Uttar Pradesh

Curious patterns

Print edition : June 07, 2019

Smriti Irani with BJP president Amit Shah during a road show in Amethi on May 4. Photo: Nand Kumar/PTI

At a Mahagathbandhan rally in Deoband on April 7. Photo: Altaf Qadri/AP

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati and Rashtirya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh at a joint election rally in Firozabad on April 20. Photo: PTI

Sonia Gandhi with Congress president Rahul Gandhi before filing her nomination papers for the general election at Rae Bareli, on April 11. Photo: SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP

The biggest story in the 2019 Lok Sabha election is the boost in the BJP’s vote share in the State, taking it close to 50 per cent of the votes polled.

Smriti Irani’s exultation after her giant-slaying electoral victory over Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, the constituency held by the Congress president since 2004, summed up in many ways the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) temperament in fighting the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous State. “Kaun kehta hai aasmaan mein surakh nahi ho sakta, she tweeted after the win, citing the renowned Hindi poet Dushyant Kumar (1933-75). A literal translation of the saying would be “who says that the skies cannot be pierced”, but idiomatic interpretations of the saying have it as “who says that the impossible is not possible”. Indeed, Smriti Irani’s proclamation was about her own win in a constituency that has been a Congress citadel since it came into being in 1967. The Congress has lost here in only two of the 13 Lok Sabha elections held earlier, first in 1977, during the anti-Emergency wave, and later in 1998, when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP made major gains in north India.

But seen in the larger context of the State, where the Congress has for the last three decades occupied the role of a minuscule electoral player, the statement has a wider import. This fits in with the BJP’s electoral fight across the State, especially against its main opposition, the Mahagathbandhan consisting of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). Across the political spectrum of Uttar Pradesh, Smriti Irani’s statement is seen as an illustration of the manner in which the BJP and its associates in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-led Sangh Parivar rallied to take on the powerful Other Backward Classes (OBC) Yadav-Dalit Jatav-Muslim social combination built up by the Mahagathbandhan and come up with a result that exceeded most assessments.

Vote share calculations

Set to defend the commanding mandate it won five years ago in 2014 with as many as 73 of the 80 seats in the State (the BJP won 71 and its ally the Apna Dal two), the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners lost nine seats in the overall tally this time, with the BJP winning 62 and the Apna Dal two, but made massive gains in terms of vote share. This unanticipated rise in the vote share, from 42.63 per cent in 2014 to 49.56 per cent this time, impeded the anti-NDA forces, including the Mahagathbandhan and the Congress, from making the achievements that were widely expected of them on the basis of calculations of past vote shares.

Between the Mahagathbandhan and the Congress, the opposition won 16 seats this time. Of the 15 Mahagathbandhan seats, the BSP won 10, making it the biggest gainer in the State since it did not win a single seat in 2014. It maintained just about the same vote share it had in 2014—19.26 per cent compared with 19.6 per cent last time—but the number of seats rose from zero to 10. The S.P. maintained the number of seats (five) it had in 2014 but lost in terms of vote share, from 22.3 per cent to 17.96 per cent.

In 2014, both the S.P. and the BSP contested all the 80 seats, but this time they contested just 37 and 38 seats respectively as part of the alliance. Thus, this vote share reduction cannot be taken as absolute but needs to be rationalised on the basis of the reduced number of seats contested by each party. The third partner of the Mahagathbandhan, the RLD, did not win any seat this time either. However, its vote share increased from 0.85 per cent to 1.67 per cent.

The Congress, which won two seats in 2014, got its tally reduced to one seat, in Rae Bareli, which was won by former party president Sonia Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi lost to Smriti Irani by about 55,000 votes. Its vote share also came down from 7.53 per cent to 6.3 per cent.

Surprise results

The results, as they turned out, surprised large sections of the political class, including BJP leaders at various levels, and political observers. This was because both in terms of the calculations on the basis of the results of past elections and the campaign trends across the seven phases of the election in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP and the Mahagathbandhan were perceived to be fighting an even contest. The combined vote share of the Mahagathbandhan partners in the 2014 Lok Sabha election was 42.65 per cent as against the BJP’s 42.63 per cent. On the basis of the votes won in individual constituencies, the Mahagathbandhan would have won 41 seats in that election.

Reckoning the results of the Assembly elections held in 2017, the combined vote share of the Mahagathbandhan partners would be in the range of 44 to 48 per cent. (This range is arrived at since the S.P. was in alliance with the Congress in that election and a clear quantification of Congress’ own votes in the 100-odd seats it contested is difficult.) In the 2017 election, the BJP’s vote share was 41.35 per cent. On the basis of all this, the consensus among political observers on the BJP’s vote share in the current election was in the range of 42 to 44 per cent and that of the Mahagathbandhan between 44 per cent and 48 per cent.

The big question against the background of these calculations was whether the social bases of the parties in the Mahagathbandhan would come together electorally. The overwhelming impression in the political firmament of the State, especially after the first four phases of polling, was that the Yadav-Jatav consolidation was complete even as a sizeable section of the Jats remained with the BJP, despite the RLD, with its strong Jat base, joining the Mahagathbandhan. It was also surmised that about 85 per cent of Muslims would root for the Mahagathbandhan. All this added to the perception of an equal contest. A senior BJP leader even went to the extent of stating that the BJP’s social base consisting of upper-caste and non-Yadav OBC-Most Backward Caste (MBC) communities and non-Jatav Dalit communities was intact even as the Mahagathbandhan’s social base too was fighting fit.

