Since the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results finally came out on March 12th, 2017, media outlets have been chanting ‘Modi!, Modi!’ much more enthusiastically than the Prime Minister’s ardent followers that throng his rallies. Undoubtedly, he has scripted a magnificent win for his saffron party aided by his trusted lieutenant Amit Shah. It is abundantly clear that a certain significant section of the population has consolidated itself behind the torchbearer of Hindutva.
In our first-past-the-post system, this has led to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its minor allies winning 325 seats while incumbent Samajwadi Party (SP) with its ally Congress was limited to 56 and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to 19 seats in the 403-seat mammoth assembly. That does translate into unopposed power for the BJP for the next 5 years in the assembly. But is that the only interpretation of the people’s verdict? Is this a vindication of ‘development’ politics and sign of a ‘New India’ that was, by the way, never talked about during the Prime Minister’s acrimonious election campaign filled with venomous and divisive rhetoric? Are the election results a stinging rebuke of Bahujan ‘identity politics’ as some weighty media voices claim?
To answer these questions, we need to look at more than just the seats won and such fancy numbers talked about in the mainstream media such as ‘strike rate’, ‘gain’, ‘loss’, etc.
To begin with, almost 60% of the people of Uttar Pradesh voted for a non-BJP candidate because the BJP’s vote share was 39.7% (plus less than a handful of its minor allies). And among that 60%, more than 50% voted for either SP or BSP (roughly 22% vote share each with 6% for Congress that was an SP ally). Some of the ‘other’ parties that together garnered ~9% votes are staunchly anti-Hindutva as well (e.g. Nishad party, Majlis Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (MIM), Peace party, etc.) while leanings of some such as Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) are debatable. Thus, one way to interpret the verdict is that an overwhelming majority of UP electorate still voted for parties that opposed saffron politics and in most cases, were formed on the bedrock of Bahujan assertion.
Now again elections in India are not won by overall vote shares but by a number of constituencies that a party wins. There is a much-touted claim about BJP’s assiduous constituency-wise management of poll strategy. This also needs to be examined closely.
Among the 325 constituencies that BJP won, the combined vote share of SP+BSP exceeded that of BJP in 205 (63%) seats while BJP garnered more votes than SP+BSP only in 120 (37%). The BJP has only the fractured opposition to thank for this. If only the Prashant Kishore-driven, Congress-hugging Yadav leader reached out much earlier to Behenji who once aligned with the saffron brigade herself, Amit Shah’s mythical hold over the UP electorate could have been easily thwarted as evident in these numbers. And it goes without saying that in the remaining 75 seats that either SP or BSP won, BJP’s vote share was inevitably lower than SP + BSP combined. Therefore, theoretically, an SP+BSP combine could have relegated BJP to a sorry position that they themselves are now confined to in spite of the supposed positive brouhaha surrounding demonetization or the purported elusive ‘Acche din’ that India is still waiting for under the stewardship of a self-proclaimed ‘development’-centric Modi.
The role of Smaller Parties in Election:
Analysis of individual constituencies and votes polled reveals that there were 31 seats where RLD polled considerable votes (to a level that would influence outcomes), 13 seats where Nishad Party fared similarly and 19 seats where either Independents or such influenced outcomes. In a majority of such constituencies, BJP stood to gain – for example, BJP won 16 of the 19 seats where independents or such polled more than 10% of the vote.
A section of the ‘liberal’ media raised flak about MIM contesting on its own and thereby hurting the chances of SP. In reality, MIM polled more votes than the victory margin only in 3 constituencies and 2 of those 3 turned out to be places where SP actually won while BJP only won 1 of those 3 seats. Moreover, in all those 3 seats, the combined vote share of SP+BSP remained higher than BJP.
Conceptually, it is an encouraging sign that entities such as Nishad Party and MIM are raising their own banners and providing the voice to disenchanted groups rather than remaining mute spectators in a battle where leaders that pretend to represent their interests are only turning out to be alternative versions of the ‘mainstream’. Again, it is a failure on part of the Yadav scion and legendary Kanshi Ram’s successor in not sharing the fruits of power with the much less privileged. A Grand alliance with such forces brought together on to a single platform would have been the perfect answer to Modi-Shah onslaught.
On the contrary, despite the alliance that Akhilesh Yadav cobbled up with Congress, there were 10 seats where a direct fight between both the ‘allies’ resulted in the considerable splitting of votes leading to BJP winning 7 of those 10.
In summary, the outcome of UP 2017 election was foretold in 2014 Lok Sabha election itself where the Modi juggernaut gobbled up 73 of 80 MP (Members of Parliament) seats fighting against an opposition in disarray. The Bahujan leaders failed to see the writing on the wall and rather preferred to drown in their egos and the distorted utopia of riding to power on their own. They ignored the consolidation of the saffron vote that was all too evident in the aftermath of NaMo rampage, horrid episodes of Muzaffarnagar riots, so on and so forth. All they had to do was to look at neighboring Bihar where the secular stalwart Lalu Prasad rose from ashes to shed his ego and created a bulwark against Modi in 2015 itself by drinking a ‘poison’ (in his own inimitable words) called Nitish. It is never too late and one can only wish that wisdom would dawn on Bahujan forces before Modi’s vote share crosses the 50% mark which is quite possible given the no-holds-barred ‘mainstream’ narrative that permeates Indians today.
Author – Nijam Gara