(Source: PTI)

Election 2019: Caste Hands Mahagathbandhan An Edge In Big Fight For Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh, with the largest number of seats in Parliament, is often the state that determines which party forms the next government.

In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies bagged 73 of the 80 seats, but the Opposition was split then. The BJP went on to win the assembly election in the state in 2017 with a huge majority as well. Five years later, the BJP faces a challenge from a joint Opposition alliance—the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal.

The three parties together cornered 43 percent of the vote share in the last Lok Sabha election, on par with the BJP. But the question is, will voters from different castes and communities who have been traditional rivals vote for each other?

“A lot more other backward castes are willing to vote for Dalit or common candidates,” senior Journalist Atul Chandra told BloombergQuint. The caste factor, where voters prefer to choose candidates belonging to their caste, would be crucial in the next four phases when the bulk of seats in Uttar Pradesh will go to vote, Chandra said, claiming that Gujjars voted alongside Jats for ‘Gathbandhan’ candidates in the first three phases of the polls which saw votes being cast for 26 seats in the state.

If that is the trend, then the caste factor which is going to be more complex in the four phases is going to be very important and the BJP may find itself outsmarted by the ‘Gathbandhan’.
Atul Chandra, Senior Journalist

The ‘Mahagathbandhan’ or the Opposition alliance has also pulled out all stops to ensure votes are transferred between their followers. BSP Chief Mayawati was seen on stage with SP Patriarch Mulayam Singh, canvassing for him in Mainpuri where he is contesting. The coming together of the two leaders, once bitter rivals, on the same platform was an attempt to get their blocs of voters to select common candidates.

Samajwadi patron Mulayam Singh Yadav with Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati  during their joint election campaign rally in Mainpuri, Friday, April 19, 2019. PTI

“In Uttar Pradesh, the caste factor can only be beaten by communalism,” Mirza Asmer Beg, professor of political science at Aligarh Muslim University, said, adding that absence of a ‘Modi wave’ brings caste calculations into sharper focus.

In absence of a wave and in absence of communal polarisation, I expect the ‘Gatbandhan’ to fare better than what was earlier anticipated, and they might get around 35-40 seats.
Mirza Asmer Beg, Professor of political science, Aligarh Muslim University

A better-than-expected performance by the Mahagathbandhan could deal a huge blow to the BJP’s re-election bid. “Most people are predicting between 25-50 seats for the BJP,” Neelanjan Sircar, senior visiting fellow at Center for Policy Research, said. A wide variation in the Uttar Pradesh tally, he said, could be the difference between a majority government and an alliance for the ruling party especially if the NDA does not perform well in other parts of the country than what has been predicted.

These little battles of 2 percentage points going towards the ‘Gatbandhan’ or going towards the BJP are going to tell us a lot about the national picture.
Neelanjan Sircar, Senior Visiting Fellow, Center for Policy Research

The Indian National Congress, that was limited to two paltry seats in 2014, is not part of the opposition alliance and is campaigning aggressively across the state.

The Congress, however, will not be much of a challenge to the Mahagathbandhan in the hunt for ‘anti-Modi’ votes, Beg said, adding that the Congress being left out is a boon to the Opposition alliance, robbing the BJP of an opportunity to polarise voters.

If Congress was in the ‘Gathbandhan’ it would have been easy for the BJP to create the narrative that it is ‘them versus us’.
Mirza Asmer Beg, Professor of political science, Aligarh Muslim University

Watch the full debate with Atul Chandra, Neelanjan Sircar and Mirza Asmer Beg here: