If there is one prediction that can be made with some degree of certainty about Uttar Pradesh, it is this: no party will win a clear majority on its own.
This leads to a corollary: if no one gets a majority, we will either have to see former rivals jumping into bed together (BSP with BJP, or SP with Congress?, or the party which is closest to power will be using money power to break MLAs from more vulnerable rivals.
Assuming this conventional wisdom plays out for real, we are going to see crores spent on horse-trading after 6 March.
It is time to challenge conventional wisdom. But before we do that, let us first enunciate what is the current conventional wisdom.
Reading from news reports in TV and print, these are the observations that emerge:
One, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party has been drawing huge crowds. The SP could thus emerge as the single-largest party after the election. In fact, a BJP minister from Madhya Pradesh has endorsed this claim.
Two, Mayawati, by common consensus, seems to be losing out, though she retains her core Dalit vote. Since Dalits constitute nearly 21-25 percent of the electorate, this means she will at least be No 2 in the post-poll hierarchy, if not No 1.
Three, Rahul Gandhi’s obsessive campaigning in Uttar Pradesh may not get his party the gaddi, but it is sure to improve its performance this time. The question is whether it will be the No 3 party after SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) or the fourth – below the BJP.
Four, the big question-mark is about the BJP. The party seems more disorganised and confused compared to the other three, and has inducted a former CM from a neighbouring state (Uma Bharti) to lead the battle. In 2007, the party got just 51 seats after Mayawati’s 207 and SP’s 97. The question is whether the big fuss it has made about the Muslim quota will get it OBC votes on the rebound.
Net-net, the conventional wisdom is that the BSP and SP will be fighting for the top two slots while the Congress and BJP for the bottom two.
This writer believes that Uttar Pradesh will throw up a completely different answer that will not entirely be based on caste and religious calculations.
There are two reasons why.
First, five years of Mayawati has helped Dalits both in terms of empowerment and economic performance. This means there could be a new Dalit middle class emerging in Uttar Pradesh, and their interests may start converging with their class counterparts among other castes. The Dalit monolith may be about to crack – which is why even Rahul Gandhi is having a go at it.
Second, the history of electoral politics tells us that castes, even when they vote as castes, work out their own alliances to maximise their share of power. This makes caste both relevant and irrelevant. Relevant, because your clout depends on how many votes your caste has; irrelevant, because in a first-past-the-post system, even small castes count. If it is no longer safe to presume that all Dalit castes, or all OBC castes, or all upper castes or all Muslims will vote en bloc, it is even less safe to presume that any caste combo will take a party over the top. All votes are going to be split.
In fact, the standard caste aggregation arithmetic has not been working for quite a while now, but we have failed to notice it because of Uttar Pradesh’s four-cornered contests – where 30 percent is enough to win almost any seat.
A little bit of caste and religion numbers will tell you why the standard presumption does not work.
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