By Anand Singh:
If Delhi was read as a minor roadblock for the BJP, then Bihar must surely have come across as a major yank to the party that swept to a euphoric victory in the general elections just a year and a half ago. The Bihar election results are widely being seen as clear writings on the wall: “That which was almost invincible some time ago has probably exposed its Achilles’ heel this time around.” The underlying message may not be too hard to decipher.
The party in power has been defeated, and it might not be an exaggeration to term the defeat a humiliating one, debilitating even. Given the high-pitched histrionics in the run up to the polling carried out in five distinct phases, the margin of defeat has dealt a body blow to the BJP. In addition, it has bolstered the notion that a consolidation of opposition votes can be decisive in turning the tide against the party in power at the center. The strategic state of Uttar Pradesh can learn a lesson or two in coalition politics from the ‘mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar, but it would be naïve to assume that UP is Bihar. SP and BSP are no RJD or JD(U), either. However, the possibility of an alliance between the two regional satraps who have controlled the seat of power in Lucknow for the larger part of the last two decades cannot be ruled out.
Presumptuousness, too, should be avoided in this regard.
Soon after the grand coalition swept to power in Bihar with an overwhelming majority, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was quick to propose a mahagathbandhan, a la Bihar, between his party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, led by the astute politician and administrator, Mayawati. His political naiveté must have earned him the disfavor of his father and SP boss Mulayam Singh Yadav, for he was swift to retract his statements, issuing a clarification to the effect that the statements he had made were his personal views and that a final call on any such possibility would be taken by his party.
The electoral politics of the states within the Indian Union are quite different from that of the Center. However, there is one resounding similarity across the broad horizontal political spectrum. Ideological considerations are safely relegated to the backburner for the purpose of furthering one’s electoral prospects. After all, what sane person would have even thought that that the two arch-rivals, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar would form an alliance? But it seems that the exigency of political survival coaxed them into taking such a decision. Whether Mulayam and Mayawati are able to conjure up a similar such alliance in the populous state of Uttar Pradesh remains a matter of much vile speculation.
Given the political arithmetic, the psephologists might rule in favour of an alliance. In the last elections to the legislative assembly of Uttar Pradesh in 2012, SP managed to secure a whopping 224 seats in the 400 plus strong assembly. BSP trailed far behind with just 80 seats. Now let me explain. The first past the post system has its own demerits. Consider this, in terms of vote share, BSP lagged behind SP by an infinitesimally thin margin of 3 percentage points. Therefore, it is not necessary that a party that gobbles up the maximum share of seats may have the majority of vote share up its kitty as well. It is an age-old democratic cliché, but that is not the point here. The scales here are tilted overwhelmingly in favour of an alliance between the two parties. Here in Uttar Pradesh though, things have an uncanny way of not merely conforming to the electoral arithmetic. The social conditions in the state point towards a path that has been scantily traveled hitherto, and requires some serious unraveling.
Dhirendra Rai, an assistant professor at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Benaras Hindu University (BHU), says, “All this talk of a possible alliance between the two parties is nothing more than wishful thinking. The core vote banks of both the parties are mutually exclusive of each other.” This requires some explanation. While the Samajwadi Party has the dominant OBC vote bank of the Yadavs behind it, the Bahujan Samaj Party claims to be the chief spokesperson for the dalits and minorities in the state. Besides, Yadavs are perceived as the principal tormentor of dalits in the across UP. The political clout they enjoy when their party is in power often spills over in the form of ugly violence they perpetrate against the dalits. Back in 2012, as soon as Mulayam Singh’s party was slated to form the next government in the state, the hardcore party loyalists of SP burned down the houses of some dalits. These are not scattered and stray incidents, but rather a part of an ugly agenda which reeks of blatant casteism. The two parties coming together would be akin to the most horrid nightmare of the dalits coming to life. In such a situation, it’d be most unlikely that a transfer of individual votes may take place in favour of the alliance.
Mayawati is seen as a champion politician. Even though the clamour for bonhomie between the two parties grows increasingly vociferous, Mayawati has not made any overtures to the party in power. Moreover, unlike in Bihar where RJD and JD(U) were born of the same political movement and later parted ways owing to certain ideological differences, BSP and SP are an entirely different political phenomenon. Any long standing observer of politics in the state would vouch for it. Cambridge historian F.W Maitland liked to remind his students that what is now in the past was once in the future. Since ideological considerations are seldom at the forefront of Indian politics, Maitland’s edict must be allowed to prevail until such a time when something concrete materializes out of the power corridors of Lucknow.