When two plus two need not be four

The opposition’s alliance in UP for 2019 looks like an easy math problem, but there are too many variables involved

Alok Rai | July 19, 2018


#Bahujan Samaj Party   #BSP   #Samajwadi Party   #Grand Alliance   #Akhilesh Yadav   #Mayawati   #Uttar Pradesh   #Opposition   #2019   #Elections   #Politics  


The recent victory of the opposition in the Uttar Pradesh by-elections after their complete decimation in the 2014 general elections and the 2017 assembly elections has been interpreted differently by different takers. Some saw it as a resurgence of the opposition on the back of an alliance. This led to  discussion of  the possibility of a grand alliance in UP. Alliances have not been a new phenomenon in Indian politics. Interestingly, they have been based on convenience, intention and pursuance of individual interest rather than concept, ideology or pursuance of national interests. It is for this inherent genetic defect that the alliances have also been termed as ‘teaming up’, ‘grouping up’ or even ‘ganging up’ against the incumbent establishment. The antecedents of such alliances have been power, pressure and political arbitrage.

Political alliance as a strategy has been there across parties, geographies and times. But the outcome has not always been arithmetic in nature. From the Janata Party formation to the Mahagathbandhan experiment in Bihar, it has had different faces and forms in Indian political history. The unique nature of federal polity in the country and the strengthening of the BJP have paved the way for newer electoral alliance for the general elections 2019.

Such grand alliances offer synergy, thereby increasing the electoral strength of the alliance. But such alliances are not free from challenges. Challenges offered are at three levels: one, the internal inconsistencies of the alliance partners, second, strategic loss for the bigger contributor, and third, functional issues in creating a sustainable model.

The most politically significant state of the country, UP, has witnessed the emergence of political parties with specific social appeals. The fall of the Congress led to the emergence of the BJP in the state courtesy the Ram Mandir movement. In the post-Mandal era, Samajwadi Party became a political force to reckon with, backed by other backward classes. In the quest for power in a state with the maximum SC votes, Bahujan Samaj Party increased its base and resources after aligning with SP and the BJP.

The compulsions of contemporary politics forced both the SP and the BSP to reinvent themselves through social reengineering. The BSP, which was primarily perceived as a party representing scheduled castes, successfully weaved a strategic alliance with brahmins in the 2007 assembly elections and mustered power in the state. A rejuvenated BJP under the leadership of Modi and Shah brought brahmins back to the BJP and the annoyed SCs of the state also deserted the BSP, causing her to lose in 2012, score 0/80 in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 19/403 in the 2017 assembly elections.

The SP in the 2012 state elections donned a new avatar under the leadership of the young and educated Akhilesh Yadav and won. The limitation of the political vision of Akhilesh Yadav repositioned SP from a socialist party led by OBCs to a modern highway/metro party led by Yadavs. The biggest handicap of this model was that Yadavs accounted for only 7-8 percent of the UP electorate. The net result was only 5/80 in 2014 and 47/403 in 2017.

Besides, UP has seen emergence of several caste-based political outfits claiming to be representing specific social sections in a limited geographical confine. Parties like Rashtriya Lok Dal, Apna Dal, Suheldev Party, Nishad Party, Janvadi Party, Gondwana Party and Pragatisheel Manav Samaj Party have emerged on the political landscape of the state. But many have their internal conflicts. The Suheldev Party, for example, favours the creation of sa eparate quota of EBCs and MBCs in OBC reservation while SP opposes the same. Nishad Party wants inclusion of its caste in SC reservation which BSP is opposed to. Economic domination of one social section in a territory – Jats and Jatavs in western UP, Kurmis and Yadavs in central UP – also does not gel well with the rest. Hence, unlike mathematical science, political science does not always result two plus two as four.

“Do aur do ka jod hamesha chaar kahan hota hai, Soch samajh walon ko thodi nadaani de maula”
It has been proven that in case of bringing in smaller political forces to a larger political combine, smaller parties tend to gain more – that too mostly at the cost of larger parties. The BSP got the strength and power largely riding on the shoulders of the SP and the BJP. Suheldev Party could win its first ever assembly seat and Apna Dal its first ever Lok Sabha seat only after aligning with the BJP. Besides, it is also imperative to comprehend the consequent impact on the cadre and expanse of the party. This thus poses a million dollar question of how much to give in to pursue immediate gain at the cost of long term goals.

Then there are functional challenges as well that start with bringing different parties with different agendas under one umbrella. Keeping the flock together is even more daunting. From sharing of seats to sharing of power, the challenge increases as each of the political outfits claims disproportionately high strength. Like in UP, the BSP may claim to have the base vote of 18-20 percent, Congress being the only representative of so-called upper castes also has a base vote of 20 percent, SP has a base vote of 7 percent, RLD may claim to have support of 2-3 percent jat votes, Nishad Party may stake claim on 2 percent fishermen voters, Janvadi Party may claim to be representing 1 percent of Chauhan voters, Suheldev Party may claim to be representing 2 percent of Rajbhar voters etc. Besides, almost 17-18 percent of Muslim voters are considered as a factor constantly lacking political bargaining in such an event. Accommodation of two rising Muslim parties, Peace Party and AIMIM, also remains to be seen. Thus, sharing seats may appear to be an easy mathematical problem of ratio and proportion but in fact it requires a cumbersome regression equation because of varying perceptual strengths and claims.

There have been instances of successful alliances in Indian political history, but they have been largely characterised by the dominance of one party or a leader acting as glue to hold together the smaller parties. The governments of PV Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh or many governments in the states have been successful only on this premise. On the other hand, alliances without such a feature fell prey to egos and interests; for example, the governments of HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral, of SP-BSP and BSP-BJP in UP, and BJP-JDS in Karnataka. Amalgamation of parties of similar size poses a challenge on sustainability and thus saleability. How parties shall respond to these challenges remains to be seen in the times to come.

Rai teaches at the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

(The article appears in the July 31, 2018 issue)

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