Periodic evaluations by all observers as the voting progressed over the seven phases also gave the Mahagathbandhan the upper hand. This was the case in at least four of the seven phases, although ground-level reports pointed towards a late surge by the BJP in the last two phases of polling in the constituencies in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Even so, a number of senior leaders of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar were of the view that the party’s strike rate would be around 50 per cent of the seats. However, as it turned out, the Mahagathbandhan managed to get only 38.89 per cent of the votes as against the 46 to 48 per cent expected of it. On the other hand, the BJP added approximately seven percentage points to its vote share, not only stemming the perceived dramatic drop in its seat share but emerging as a supremely dominant force, albeit with a limited loss of nine seats.

Silent split?

The Deoband-based political observer Badar Kazmi told Frontline that the mismatch between the voter mood as witnessed during campaigning and polling and the one that got reflected in the results is bewildering. “Either there has been a silent split in the core vote base of the S.P. and the BSP or the vote assimilation techniques of the BJP from its core constituencies, including the upper castes, the non-Yadav OBC-MBC communities and non-Jatav Dalits, have undergone a metamorphosis, boosting them to unprecedented proportions. I would request all political parties, independent poll-watch organisations and the media to study this election and related phenomena closely. If nothing else, it may provide some valuable points on election management,” Azmi said.

Talking to Frontline after the announcement of the results, Shyam Bihari Mishra, a Kanpur-based senior BJP leader, identified four major factors for this dramatic turnaround in the elections. First, the steady presence of Modi as an individual leader with no match or alternative across the State. Second, the massive and almost 100 per cent consolidation of non-Yadav OBC-MBCs and non-Jatav Dalits in favour of the BJP. Third, the superlative organisational machinery of the BJP, commandeered by party president Amit Shah and his team with efficient networking down the line, leaving no stone unturned to ensure 100 per cent polling by the NDA’s voters and supporters. Fourth, the micro-level management strategy employed across the State, weaning away almost 100 regional influencers from different parties, including the S.P., the BSP, the RLD and the Congress, with offers of various positions and material benefits. These regional influencers buttressed the ground-level planning and manoeuvres of the BJP and upstaged the opposition’s plans and moves at every stage. Mishra was of the view that the combination of the first and fourth factors (Modi and regional influencers) had a decisive impact in as many as 25 constituencies.

“The defeat of powerful Mahagathbandhan candidates in vital constituencies like Kannauj [Dimple Yadav], Badayun [Dharmendra Yadav], Firozabad [Akshay Yadav], Gorakhpur [Rambhual Nishad] and Khushi Nagar [Nathuni Prasad Khushwaha] was primarily on account of the regional influencers who were weaned away, especially from the S.P.,” he said. Mishra was also of the view that the reduced victory margins in an S.P. stronghold such as Mainpuri, contested by S.P. founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, is on account of such “weaned away” regional influencers. Mulayam Singh Yadav won by just over 94,000 votes, bringing down the Mahagathbandhan’s majority in the seat by about four lakh votes. In Azamgarh too, which Mulayam Singh Yadav vacated this year for his son and S.P. president, former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, the Mahagathbandhan’s victory margin dropped by over 90,000 compared with that in 2014.

Mahagathbandhan experiment

The Mahagathbandhan experiment began last year through three Lok Sabha byelections, in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana, which it won convincingly. However, all the three constituencies saw the Mahagathbandhan getting defeated this time. The BJP victory margins here underscored the rise in the vote share of that party. It won Gorakhpur by over three lakh votes, Phulpur by over 1.6 lakh votes and Kairana by over 90,000 votes.

There were many seats where the Mahagathbandhan garnered a massive vote share and yet lost. Cases in point are Baghpat, Meerut and Mohanlalganj. In all three seats, the Mahagathbandhan got more than five lakh votes but still lost. The Mahagathbandhan scored over four lakh votes in as many as 24 seats and got three lakh plus votes in 25 seats. In Machhlishahr, the BSP’s Tribhuvan Ram lost to Bholanath of the BJP by just 181 votes. In Meerut, the BJP’s victory margin was 4,729 votes.

Although the index of opposition unity was not considered to be a factor uniformly affecting all constituencies in the State, basic calculations indicate that the Congress ended up snuffing out the chances of the Mahagathbandhan in 10 seats, including in vital seats like Sultanpur, which was won by the BJP’s Maneka Gandhi. The Union Minister won by about 14,000 votes over the BSP’s Chandrabhadra Singh. Here the Congress candidate, Dr Sanjay Singh, got approximately 41,000 votes.

Beyond the story of seats won or lost by small margins, the biggest story in the 2019 Lok Sabha election is the boost in the BJP vote share, taking it close to 50 per cent of the votes polled. Does it signify a new kind of social engineering, building a new coalition of Hindu castes across the hierarchy and creating a unique pan-Hindu structure, or does it denote the presence of an awesome organisational system that is able to take most of its voters to the booth? Whatever it is, as Badar Kazmi points out, it is a point worthy of close inspection and study.