Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav after announcing their alliance, in Lucknow, on Jan 11, 2019. (Photographer: Nand Kumar/PTI)

Why Mayawati-Akhilesh Said No To Rahul, And Erred

BloombergQuintOpinion

Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav have sealed the much-awaited Bahujan Samaj Party – Samajwadi Party alliance for the state of Uttar Pradesh which sends 15 percent of the total members of Parliament to the Lok Sabha. The state which boasts of giving the country the most Prime Ministers is likely to play a crucial role in the elections due in three months. Mayawati said the alliance will give sleepless nights to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The SP-BSP left out the Congress and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal from the deal. Mayawati was as scathing of the Congress as she was of the BJP, saying the Congress was arrogant and a threat to regional parties, dashing the grand old party's hopes of leading a Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) at the national level. Even without the Congress, opinion polls predict a loss of 30-40 seats for BJP in Uttar Pradesh due to Bua (aunt) and Babua (little boy) coming together.

Why The Contest Will Be A Thriller

Essentially, two vote blocs exist in Uttar Pradesh. The contest is even-stevens as the vote blocs of the National Democratic Alliance and the Mahagathbandhan each account for roughly 50 percent of the population.

Why Mayawati-Akhilesh Said No To Rahul, And Erred

Also read: Alliance in Key Indian State Threatens Modi's Re-Election Bid

Vote Share Trends In UP

Interesting trends emerge when the voting pattern in the state over the last six Lok Sabha elections are analysed.

1996-2009

  • BJP as well as SP peaked in 1998.
  • BJP's graph declined continuously from 1998, loss of almost 20 percent till 2009. Kalyan Singh’s exit and no substantial progress on Ram temple during six-year Vajpayee rule seen as key reasons.
  • SP also lost vote share during this period (-5 percent), the decline of the Third Front and the loss of a section of backward votes to the BSP seen as key reasons.
  • The BSP gained (6 percent) at the expense of SP and BJP, as it expanded its vote base among upper castes and OBCs through social engineering.
  • The Congress gained (12 percent) at the expense of SP and BJP, benefiting from its tenure at the centre.

2014

  • In 2014, a Modi wave gripped the state and BJP’s development agenda trumped caste politics.
  • BJP recorded its best-ever vote share while the BSP failed to open its account.
Why Mayawati-Akhilesh Said No To Rahul, And Erred

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Why Mahagathbandhan Left Congress Out

Mayawati and Akhilesh explained the reasons why the Congress was excluded from the Mahagathbandhan. The main reason put forth by them was that the Congress is not able to transfer its votes to the alliance partner. This was seen in the Congress’ 1996 tie-up with the BSP and 2017 alliance with the SP.

  • In the 1996 assembly elections, BSP struck an alliance with Congress. While BSP’s contested vote-share declined marginally by 1 percent, Congress’ vote share almost doubled. In fact, it was even higher than the BSP’s in seats contested.
  • In the 2017 assembly elections, SP got into an alliance with the Congress. While the SP’s contested vote share declined marginally by 1 percent like the BSP’s in 1996, the Congress’ vote share increased by 9 percent in seats contested.
This implies that Congress benefitted from the transfer of votes from both BSP in 1996 and SP in 2017 but couldn’t transfer its votes to its partners.

Their contention is validated by data. It is possible that the Congress’ upper caste voters hesitated to back the Yadav/Dalit candidates of SP/BSP. A note of caution though, this is not the only reason but one of the plausible explanations for the change in vote share.

Why Mayawati-Akhilesh Said No To Rahul, And Erred

Impact of Leaving Congress Out Of Alliance

On Seats

If the BSP and the SP had contested together in 2014, the NDA tally would have reduced to half the 73 it won. If the Congress was part of the alliance, BJP would have lost another 13 seats, assuming a full transfer of votes.
Why Mayawati-Akhilesh Said No To Rahul, And Erred

On Vote Share

The Congress has the ability to theoretically transfer 5-5.5 percent vote share to the Mahagathbandhan in my opinion, based on 2014 numbers and after adjusting the antagonistic vote blocs. This is after taking out the upper-caste and Jat votes which may not get transferred.

In a nutshell, the Congress has influence over 15 seats and could have added the extra punch with 5 percent vote share to the Mahagathbandhan.
Why Mayawati-Akhilesh Said No To Rahul, And Erred

Also read: Congress Out Of SP-BSP Alliance In UP, But There’s Little Reason For BJP To Cheer

A rejuvenated Congress, after victories in three Hindi heartland states, would have been an asset. The BSP/SP’s 1996/2017 experience with the Congress may not have repeated to that extent.

Vote-Transfer Without Leakage Is Key To Success

The success of any alliance depends upon the ability of partners to transfer votes to each other, without leakages. The example cited often of a similar Mahagathbandhan experiment is that of Bihar in 2015 when Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, and the Congress joined hands to stop the BJP juggernaut. Analysing individual party numbers in Bihar is a complex exercise because the JD(U) was earlier part of NDA, then contested the 2014 Lok Sabha standalone, and the 2015 Vidhan Sabha along with Lalu.

As a part of NDA, the JD(U) received 22.4 percent vote share in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and 24 percent vote share in 2009. That's an average of 23.2 percent. This reduced to 16 percent in 2014 when it contested alone. So, 7-8 percent of its 2004 and 2009 vote share can be considered as BJP votes that accrued to the JD(U), almost one-third.

Contesting separately in the 2014 Lok Sabha, the JD(U), RJD, and Congress gathered 45.1 of the votes. Together in the 2015 assembly polls, they bagged 42.9 percent of the votes.

That’s a leakage rate of less than 5 percent which is very good.

<i>(LS: Lok Sabha, VS: Vidhan Sabha)</i>
(LS: Lok Sabha, VS: Vidhan Sabha)

The Mahagathbandhan includes antagonistic vote blocs – mainly Yadavs and Dalits, Jats and Muslims.

  • Yadavs and Dalits have been at loggerheads for decades. Many cases have been filed against Yadavs under the SC-ST Atrocities Act in Uttar Pradesh and the rest of the country.
  • Jats and Muslims have clashed in riots in western-Uttar Pradesh.
The big question is, how many Yadavs who voted for SP candidates in the 2014 Lok Sabha election will vote for BSP candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha, on half of the seats.

The reverse question is relevant for Dalits as well.

Also, will any of the upper caste voters who backed candidates in 2014 that belong to parties that are now in the Mahagathbandhan still back them?

In 2014, SP+BSP bagged 42.1 percent of the votes. Any leakage greater than 5 percent which translates into 2.1 percent vote share will be detrimental for the Mahagathbandhan.

Why Mayawati-Akhilesh Said No To Rahul, And Erred

To sum up, a keen contest is on the anvil in Uttar Pradesh. The caste dynamics on each seat, a seamless vote transfer without leakages, and the Congress performance could well determine the results in the battle for Uttar Pradesh in 2019.

Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator, strategist and consultant advising political parties and leaders. He was a corporate and investment banker.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.