The S.P., under a new leader and with new programmes, wins 224 seats in Uttar Pradesh, while the national parties fall by the wayside.
THE crowd that gathered on March 15 in Lucknow to celebrate 38-year-old Akhilesh Yadav's swearing-in as the youngest Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh reflected, in many ways, that which made possible the victory of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) in the seven-phase Assembly elections. The S.P.'s massive electoral triumph - 224 out of 406 seats - was the product of a rainbow coalition of communities, castes and social groups that had come together to throw out the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) from power. This coalition was driven essentially by the core support base of the S.P., consisting of the Other Backward Class (OBC) Yadav community and the minority Muslim community. But a wide array of castes, communities and social groups, ranging from upper-caste Brahmins and Thakurs to Dalit Pasis and urban middle-class youth belonging to various social streams, rallied around the S.P. this time. In the process, the caste-and-community coalition rejected the claims of the two national parties - the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - of providing viable alternatives to the BSP regime.
All these factors were evident at the swearing-in ceremony. The milling crowds were dominated by Yadavs and Muslims, but there was a significant presence of Brahmins and Thakurs. There was also enthusiastic, almost aggressive, participation by thousands of young people.
This social coalition was formed essentially on the basis of an overwhelming anti-incumbency slogan: Baspa hatao (remove the BSP) It was on the basis of this slogan that communities and castes that had hitherto refused to align with the S.P. overcame their reservations about the party. The shift of caste groups such as the Brahmins to the S.P. was noticed by perceptive observers even as the election process was on. It had been noticed then that this shift was steering Uttar Pradesh once again towards a government that would ensure stability ( Frontline, March 9). It boosted the S.P.'s vote share from 25.60 per cent in the 2007 Assembly elections to 29.16 per cent in 2012, while it brought down the BSP's vote share from 30.4 per cent to 25.92 per cent. The Congress, which marginally improved its position from 22 seats in 2007 to 28 seats, increased its vote share from 8.70 per cent to 11.63 per cent. The BJP, the biggest loser in the State, lost both in terms of seats and vote share. Its 2007 tally of 51 seats came down to 47. Its vote share came down from 17.10 per cent to 15 per cent. The Rashtriya Lok Dal, which contested the elections in 2007 in alliance with the BJP, allied with the Congress this time. It had 10 seats and a vote share of 3.1 per cent in 2007. This time, it won nine seats and polled 2.33 per cent of the vote.
This depletion of votes and seats of all other parties and the accrual of the same to the S.P. kitty was uniform in all regions of the State, including the urban areas, where the party is traditionally not known to be strong. According to informal, caste-based calculations, the S.P.'s Muslim-Yadav combination had the winning potential in only about 150 seats. The massive increase by approximately 75 seats clearly points to a new support base. In western Uttar Pradesh, the party wrested 25 seats in what was considered to be a Congress-RLD stronghold. In the Awadh region in central Uttar Pradesh, which has many urban middle-class centres, the S.P. notched up 58 seats. These include the districts of Rae Bareli, Sultanpur and Amethi, the so-called bastion of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Here, the Congress won only two of a total of 15 seats.
The defeat of the Congress in the bastions of the party's first family was repeated in the home turf of Union Ministers too. Union Ministers Beni Prasad Verma and Salman Khurshid had personal stakes in the elections and both of them suffered humiliation. Beni Prasad Verma's son Rakesh Verma lost in Barabanki and Salman Khurshid's wife Louise finished fifth in Farrukhabad.
The Congress lost all the seven seats in Gonda, the district from where Beni Prasad Verma was elected to the Lok Sabha. Union Minister Jitin Prasada also scored a draught out of the seven seats in Lakhimpur Kheri. Union Minister Shriprakash Jaiswal's home constituency, Kanpur, saw the Congress winning just one seat.
The S.P. came up with a spectacular performance in the densely populated eastern Purvanchal region, essentially on the strength of the migration of upper-caste votes to its fold. In the process, it struck vital blows at the BSP, which had done remarkably well in this region in 2007. Except in the Gorakhpur area, where the BJP wields considerable clout under Yogi Adityanath, the S.P. nominees shot ahead of their adversaries.
Results from the 70 urban constituencies in the State flummoxed even S.P. supporters. Starting from the capital, Lucknow, where the S.P. won seven of the nine seats, to Allahabad, where it got five of the nine seats, to Agra and Aligarh, the same trend persisted. The S.P. also won more than half of the Scheduled Caste reserved constituencies and was way ahead of the BSP, which is actually known for its Dalit base. Of the 84 reserved constituencies, the S.P. won 54, while the BSP won only 17. The Congress got four, the BJP three, the RLD two and others took the rest. In 2007, the BSP won 62 of the 89 reserved constituencies. In that election, the S.P. won only 13, the BJP seven, the Congress five, the RLD and Rashtriya Swabhiman Party (RPS) one each.
