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Uttar Pradesh has always been a party to election covering scribes and pollsters. Being the largest and politically most decisive state in India, UP has given 14 Prime Ministers till date. The incumbent PM Narendra Modi holds his parliamentary seat in UP’s Varanasi and is again contesting from the same seat that goes to polls in the last phase on May 19th. Varanasi has traditionally never been a VIP seat. Amethi, Raibareli and Phulpur were at the center of national politics until the Indian National Congress went crumbling down to 44 seats in the last General Elections. This was the worst performance ever and credit goes to UP that poured in 73 seats to Bharatiya Janta Party out of 80 parliamentary seats.
The remaining seven were the ones that saved the face of two political clans- one of Mulayam Singh and the other Nehru-Gandhi family. Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati that fielded a maximum of 503 candidates nationally in 2014 fared the worst. 447 of its candidates’ deposits were forfeited and the party scored nil although it came third in terms of percentage votes (4.19%) over total valid votes polled. Even the Communist Party of India could secure a single seat just by getting 0.79% votes (that was lowest among six National Parties). Samajwadi Party was the only major state level force that fought on 78 seats (all in UP), won five and secured more than 22% votes that were almost all from UP.
To come to terms with the electoral importance of UP, we need to first have a closer look at the percentage votes polled and seats won by various parties in the state in 2014. BJP secured almost 43% votes and won 73 seats. BSP was clean bowled although it grabbed 20% votes in UP. INC stood at two seats with around 8% votes and SP came runner-up at 22% votes despite getting just five seats. Now just add up percentage votes of SP and BSP, we get almost closer to BJP’s tally. Add to this RLD’s one percent and BJP is left behind. This was the exact equation that worked in Loksabha bypolls of Kairana, Phulpur and Gorakhpur last year when BJP lost all three. Its dismal performance resulted due to the united opposition that arithmetically aggregated its votes and defeated BJP. These results were hailed as sort of some magic that could evenly work over all 80 seats in UP for 2019 GE. This equation may be treated as a backdrop to ongoing General Elections as the opposition is partially united in UP. SP, BSP and RLD are fighting as a Grand Alliance and Congress party could not negotiate terms with them due to various internal and external frictions.
Going by the arithmetic, it seems as if the Grand Alliance (GA) could sweep UP very easily. But there is catch. It was perfectly analysed by S. Gurumurthy in an article published in The New Indian Express on June 6th, 2018 but blatantly ignored by much of the media and GA too. It needs a revisit to move forward. Gurumurthy summed-up his analysis in following words:
While the opposition is elated over its by-election victories, a closer look at the numbers suggests the BJP increased its vote share. It shows when the opposition unites, its votes do not just get aggregated automatically; it actually loses part of its own individual constituents’ votes.
After defeating BJP in by-polls opposition assumed that it could defeat BJP the same way in 2019. Many analysts prophesied the defeat of BJP then. They still stick to their analysis. This needs a scrutiny. Since UP is the main battleground that will decide the future of this country, this analysis is more relevant today than ever. The reason why the BSP and the SP strategically got together in March 2018 was that the BJP got far less votes than the divided opposition in 2017, but swept the UP Assembly poll. After the 2018 victory, it was comfortably ignored that as compared to the 2017 Assembly polls, in the 2018 LS by-poll, the BJP has reduced the united opposition’s margin in Gorakhpur from 14.8% to 2.4%. In Phulpur from 24% to 8%. In Kairana from 19.2% to 4.7%. Since electorate prefers to vote for a national party in Loksabha polls, this margin would reduce more and more so in favour of BJP, not Congress.
So the plain but hidden message is that, when the opposition unites, its votes do not just get aggregated automatically; it actually loses part of its own individual constituents’ votes. This works much aggressively in current scenario where BSP and SP are fighting together at half of their capacities. In an informal chat with a RSS shakha pramukh in Ghaziabad on the evening of April 11 when nine seats of West UP went to polls, I wondered how the BJP people are talking of 350 seats and what is the basis of their claim. He responded very calmly that this would be possible just because of the candidates that could not get tickets on almost all seats of UP. If BSP and SP fought independently without alliance, they would have fielded their candidates in all constituencies. Now with the Grand Alliance in picture, almost half of the seats are left by SP for BSP and vice-versa. So apart from the loss of individual constituent’s vote generally, the missing candidates would work hard to stop transfer of votes to alliance. This was not a part of some imaginative assumption. This alludes to the chemistry that works to make the arithmetic a success or failure, depending on the situation.
Around the time when Grand Alliance was announced formally in the third week of January, I visited some crucial seats in UP. Among them were Etawah, Bulandshahar, Kasganj, Ferozabad and Agra. I talked to the district heads of SP and BSP and went to some villages as well. Local leaders were already aware of the Grand Alliance and were bullish about it. It was the common voter that felt betrayed by this “historical” re-union. A Dalit women leader in Etawah was of the view that better they voted for BJP. Almost all the members of Yadav community I talked, they were hesitant to vote for a possible BSP candidate. The alliance was received in a bad taste at the bottom of political pyramid.
After a couple of months I visited Eastern UP specially Varanasi, the VIP seat of PM Modi around Holi. Talking to SP’s core voter, it gave a sense as if they were not mentally prepared to vote for a possible BSP candidate. The story was same as in Etawah. BSP core voters were silent at that time. They were waiting for the announcement to get validated in front of their eyes. It is never easy for a cadre to accept an old enemy as a partner. It took more than a month for the staunch rivals to “bury the hatchet”, as termed in media reports. On April 19th, BSP Supremo Mayawati and SP’s patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav shared stage. Two phase of polls had already passed until then. Around one-fourth of constituencies had polled by April 18.
