Messages from the States

Print edition : March 21, 1998
VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN

Total seats 85BJP 57Samata Party 2Samajwadi Party 20 BSP 4SJP 1Independents 1

ONE clear loser but no certain winners: that was the story of the parliamentary elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The loser was the Congress(I), which had hoped to double its 1996 tally of five MPs on the strength of the Sonia effect and its alliance with Ajit Singh's Bharatiya Kisan Kamgar Party (BKKP) but the party ended up losing all its seats. The alliance with the Congress(I) spelt doom for the BKKP too as it lost the Baghpat seat, once considered Ajit Singh's stronghold. The Congress(I)'s share of the popular vote also fell from 8 per cent in 1996 to 4 per cent this time. For all practical purposes, the Congress(I) has ceased to exist as a significant political player in the country's most populous State.

All the other contestants, especially the BJP, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) - won some and lost some. While the BJP and the S.P. won more seats than they did in 1996, neither met the tally targets they had set for themselves. The BJP, which had maintained - even after counting began - that it would win 65 to 70 seats, won only 57. Its alliance partner, the Samata Party, snatched two seats from the Opposition. Former Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, an independent candidate who was supported by the BJP-Samata Party combine, retained the Pilibhit seat. The number of pro-BJP MPs from U.P. is thus 60.

Similarly, the S.P. improved its strength from 16 in 1996 to 20, but fell short of the target it set for itself - 28 to 32 seats. However, it helped former Prime Minister and Samajwadi Janata Party leader Chandra Shekhar retain the Ballia seat.

According to initial estimates, both the BJP and the S.P. recorded impressive gains in their vote shares. The BJP's share of the popular vote went up by 5.6 percentage points to 39.1 per cent. The S.P's vote share increased by 6.7 percentage points to 27.5 per cent.

Even the BSP, which won only four seats (as against the six it won in 1996) improved its vote share by 1.96 percentage points to 21.86 per cent. However, the party suffered a significant defeat; its supremo Kanshi Ram lost in Saharanpur.

Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav with some of the newly-elected MPs of the party in New Delhi on March 5.-

Among the other prominent candidates who lost were: Satish Sharma of the Congress(I), from Amethi, which was once the pocketborough of the Gandhi-Nehru family; Salman Khurshid of the Congress(I), who was defeated for the second successive time from Farukhabad; and Vinay Katiyar, former Bajrang Dal chief and BJP leader, who faced his first defeat in three elections from Faizabad, the constituency which includes Ayodhya.

The results seemed to indicate that the electorate in U.P. was not swayed over much by the BJP's stability slogan or the "Sonia effect" or the secular rhetoric of the S.P. or the BSP's theme of Dalit assertiveness. Caste and communal considerations, an anti-incumbency mood concentrated at the constituency level, and the parties' ability to mobilise voters, appear to have decided the winners and the losers.

Overall, however, the BJP gained from a division of the "secular votes". In 41 of the 60 seats won by the BJP and its allies, the cumulative vote of the S.P. and the BSP was higher than that of the BJP or its ally. In seven more seats, the cumulative vote of the S.P., the BSP and the Congress(I) was higher than the number of votes secured by the BJP. In other words, if the proposed pre-poll alliance among the S.P., the BSP and the Congress(I) had taken shape, the BJP might have won only 12 seats, if the voting pattern had been the same.

In seven seats, the S.P. and the BSP pushed the BJP to the third spot. Akbarpur, Azamgarh and Misrikh - the seats won by BSP leaders Mayawati, Akbar 'Dumpy' Ahmed and Ramashankar - are cases in point. The S.P. finished second in all three seats. While Mayawati polled 2.64 lakh votes in Akbarpur, Laltha Prasad Kannuajia of the S.P. secured 2.39 lakh votes. The BSP's victory margin was smaller in Azamgarh and Misrikh.

The BJP lost 15 of the seats it had won in 1996; the S.P. lost nine and the BSP five. The Congress(I) and the BKKP failed to retain even a single seat. As a result of such constituency-level anti-incumbency sentiment, the S.P. made some gains in some BJP strongholds - for instance, in Bijnore in western U.P., Faizabad, and Hardoi in central U.P. Likewise, the BJP made gains in Aonla, Kairana and Amroha in Ruhelkhand, which was considered an S.P. bastion, and in Etawah in central U.P.

In some seats, such as Rampur, Baghpat, Khalilabad and Chandauli, there were complaints that the BJP had been helped by a favourable administration. Going by the campaign trends and the caste and community profiles of these constituencies, this allegation seems valid. Muslims, who account for 45 per cent of Rampur's population, have traditionally supported either the Congress(I) or the S.P. And this time, Begum Noorbano, who represented the constituency in the 11th Lok Sabha, campaigned here. However, the winner was Mukthar Abbas Naqvi, the only Muslim candidate of the BJP. His victory margin was 4,966 votes.

The S.P. alleged that in Khalilabad and Chandauli, its candidates were declared elected after the last round of counting, but that when they went to collect their certificates of election, they were informed that they had lost by a margin of 2,100 and 6,400 votes respectively. Some BKKP leaders alleged that in Baghpat, which witnessed large-scale violence on polling day, policemen chased away Ajit Singh's supporters with lathis and firearms and cast ballots in favour of the BJP candidate.

The BJP leadership denied these allegations and said that the Opposition parties were seeking to divert attention from their own electoral misdemeanors on February 22, the second day of polling. On that day, the State was ruled by Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress leader Jagadambika Pal, who briefly toppled the Kalyan Singh Government (see separate story). The BJP alleged that Pal used his short-lived authority to rig the elections in favour of the Opposition. Pal, however, pointed out that the BJP had won a majority of the 33 seats that went to the polls on February 22. (The BJP won 21 of those seats, the S.P. 10 and the BSP two.) On February 16, when Kalyan Singh was Chief Minister, 52 constituencies went to the polls; the BJP and its allies won 39 of these, the S.P. 10, the BSP two and the SJP one.

The message from the 1998 elections in U.P. is much the same as from the 1996 elections: that unless the non-BJP secular forces join hands, the BJP's march cannot be stopped. The results also validate the S.P's claim to being the pivotal force among the secular parties in the State. The party improved its tally and its vote share even though it went to the polls in alliance only with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), not with the other United Front constituents such as the Janata Dal and the Communist Party of India. As for the BSP, it improved its vote share but this did not translate into an increase in its tally of seats.

Whether this message will sink into the secular parties is a question that evokes no positive reply, at least for now.

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