Winning formula

Published : Jun 01, 2007 00:00 IST

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav addressing a meeting on the last day of campaigning for the final phase of the elections, at Maniram in Gorakhpur.-AKHILESH KUMAR

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav addressing a meeting on the last day of campaigning for the final phase of the elections, at Maniram in Gorakhpur.-AKHILESH KUMAR

The BSP dramatically altered its traditional anti-Brahmin, anti-upper caste positions over the past two years.

"THE Elephant marched on to victory kicking the Cycle out of the way, trampling the Lotus under its feet and wiping out the very existence of the Hand that tried to stop it." A day after the Uttar Pradesh election results were announced a group of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) workers were singing a Hindi song with words to this effect on the street outside the house of their leader Mayawati in Lucknow. The motifs referred to were, obviously, the election symbols of various parties. The meaning was simple. The BSP's "Elephant" had kicked the "Cycle"-borne Samajwadi Party (S.P.), crushed the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) "Lotus" and wiped out the Congress' "Hand".

As with many declarations made by BSP activists and leaders during the campaign, this too had elements of the metaphorical but was in essence a statement of fact. An oft-repeated assertion in BSP circles during the campaign was that "Behenji [Mayawati] is miles ahead in the pace of electioneering as well as in the impact it is having among the electorate." As the results proved, despite its figurative dimensions the statement was indeed factual.

The BSP not only raced ahead of its political opponents, winning 206 of the 402 seats that went to the polls (election in one seat was postponed), but also became the first party since 1991 to come to power on its own in Uttar Pradesh. Its principal opponent, the S.P. was reduced to 97 seats, while the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, which won 22 and 50 seats respectively, were humbled. In terms of vote share, too, the BSP became the first party since 1996 to garner more than 30 per cent of the votes polled. It got 30.45 per cent, the S.P. 26.14 per cent, the BJP 17 per cent and the Congress 8.47 per cent.

Both conceptual and organisational factors contributed to the BSP's spectacular success. To start with, the BSP had the most meticulous and well thought out electioneering plan, which was conceived and set in motion two years ago. In as many as 150 seats, the party announced its candidates more than a year ago. The party had built a strong organisational machinery extending to the remotest villages and this helped advance the plan systematically.

The early start and the strong organisational machinery helped make the party the rallying point of popular sentiments against the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led S.P. government. Another factor that supplemented the BSP's plan was the Election Commission's orderly conduct of the seven-phased poll process. The violence-free polls helped the BSP's Dalit base to vote in large numbers. But the overarching factor was the Dalit-Brahmin combination that the party leadership sewed up in most parts of the State over the past two years.

This social alliance was built up with the basic objective of strengthening the party in the 2007 elections. The BSP dramatically altered its traditional and trenchant anti-Brahmin, anti-upper caste political position over the past two years. The party leadership, including Mayawati and Satish Chandra Mishra, the party's Brahmin face, worked persistently on the theme and set up Dalit-Brahmin bhaichara (Dalit-Brahmin brotherhood) committees across the State.

The electoral calculation involved a simple arithmetical estimate about the caste composition of the State. Informal estimates show that Dalits constitute about 23 per cent of the voters, Brahmins about 10 per cent and Muslims about 16 per cent. Dalit and Brahmin votes add up to 33 per cent, and with a section of the Muslim vote the party would rustle up an unbeatable vote share, so went the calculation.

Throughout the seven-phased polls it was clear to political observers and opinion pollsters alike that the BSP had emerged as the frontrunner on account of this social combination. However, most observers and every pollster failed to gauge the extent and reach of this potential. On the other hand, the BSP leadership's claims about pulling together a vote share of over 33 per cent were also seen as far-fetched. As the results, especially in terms of vote share, demonstrated, the BSP leadership's calculation did not work out uniformly across the State and fell short of the 33 per cent mark. The reality was a 30.45 per cent vote share, which was good enough to give the party a simple majority.

The fact that the BSP has got a majority on its own signifies the most concrete consolidation of a phenomenon broadly referred to as "Tamilnaduisation" of Uttar Pradesh politics. It involves the marginalisation of the mainstream parties and the strengthening of regional forces. This process began in 1993, gathered momentum in 1998 and has, perhaps, peaked in 2007.

A close look at the campaign and the results underscores this. The main thrust of the BSP's campaign, as also of the two other opposition parties, the Congress and the BJP, was to attack the governance record of the S.P. The aim was to tap the anti-incumbency vote. However, this cumulative anti-government campaign did not result in the S.P. losing its vote share. In fact, the party improved on it marginally to 26.14 per cent from 25.37 per cent in 2002. In terms of vote share, the BJP is the biggest loser, slumping to 17 per cent from 20.08 per cent in 2002. The Congress' share, too, saw a marginal change, down to 8.47 per cent from 8.96 per cent in 2002. The BSP's overall gain from 2002 was a whopping 7.39 percentage points; it had a vote share of 23.06 per cent in 2002. But, evidently, this gain was not made by depleting its main opponent, the S.P., but by chipping away at the support bases of the other opposition parties.

Both the BSP and the S.P. have been at this "political chipping game" since 1998. Both parties advanced a formula that sought to accentuate the core caste support of each with permutations and combinations from other castes so as to enhance their respective vote share.

The S.P. has, over the past decade, promoted Amar Singh, its general secretary, as a Thakur leader and given the party ticket to a number of Thakur candidates, thus weaning away a chunk of the upper caste community's vote from the BJP. The core vote of the S.P. plus the Thakur vote brought in by an individual candidate ensured victory for the party in many seats that it would not have otherwise won. The BSP employed the same strategy,with Brahmin candidates.

