SP’s prospects in UP

Harihar Swarup

What a high-pitched drama was enacted in Lucknow! One day it appeared that the Congress-SP alliance has been reached. The second day what looked a certainty took an unexpected turn and talks of an alliance broke down. Those who wrote their columns on the assumption that the talk of alliance between the two parties is finally dead woke up to find next morning in newspapers that the poll pact between Congress and SP has been reached. Strange are the ways of politics.

After two days, the Congress and ruling Samajwadi Party sealed a poll alliance, a move expected to consolidate the Muslim votes that would have bearing on at least 100 of the 403 Assembly seats.

The SP will contest 298 seats and the Congress the remaining 105. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who emerged as the undisputed leader of the SP after months of bruising family battle, would lead the alliance into the polls.

The SP-Congress alliance changes equations in UP. If it works, it would be driven by the leaders of both parties being young, but primarily would ride on Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s incredible feat of appearing to be anti-incumbent force against his own incumbent regime. It is certainly one of the ironic twists of Indian democracy that dynasts of a national and regional party should at this point appear to be young, anti-system agitators.

Usually, however, UP is about arithmetic, which broadly means that three major players, the SP-led alliance, the BJP and the BSP, are in a triangular contest in the first-past-the-post system aiming at around 30 per cent of the vote. Most of the analysis derives from equations such as X community plus Y community means victory and so on. Competing parties, therefore, spend as much energy on trying to split the votes of their opponents as on garnering their own votes. 

Till some months ago, the BSP was seen as the front-runner in the state polls. But that’s changed largely because the Akhilesh persona has suddenly become taller (even before he became the SP supremo, he was seen in opinion polls as the most popular CM candidate though his party was not popular).

Akhilesh personally is a neutral sort of a figure who can access the rustic inheritance of his family but is relatively urbane and speaks beyond sectional appeal. The big change that affected all lives in UP during his reign is the improvement in delivery of electricity for domestic consumption. Everybody therefore likes Akhilesh, hence in central UP (110) seats and eastern UP (150), the battle would be between the BJP and SP, with a few seats witnessing a triangular contest with BSP.

Western UP (125) seats however is where the first phase begins and here BSP is traditionally considered strong, as is BJP that has its principal communal laboratory here. But there are two double whammies that could hit BSP. One, the Muslim is also charmed by Akhilesh’s appeal that idea of voting tactically sometime overstated. Second, among the Dalits, 52 per cent are Chamars, who stand rock-like with Mayawati, but groups like Valmikis (15 per cent of Dalits) have also been communalised and are anti-Muslims in their orientation. 

Indeed, so many tickets given to Muslims results in counter-polarisation among other groups such as non-Chamar Dalits, EBCs and upper castes. The type of candidates who get the tickets also facilitates this. In western UP, an inordinately high number of conservatives, who fit the beard-cap stereotype, get the tickets and are downright unattractive to voters outside their community.

Simultaneously, BJP is always engaged in low-grade communalisation and they have hard-line Hindu candidates of their own, who get afresh lease of life whenever there is this wild pursuit of Muslim vote.

Post-demonetisation, there are some changes in BJP’s vote-bank too. Baniyas may not be enthusiastic as they have been hit hard by the cash crisis and neither would the Jat farmers of western UP, but the question whether they would desert BJP remains wide open. Meanwhile, by presenting himself as poor figure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to widen the party’s social base and it be interesting to see how many EBCs and Dalits choose the BJP opinion, presuming other factors in its campaign click.

Akhilesh would not know whether the gamble of giving so many seats to Congress will work and whether both parties have capacity to transfer votes. But he has a calm temperament. It appears Akhilesh is heading for a victory. The infighting in his party has raised his popularity and stature among voters. (IPA)   

Monday, 30 January, 2017