Similar was the situation in constituencies with a significant presence of young voters. Jyotiba Phule Nagar, Rampur, Pilibhit are the three districts with the highest number of voters in the 18-19 age group. In all these districts, the S.P. emerged as the number one party, pushing aside the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress.
The perception that only the S.P. could provide an alternative to the BSP had apparently gained ground even in traditional strongholds of the cadre-based BJP. The saffron party lost heavily in the process. It retained only 11 of the 51 seats it had won in 2007. In other words, the party lost nearly 80 per cent of its seats. Significantly, 20 of the 40 seats that the BJP lost went to the S.P. These losses included Ayodhya, which the BJP had held for the past 21 years.
Smaller parties such as the Peace Party of India (PPI), the Ulema Council, the Apna Dal and the Quami Ekta Dal were expected to harm the prospects of bigger parties and cause a hung verdict. Every one of these parties fell by the wayside, though they made some marginal gains in some of their strongholds. The PPI, which had expected to garner 20 seats, won in only four constituencies. Its supreme leader, Dr Ayub, won in Khalilabad, defeating his nearest rival, Mashoor Alam of the BSP, by 5,392 votes. Another PPI candidate, former S.P. MLA Kamal Yousuf Malik, won in Domariyaganj. He defeated Saiyada Khatun of the BSP by 1,589 votes. Akhilesh Singh, who had previously contested and won as an independent candidate and on the Congress ticket, contested from his traditional Assembly seat of Rae Bareli and became the PPI's biggest winner. He comfortably defeated his nearest rival Ram Pratap Yadav of the S.P. by a margin of 29,494 votes. The fourth winner of the PPI is Aneesur Rehman, who defeated his BSP rival by a margin of 1,534 votes in Kanth in Moradabad.
The Apna Dal, another small party which claims to draw support from the OBC Kurmi caste and Muslims, got just one seat. The party's general secretary, Anupriya Patel, daughter of its founder-president Sone Lal Patel, was elected from Rohaniya in Varanasi. The Quami Ekta Dal, floated by Afzal Ansari, brother of the alleged mafia don Mukthar Ansari, won two seats. Mukhtar managed a slender victory in Mau, while Sibgatulla Ansari won the Mohammadabad seat in Ghazipur.
The central factor in the victory of the S.P. and the defeat of other parties was the overwhelming realisation of the electorate that only the S.P. could provide an alternative to the BSP. This, coupled with the leadership provided by Akhilesh Yadav, helped the S.P. draw strength from diverse communities and castes. Indeed, the charismatic young leader was an important facilitator of the movement of other castes, communities and social groups to the essentially Yadav-oriented party. In larger strategic terms, any party that seeks to win Uttar Pradesh needs to have a core vote base and supplementary vote bases from other castes and communities.
The BSP managed to draw this through its Brahmin-Dalit bhaichara (brotherhood) politics in 2007. Akhilesh Yadav managed something similar, with some value addition, by appealing to the youth and by building a rainbow coalition.
The mainstream parties that sought to project themselves as alternatives to the BSP failed to achieve this. The Congress' slogans, including the one on Muslim reservation, were perceived as cynical poll-related exercises aimed only at garnering votes. The BJP lost its standing as an organisation wedded to fighting corruption when it inducted and later threw out Babu Singh Khushwaha, a former BSP Minister accused of corruption. Clearly, the credibility of both the parties was low. It is this gap that was filled by the Akhilesh Yadav-led S.P.
As political analyst Sudhir Kumar Panwar told Frontline, the voters of Uttar Pradesh have given a message to the Congress and the BJP that they have come past the "hand-waving, vote-catching" political practice followed by the Nehru-Gandhi family and the senior leaders of the BJP. "What people want is leadership rooted in the ground. Akhilesh Yadav's campaign has underscored the fact that while caste and identity do matter, these factors need to gel with people's aspirations for a better life in a State like Uttar Pradesh. And this aspiration is linked to development, not just bijli-sadak-pani but livelihood opportunities, educational avenues, health facilities and other human development index goals."
For the moment the S.P. and its Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav represent the electoral dimensions of caste-identity plus the phenomenon of socio-economic aspirations. A manual of sorts to help Akhilesh Yadav live up to the expectations of this social and political combination could well have instructions on how to carefully negate some of the elements of the track record of his predecessor.