Not going into the reasons of delay in this formal show of unity, the scenario was already fraught with communal polarisation across the board that was kicked off by none other than Mayawati who had appealed to Muslim voters on April 9 not to split votes. This statement had sufficient capacity to backfire. She was not only banned by the Election Commission for 24 hours but by saying this she had sent shockwaves into Congress high command that had launched Priyanka Gandhi in Eastern UP to consolidate the party’s ailing structure. Until then there was no exchange of words between Congress and SP/BSP. Things went so smooth in initial two phases that BJP started crying of collusion behind curtain. Even many journalists were convinced of the view that Congress had fielded candidates in such a manner so as to eat into BJP’s forward caste votes and not to disturb the GA’s arithmetic.
After Mayawati’s controversial call and finally the show of unity, Congress finalised its major seats in Eastern UP. It allied with Babu Singh Kushwaha, inducted Ramakant Yadav and spoiled GA’s fortunes in Ghazipur, Chandauli and Bhadohi. Congress was now desperate not to leave the field open for Alliance. Priyanka Gandhi upped the ante by creating “suspense” over her candidature from Varanasi against Modi. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress President added salt and pepper to the speculations about Priyanka. This acted as a major catalyst for Congress candidates in Eastern UP who were already much strong in their own capacity. Anti-BJP undercurrent was already there. They just needed it to surface and that was possible only if the “suspense” would have ended in expected positivity.
The Double “Suspense” of Benares
Unfortunately, the “suspense” ended into a tragedy. Not much for Congress, but for the distressed voter, the floating 4-5 percent, about which the noted psephologist Yogendra Yadav had predicted a swing away from BJP. The premature fall of this “suspense” may be termed as a “shock doctrine” that will be remembered in the electoral history of India if the final results prove to be a disaster- obviously not for BJP!
Conspiracies were in full swing until now. Take the case of Ambedkar Nagar LS seat. Priyanka Gandhi had visited Bandit Queen Phulan Devi’s home and fielded his husband Ummed Singh from this constituency on Congress ticket. After nomination, Congress candidate received notice from ECI about discrepancies in his form. He had 24 hours to respond and rectify, He never turned up. His nomination was cancelled after 48 hours. As per internal sources, he was given hefty amount by the GA candidate from the same seat to sit back. Likewise, Praveen Nishad, the alliance candidate and thereafter MP from Gorakhpur who won in March 2018 LS by-polls switched sides and joined BJP. The story is same here also.
Alliance was waiting for an opportune moment to dent Congress, The moment came on April 29th when total 71 seats went to polls in fourth phase and it was the last date of nomination for the last phase. SP had announced Shalini Yadav as GA’s official candidate from Benares against Modi but it changed its candidate at the last moment. A suspended ex-serviceman of BSF Tej Bahadur Yadav was fighting independent from Benares. SP gave him its official symbol and turned Shalini into a dummy within hours. The national media made a hero out of Bahadur and pitched him as the sole rival candidate against Modi from Benares lS seat. Local INC candidate Ajay Rai who was fighting twice against Modi was completely ignored.
Again “suspense” engulfed the whole discourse as Tej Bahadur’s nomination was cancelled by the Returning Officer of Varanasi and the final decision was upto ECI in Delhi. On May 1 at 4.00 p.m. his nomination was finally rejected but the whole episode was very much successful in creating a binary of Bahadur-Modi. It had created a false discourse of BJP’s communal militant nationalism Versus SP’s secular militant nationalism and much of the civil society that supported Arvind Kejriwal in 2014 got trapped in it. After May 1, things are sundry and uninteresting in Benares. The communal-secular combine of BJP-SP has proved successful in sidelining Congress from the VIP seat.
This episode may be validated by the recent historical events. In October 2015, SP government in UP with consent of Modi government at the centre had imposed NSA on Ajay Rai and put him behind bars for seven months. At that time, there was a fierce debate in Benares about putting idols in Ganga and the local saints were opposing the move. These saints were lathicharged by UP police in which the successor of Shankaracharya Shrih Avimukteshwaranand, the most revered religious figure in Benares was badly hurt. Rai, whose deposits were forfeited in 2014 came in his support and he was jailed under NSA. This episode has now repeated itself in Benares as an electoral “suspense” that has taken air out of Congress’s fortunes. Otherwise Rai being a local candidate and having stood with the people of Benares for five years was the best bet against Modi this time, given Kejriwal’s absence. SP and BJP created a Kejriwal out of Tej Bahadur and the discourse got destracted.
The story till now bears two main contradictions that arise out of bad chemistry in opposition: the first contradiction between the social base of SP and BSP, another being INC’s urge to consolidate its organisational structure for 2022 state elections and GA’s natural “obligation” to defeat Modi in 2019. There are much more frictions at micro level but all this have a same resultant effect: gain for BJP!
As the election progresses towards end, we should expect more exchange of words between Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav as has been witnessed in last week. Ideological fault-lines have clearly emerged out of a pre-modern society that is being pulled out deliberately by the people in power. Values have completely eroded. The aggregate of our civilizational and cultural achievements are touching a historical low. It is still immature to speculate on wins and losses. That would be much clear after May 19th when I will focus more on voting patterns and expected results. As of now, it may be suggested that the fair arithmetic of Grand Alliance in UP has been spoiled by the the bad chemistry and BJP’s propaganda machinery. Whatever would come out of it will bear consequences for the whole nation. In this sense, UP is again going to dictate the collective future of more than a billion impoverished people of India.
(Abhishek Srivastava is Executive Editor of Mediavigil.com)