Why a Bihar-like grand alliance to counter BJP in Uttar Pradesh is doomed to fail

After a horrendous defeat in Uttar Pradesh at the hands of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), its opponents like Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) have been seen sending feelers to each other and forming a grand alliance to take on the BJP in 2019. The Hindi adage marta kya na karta aptly describes this situation.

Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. PTI

Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. PTI

Akhilesh had talked about a grand alliance on the lines of Bihar's mahagathbandhan, soon after the state's election results were out in November 2015 but Mayawati was not keen on it back then. She was under the impression that BSP is the only party which is a natural claimant of anti-incumbency votes. The first opinion poll which was aired in March 2016 showed BSP as the single largest party. This boosted her confidence further.

Now BSP is staring at extinction. BJP has made a severe dent into the party’s Dalit vote bank as the saffron party is estimated to have received 32 percent Dalit support in state elections as per Today’s Chanakya polls.

Besides, BSP doesn't have a single MP in Lok Sabha, and only 6 members in Rajya Sabha. Elections to 10 Rajya Sabha seats are due next year in April. Of the MPs completing their terms, two BSP members are also due for retirement including Mayawati. However, reelection of BSP candidates appears to be in a limbo as a candidate needs 38 votes to win a Rajya Sabha seat in 2018.


BSP has only 19 MLAs in the state Assembly, meaning even Mayawati may not be able to get elected to Rajya Sabha marking a heavy blow to her political career.

This is one of the main reasons she is talking about a grand alliance now. SP and Congress combine won 54 seats in 2017. They can get one of their members elected through 38 votes. Hence they have 16 surplus votes. Mayawati hopes to get these, which makes it 35 votes for her including her party’s 19. With help of others (five), she may still manage the 38 votes required to retain her seat.

Now coming to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the simple logic behind the talks of grand alliance is that the combined vote share of SP, BSP, and INC ( at 50.2 percent) is higher than BJP plus allies (41.4 percent). However, we have oft heard that it's not all about arithmetic but more about the chemistry in any alliance, which in this case is clearly missing. Consider the trust deficit between the proposed allies. Mayawati has, at a time, accused the Yadav clan of trying to assassinate her in 2013 after she pulled the plug on SP-BSP coalition government.

Besides this, even after the proposed alliance, BJP would still be leading among upper caste and non Yadav OBC vote bank, which accounts for half of the population.


Another logic given for alliance is that if it could work in Bihar then why not in Uttar Pradesh. But what people forget is that each election is different from the other. Same formula for all elections doesn't work in politics. Elections are also situational, depending upon the environment prevailing at that time.

The mini-gathbandhan of SP and Congress has already failed in UP. They didn't even manage to retain their 2014 Lok Sabha vote share, which has dipped to 28 percent in state elections as compared to 30 percent in Lok Sabha. Arithmetic was fine but the chemistry was low! Leaders from both sides who lost their tickets did not support their party wholeheartedly. Some even contested as independents. The alliance also did not have Mulayam and Shivpal Yadav's blessings.

If such an alliance is indeed stitched, its sole objective will be to defeat BJP. Hence its foundation will be on a negative vote rather than positive. They have nothing new to offer. People have seen their performance from 2002-2017.

In Bihar, Nitish Kumar was the incumbent chief minister and was asking for a vote for retention. People loved Nitish's work. He had a good track record of 15 years and the people of Bihar felt he won't allow Lalu Prasad Yadav to do any wrong. That’s why he got overwhelming support.

Another big factor in any alliance is seamless transferability of votes between allies. Lalu and Nitish both were architects of OBC votes and enjoyed similar vote banks. Muslims too used to support Nitish despite the alliance with the BJP due to his image. This ensured high transferability between the allying parties.

However, despite all working well for the alliance, it lost 5 percent of its central election vote share in state polls. JDU, Congress and RJD combined had received 45.1 percent vote share in 2014 Lok Sabha polls which got reduced to 42.9 percent in 2015 state Assembly polls. So leakages are bound to happen.

In Uttar Pradesh the parties which are proposing alliance have antagonistic vote banks. Dalits hold Yadavs responsible for their plight in the state. It is alleged that atrocities committed by the community were not even reported during Mulayam's and later Akhilesh's tenure.
Moreover, upper caste Congress voters will not vote for SP (as already evident from 2017 state elections). Upper caste holds Yadavs responsible for the decline of their might and political power that they enjoyed in the state's politics. In addition, there will be normal leakage in the range of 5 to 10 percent

Caste / Religion SP BSP INC SP+BSP+INC
Upper Caste ✔✔
OBC ✔✔✔
Yadavs ✔✔✔
Dalits ✔✔
Muslims ✔✔✔

64 percent voters opted for SP, BSP, Congress combined in 2017. 30 percent upper caste voted for this combine. Assuming 25 percent of these votes do not get transferred, the combine could lose five percent vote share only due to transferability issue another 2.5 to 5 percent due to normal leakage. This will put the proposed alliance vote bank at around 40 percent, which is at a similar levels of BJP and its allies.

Whether the BJP will retain its 2014 tally in 2019 will depend upon Yogi government’s performance in the state and not because Mayawati and Akhilesh (two foes turned friends) decide to form an opportunistic alliance. If BJP government fulfills few of its promises, shows an improvement in law and order, it may well repeat its performance. Farm loan waiver will definitely help the party retain its farmer support in 2019.

Meanwhile, the proposed gathbandhan will also need to take into account any counter polarization threat. This was already evident in 2017 and may continue to hold with an even greater force in 2019. Congress in its performance review for UP polls has admitted that it lost votes because the alliance with SP positioned it as a Muslim party.

Moreover, ideologically the Congress is poles apart from SP and BSP. SP/BSP was formed to fight against the Brahminical policies of Congress and for the upliftment of poor, downtrodden and backward classes. This uneasy alliance may not go well with the people.

The nitty-gritties of the alliance, who will lead, how many seats will each party contest and so on, will make matters more difficult. The distrust which has evolved between Mayawati and Yadav family in the last 2.5 decades will be difficult to get rid of. Besides, SP could split if it goes with the alliance; Shivpal may leave and form a new party. BSP leaders who see no future in the party will also get an excuse to jump ship.

The mahagathbandhan is on the lines of a similar set up being explored at the national level to take on BJP. However, at this juncture, it looks more of a ploy by BSP to ensure Mayawati gets re-elected to Rajya Sabha. If SP and Congress get her re-elected then she could agree to be part of an anti-BJP block to ensure survival. Its success though is highly doubtful due to lack of chemistry, antagonistic vote banks, and ideological differences.

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Updated Date: Jul 25, 2017 07:15:48 IST

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