It’s a doubles pairing that outdoes all other combinations, one where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is not just another jugaad but rather a coming together of large swathes—in excess of 60%—of India’s most populous state that the two parties represent. The partnership has queered the pitch for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the incumbent at the centre as well as in the state. The saffron party has been hoping to ride the Ayodhya momentum but the compulsion of caste is set to give a tough time to the politics of Hindutva. The last time the two regional parties came together—in 1993—they rode to power, winning 176 seats together out of the 422 for which polling was held. The BSP had contested 164 seats and won 67 while the SP fought 256 and secured 109. The BJP had then won 177 seats. More than two decades later, the state gave the BJP 71 seats in the 2014 general elections, its ally Apna Dal two, and the SP seven seats, while Mayawati’s BSP drew a blank. In the 2017 elections to the 403-member assembly, the BJP won a massive 309 seats. The right-wing party was able to consolidate all caste combinations under its umbrella in both the 2014 general as well as the 2017 state elections, helping it finally shed the tag of a party of upper castes. Thus, Uttar Pradesh, with its 80-seat contribution to the Lok Sabha, again holds the cards for the April-May showdown.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 10% quota for economically weaker sections in the general category may be a sign of desperation but is the famous “transferability" of Mayawati’s votes still intact? “National interest" might have compelled her to put the infamous 1995 guest house incident—when SP goons assaulted Kanshi Ram’s protégé—behind her. However, the fact remains that the respective core constituencies of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are often found at each other’s throat—the other backward classes (OBC) of Yadavs isn’t exactly known to break bread with Dalits. And then why would Akhilesh Yadav’s constituency vote for Mayawati’s people, given that the BJP is as much a party of the OBCs now as it is of upper castes? However, if Yadav can sway the Muslim-Yadav vote the same way his father Mulayam did, and Mayawati’s core votes as “behenji" stay, it could be curtains for the BJP in 2019. On the other hand, the Congress going it alone in the state could also cause upsets in some constituencies, something that will mostly benefit the BJP. These are questions that time will answer but the BJP’s citadel looks shaky now.
The party recently lost elections in the three key states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh. It had last year lost the bypolls to both the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, a stunning setback to chief minister Yogi Adityanath who had till then won five times in a row from the former seat. There are many reasons for the disenchantment. Farmer distress has reached dangerous proportions. Inflation is historically low but “where are the jobs?" is a question more and more people are asking. Of course, Modi’s image remains intact but Uttar Pradesh is a caste-ridden state that rarely forgets its divisive obsessions. It did so in 2014. Come 2019, the BJP’s only hope for its own vikas could be a longer memory loss for the citizens of Uttar Pradesh when they cast their vote.