SP-BSP combine is more than just a Yadav-Jatav-Muslim alliance. Jats and smaller backward castes make it a formidable force.
The toughest challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his bid for a second term comes from the same place, which catapulted him to power in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, accounted for a fourth of the seats won by the Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, securing full majority for a government since 1984.
In 2017, the state gave the BJP a thumping majority in the assembly elections, installing a party government in Lucknow after a gap of 15 years. But, things have taken a challenging turn for Modi and BJP as sworn rivals Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party came together to make a seemingly unbeatable alliance in the state.
Despite a consolidation in favour of BJP due to nationalistic and religious factors, the sheer numbers make it difficult for the party to do an encore of 2014 this time round.
1. A formidable alliance
The alliance between Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal appears formidable on paper. Samajwadi Party has traditionally enjoyed support of two dominant communities in the state – Yadavs and Muslims.
According to 2011 census, while Dalits constitute 21% of the state’s population, Muslims are the second biggest community with 19% population. There are no reliable estimates available for the population of Yadavs in the state, however, most political pundits estimate that Yadavs account for 9-10% of the state population. The combined population of Yadavs-Jatavs-Muslims is almost 50% of the state population.
In fact, the combined vote share of SP-BSP was more than that of BJP led NDA in 41 Lok Sabha seats in UP in 2014 Lok Sabha election when BJP had swept the state.
2. Tactical voting by Muslims against BJP
Muslims have traditionally voted against the BJP in a tactical manner. Tactical voting actually means that a community carefully chooses the candidate that is in a position to beat the party or alliance disliked by it. The community exhibits different preferences for different parties and candidates across the states and seats. In India, Muslims often tend to vote for the candidate that is in a position to defeat the candidate of BJP or its alliance partners from a particular seat.
In Uttar Pradesh, Muslims have traditionally voted for Samajwadi Party in last two decades. However, their anger has also cost dearly to the party in several elections.
This time, SP-BSP-RLD alliance is vying with the Congress for Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh. And it is almost certain that Muslims will vote for the candidates that will be in a position to defeat NDA candidate.
3. Entry of new groups in SP-BSP a cause of concern
Samajwadi Party leader and former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav did not stop with the alliance of SP-BSP. He last month formally roped in Ajit Singh led Rashtriya Lok Dal, a regional party in the state backed by influential farming community Jats.
This alliance of SP-BSP-RLD got a shot in the arm with the backing of three other smaller parties representing OBC communities. On Tuesday, Akhilesh Yadav, received support of Nishad Party, Rashtriya Samata Dal and Janvadi Party (Socialist). Nishads or fishermen community is important in several seats of Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
In fact, Mulayam Singh Yadav led Samajwadi Party was able to win more than 224 seats in Vidhan Sabha elections in 2012 with the support of just two communities – Yadavs and Muslims by winning 224 seats. The party dethroned Mayawati government as her party could win just 80 seats.
BJP’s back to back spectacular performance in 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections has brought these two arch-rivals together turning them into a formidable foe for the BJP.
4. Support of upper castes not enough
Two other important communities, Brahmins and Thakurs have been estimated in the range of 10-12% and 9-10% population of the state respectively. Both Brahmins and Rajputs are believed to be backing BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. While Brahmins have traditionally voted for BJP since the days of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the party has important Thakur leaders like chief minister Yogi Adityanath and union home minister Rajnath Singh that are the main pull for the voters of Thakur community.
5. Kurmi, Lodh Rajput and Nishad factor
Two other prominent communities – Kurmis and Lodhs – each of them accounts for almost 5% the state population. These two communities have been seen backing the BJP led NDA. While Apna Dal faction led by the party founder Sonelal Patel’s daughter Anupriya Patel is in alliance with BJP another faction led by her mother Krishna Patel is in alliance with the Congress.
Lodhs too have been seen backing the NDA as former UP chief minister and governor of Rajasthan Kalyan Singh is a stalwart among Lodh leaders. Similarly, union minister Uma Bharti also comes from Lodh Rajput community. But Samajwadi Party and BSP will try to wean away the votes of these two communities by giving more representation to them in ticket distribution. Sakshi Maharaj, BJP’s firebrand Hindutva leader and member of Lok Sabha from Unnao also comes from Lodh Rajput community.
Support of Nishad parties in SP-BSP-RLD alliance may further complicate the challenge for the BJP as Nishads or fishermen community is also present in the state in significant number.