The net result of this strategising has been the constant increase in vote share and number of seats for the S.P. and the BSP in the past one decade and the systematic fall in the number of seats and vote share of the primary upper caste party, the BJP. The Congress, too, has steadily lost seats though it has managed to hold on to a fixed low vote share.

Between 1996 and 2007, the increases in the number of seats and the vote share of the BSP have been as follows: In the 1996 Assembly polls, it had 67 seats and 19.64 per cent of the vote; in 2002, 98 seats and 23.06 per cent of the vote; and in 2007, 206 seats and 30.45 per cent of the vote.

The S.P.'s vote share, too, has increased - from 21.80 per cent in 1996 to 25.37 per cent in 2002 and 26.14 per cent in 2007 - though the number of seats has not kept pace with this increase. It won 110 seats in 1996 and 143 in 2002, and now it has 97.

The BJP has experienced a steady decline. It won 174 seats in 1996, 88 in 2002 and 50 in 2007. The vote share, too, plummeted correspondingly from 32.52 per cent in 1996 to 20.08 per cent in 2002 and 17 per cent in 2007.

The Congress' numbers came down from 33 in 1996 to 26 in 2002 and 22 in 2007. Its vote share has hovered around 8.5 per cent - 8.35 per cent in 1996, 8.96 per cent in 2002 and 8.47 per cent in 2007.

These figures establish that the BSP's spectacular rise in 2007 was made possible essentially by advancing the process of marginalisation of the national parties by the unequivocal pursuit of the Dalit-Brahmin bhaichara socio-political slogan, which, in turn, was followed up by the fielding of as many as 86 Brahmin candidates. Fifty-one of them won. Besides them, the BSP's tally of 206 members includes 62 Dalits, 24 Muslims, 18 Thakurs and 51 members of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

The BSP's Brahmin candidates helped the party capture seats that were considered bastions of parties such as the BJP and the S.P. Such seats include Debai in Bulandshahar district, where its candidate Bhagwan Sharma humbled Rajveer Singh, son of former BJP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, and Karchana in Allahabad, where Kalector Pandey defeated the S.P.'s Ujjawal Raman Singh, son of Lok Sabha member Reoti Raman Singh. The BJP had held Debai in all the elections since 1993 and the S.P. had held Karchana from 1996.

The BSP victories in these constituencies are significant on account of other factors too. The BJP used to project Debai, which has a predominant OBC Lodh population, as testimony to its own brand of social engineering. Similarly, the S.P. used to present Karchana as proof of its appropriation of Thakur votes. The BSP gains in both seats show that the Dalit-Brahmin bhaichara is capable of taking on other caste combinations.

But the BSP was not able to advance its social combination to win a seat like Haidergarh in Barabanki district, a constituency with a massive upper caste population. Here, the S.P.'s Thakur candidate Arvind Singh Gope pushed the BSP's Brahmin candidate Ashutosh Awasthi to the third spot, asserting the supremacy of the Yadav-Thakur-Muslim combine. That the seat was held in 2002 by the current BJP president and then Chief Minister Rajnath Singh adds value to the S.P. victory.

These specific election results as well as the overall picture that has emerged indicate that the political battle in Uttar Pradesh is essentially between the BSP and S.P. A closer look at the results also shows that the S.P. is the number two party in as many 172 seats, of which it lost 52 by less than 5,000 votes. The party is third in 68 seats. The BSP is number two in 107 seats, of which it lost 47 by less than 5,000 votes. The BSP is third in 59 seats. In the runner-up positions, too, the BJP and the Congress fare poorly. The BJP is second only in 72 seats, while the Congress has that position only in 15 seats.

The results show that the BJP's Hindutva agenda has little appeal among the masses. They also show that the party's own social engineering strategy, of keeping its core upper caste vote base and attracting OBC communities, has not worked well. The strategy projected OBC leader Kalyan Singh as the unquestioned leader of the party. But Kalyan Singh's own track record of going out and returning to the party and the party's failure to make any headway on the Ram mandir construction despite being in power at the Centre for six years seem to have resulted in the party losing credibility among voters in general, and OBC voters in particular.

As for the Congress, it tried to remind the voters about the halcyon days when the Nehru-Gandhi family held sway over Uttar Pradesh politics and assert that the Congress practised caste-free politics at that time. The party, especially its lead campaigner Rahul Gandhi, promised a return to those days. The campaign failed to evoke mass appeal because no one among the upper castes, Dalits and Muslims believed it.

As BSP leader Babu Singh Khushwaha pointed out, the Congress, during its heyday, advanced a caste-based umbrella led by the upper castes, and reminding Dalits about that regime was indeed counterproductive. The upper castes, especially Brahmins, knew that the party did not have the strength to come anywhere near power and decided to accept the leadership of a Dalit leader. Large sections of Muslims followed suit.

It is clear that the socio-political agendas of the Congress and the BJP were perceived by the majority of the electorate as anachronistic in spite of the changes, largely cosmetic, that the parties made by projecting new leaders and advancing seemingly new campaign techniques such as roadshows. It is also clear that the leadership of a political novice like Rahul Gandhi is not what the Uttar Pradesh electorate is looking forward to, though crowds flocked to see and hear him.

The single most important message of the 2007 elections is that the BSP and the S.P., with their solid and steadfast Dalit and Yadav caste bases respectively, are in a position to advance effectively the "core caste-plus" game and chip away at the support base of the national parties. Such a possibility would only accentuate the `Tamilnaduisation' of Uttar Pradesh politics, and that is a disturbing message for the two national parties.

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