The first phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election in the western region of the state, for 73 seats, is finally underway. The early trend of voting pattern shows that this election is shaping up to be one of the most unique, hyper-competitive, and potentially divisive elections in generations.
Interestingly, the pragmatism of electoral compulsions is seen in full swing when we find that all the parties moderated their competitive needs and entered into the political alignment beyond ideological lines and conventional hostilities. The saddest part is that the dramatic defragmentation of political parties has succeeded in misplacing the priorities of Uttar Pradesh’s electorates.
First, the present election has become mechanical and appears more a contest between highly professional poll managers hired by all the political parties than the parties themselves. They are tasked to script a ‘wave’ in favour of their patron parties through finely cultivated emotional appeals, slogans, rumour, rhetoric along with crafty management of media, campaign, constituencies, candidates, and so on. But, noticeably, majority of the electorates do not appear enthused with clear cut partisan loyalty as they are not able to align with any political party en bloc.
Second, the well-defined notion of ‘vote-bank’ politics is in terminal decline. The social bases of all the political parties have been seriously challenged. This is perhaps because of the divergent socio-cultural experiences, historical animosity between the dominant and non-dominant social constituencies, unnatural political alliances and the crisis of the transferability of core voters, and the strong local dynamics, issues, leaders, equations and the role of strongmen having a definite impact on the voting behaviour of Uttar Pradesh’s electorates.
In other words, the vote-banks of all the political parties are now undergoing the process of fragmentation, defragmentation and re-fragmentation. For instance, the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress alliance cannot claim the final consolidation of Muslim voters behind them due to the visible fragmentation of votes between them and BSP.
The articulations of Pasmanda communities (particularly Ansaris, Quraishis, Dhobis and Telis), sectarian and sub-sect groupings (Shias and Wahabi, Ahl-e-Hadith, Deoband and Barelvi among Sunnis) are certain wherever they find the candidates belonging to their caste and sect, contesting from either party.
The fragmentation of Yadav and the Jat vote-bank is also likely in both urban areas as well as in those constituencies from where Congress is contesting the elections. Yadavs and Jats may prefer to transfer their votes in favour of BJP than any other non-SP party due to their nurtured imagination of being identified as proud-Hindus after 2014.
Though, Kisan Jats and those who championed for reservation for Jats, are finally back with Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) – defying the polarising tactics of BJP. The case is equally true with higher caste vote-bank of BJP as we have already seen the fragmentation and re-fragmentation of Brahmins and Thakurs, either in support of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 2007 or SP in 2012 and finally in BJP in 2014.
Two visible patterns emerge here. First, a substantial section of Congress loyalists among high caste voters have shifted towards BJP due to Congress’s alliance with SP. Second, surprisingly, BSP is also able to mobilise a section of Brahmin voters with the appeal of Akhil Bhartiya Brahmin Mahasabha.
OBC voters are also no longer a terrain of any political party as could be seen in its fragmentation in Upper OBCs, Middle OBCs and extremely backward OBCs. Individualised assertions of Koeri, Kurmi, Lodhi, Nishad, Rajbhars, Baghels, and Nunias are a case in point.
Interestingly, the dominant strategy of all the political parties is to field candidates from among these groups along with co-option of many low caste leaders from across the party folds (e.g. BJP has fielded more than 35 percent candidates from non-Yadav OBCs). But, ironically, no such caste leaders have universal acceptance in their own groups, and are rather confined to their own electoral constituencies and some adjoining constituencies.
Nonetheless, Dalit voters including Pasi, Dom, Balmiki and Kori, have largely consolidated behind BSP despite the rigorous attempt of BJP and SP-Congress to portray BSP as only a party of Jatavs. This is because of the BSP’s revival of its ‘Dalit victimhood politics’. At the same time, BSP is able to make dents successfully among Muslim voters in reserved constituencies – in Mukhtar Ansari and his brother's influence areas of 12 Assembly seats in Ballia, Mau and Ghazipur, in Pasmanda groups particularly Qureshis, Bandukchis, Telis and Ansaris in Western UP and in all those constituencies where the possibility of BSP candidates are fairly well placed to defeat BJP.
The voluntary appeal of many Shia and Sunni Ulemas and clerics, All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), Garib Nawaz Foundation, Muttaheda Milli Majlis, Aligarh Students Union will have a dramatic impact on certain Muslim votes, that too in favour of BSP. Similarly, Gurjar votes appear more in favour of BSP.
Third, in the absence of a state-level wave in favour of either party or leader, except bipolar media hype (i.e. SP-Congress vs BJP), the focus has been shifted to manage the constituency and votes at the local level with multiple strategies like funding dissents in other parties, nominating multiple frivolous/dummy Independent candidates from rival caste and community groups, co-opting disgruntled leaders from across the parties, fuelling local issues and so on. Though anti-incumbency against SP has slowed down, anti-candidate mobilisation is picking up due to unholy popularity of certain candidates among the electorates across the caste and community, due to their past records.
Fourth, both SP-Congress alliance and BJP are acting in consensus to downplay the salience of BSP in this election. It is a well-planned strategy of both the parties to keep not only high-caste politics as mainstream politics, and demoralise the articulations of Dalit voters, but also to support each-others' existential need.
It is clear that the rise of BSP is a death for SP, Congress and BJP. SP cannot survive electorally without Muslims, so there is no chance to allow Dalit-Muslim unity. Congress cannot emerge as politically significant without Brahmin-Dalit-Muslim consolidation and therefore no support to Dalit-Muslim consolidation behind BSP. Similar is the case with BJP as its politics of using Dalits against Muslims in communal riots may fail with Dalit-Muslim bonding with BSP, and thus its case point of Hindutva based right-wing politics will fail forever.
Fifth, this election is lacking democratic content due to the emerging context of competitive dynastic system in the state. The voters are not going to elect their representatives but rather political successors of families as more than 60 percent of candidates from all the parties are from distinct dominant families.
For instance, apart from Yadav family in SP, Azam Khan has also launched his wife and son in UP politics; Ansari brothers, Yaqub Quraishi and his son and many more in BSP; Rajnath Singh’s son, Kalyan Singh’s grandson, Hukum Singh’s daughter, Lalji Tandon’s son and so on from BJP; and hundreds of other political parties having a family base as well.
Given the background above, it is almost certain that the electoral counting on 11 March will deliver a hung Assembly. All parties of relevance have already calculated this post-election outcome and thus may have encouraged the party cross-over of leaders and candidates (turn-coats) with a possibility to engineer split/defection in other parties to gain support in formation of the government.
Nonetheless, the role of BSP is strategically important post elections. There is a strong possibility that if BSP performs well but lack the magical number to attain majority, then Congress may extend its support to the party. The post-poll alliance of BSP-BJP would be suicidal for BSP, as this is the only opportunity to prove Dalit mantle and thus the party may not take this route. If BSP decides not to enter into a post-poll alliance, then a soon-to-be-held 18 Assembly election in the state is the only outcome. In a word, no government will be formed in UP without BSP.
The author is associate professor and head, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University.
Updated Date: Feb 11, 2017 14:22 PM