2% and 19.6%.
Riding on a similar strategy, the party also won 312 seats in 403-member assembly in 2017. Adityanath, the Hindutva firebrand leader, was chosen by the party as the chief minister.
For the 2019 elections, the BSP and SP – both arch rivals – decided to come together to defeat this majoritarian alliance. Together, even if they repeat their 2014 performance, the parties will outdo the BJP. The two parties have also roped in the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which is influential among Jat farmers in western Uttar Pradesh.
With the coming together of SP and BSP, Uttar Pradesh became the harbinger of similar political experiments in other states. Analysts believe that if the Mahagathbandhan or the grand alliance of the opposition parties works in 2019, it may usher in a new political era in India.
The Congress, however, is contesting separately, turning the polls into a triangular contest. Party president Rahul Gandhi and former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi are contesting again from Amethi and Rae Bareli.
Among the prominent candidates of SP are Akhilesh Yadav, party president, his wife Dimple Yadav, and Mulayam Singh Yadav, former party president.
RLD chief Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary are contesting from Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat.
Among the BJP’s prominent candidates are union ministers Rajnath Singh from Lucknow, V.K.Singh from Ghaziabad, Mahesh Sharma from Gautam Buddha Nagar, Manoj Sinha from Ghazipur. Actors like Hema Malini is fighting to retain her Mathura seat while Ravi Kishan is contesting from the chief minister’s bastion Gorakhpur. And of course, the prime minister Narendra Modi is seeking a re-election from Varanasi.
BSP has fielded candidates mostly keeping caste arithmetic in mind.
The opposition has relied on its criticism of the state and union governments, pegging their campaign on issues like unemployment and rural distress.
The ruling BJP, on the other hand, has banked on a supposedly improved law and order situation and road constructions in the state, when its initial ploy to consolidate Hindus through religious polarisation did not take off.
However, underneath the veneer, the parties’ main plank is to consolidate different caste groups.
Precisely for the new social alignments, the results in UP, where elections were conducted through all the seven phases, are most eagerly awaited.