UP Election: Hard Nut to Crack
SP and Congress seem to be riding high, the BSP’s base is in rapid decline, while a faction-ridden BJP lags behind. Indeed, the electoral game in UP is wide open
Anil Kumar Verma Kanpur
Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) have created unprecedented euphoria. There is universal curiosity to know if Mayawati would repeat her social engineering feat of 2007. Will her core Dalit constituency remain intact, or will the illusory empowerment and developmentof Dalits marginalise the question of Dalit identity?
People are keenly watching Rahul Gandhi’s repeated forays into Dalit hamlets in UP and especially in Bundelkhand. His aggressive postures, confidently promising development and exhorting people to bring back Congress, seems to be marking a shift. Would all that enable the Congress to repeat its stunning performance of 2009 Lok Sabha (LS) elections? Is Mulayam Singh Yadav returning to power, and will Samajwadi Party (SP) retrieve the 46 seats that it lost without losing votes in 2007? Besides, what about BJP? Will its search for a leader and an agenda elevate it, or will the assembly elections relegate it further down to fourth position in the electoral fray?
One has to look at dominant issues that are likely to influence the outcome of elections before answering these posers. Will price-rise and corruption be core issues? The voters seem dismissive about that and think that the issue of price-rise and corruption will have to wait until 2014 LS elections. Mayawati tried to make the division of UP an issue by passing a hurried resolution in the state assembly, but that came either too late or too early. Late, because many thought it was an election gimmick; early, because a delayed division proposal could have made it an election issue.
However, people have forgotten this card. The electorate is focused on two issues – development and governance. And issues of clean politics and clean candidates may be present as an undercurrent – notwithstanding the Anna Hazare withdrawal syndrome.
Mayawati’s current social engineering drive has not shown the dash and élan of 2007. Within two years, her party showed all-round downslide in the 2009 LS elections by losing 3 per cent votes and suffering depreciation in its support base almost in every social denomination. Most striking losses were in her core social engineering group. Brahmin support was down by 8 percentage points and Chamar/Jatav support declined by one percentage point. There are no indications about BSP doing anything to reverse that trend. Also, in spite of allocating 114 tickets to OBCs in 2007 and with a leader like Babu Singh Kushwaha as vanguard, the OBC face in BSP, the party lost votes among backwards (Yadav: -3), more backwards (Kurmis/Koeris: -5), and most backwards (-9 percentage points) in 2009.
Congress stands on solid ground as regards Muslim support. In 2009, Muslim votes were divided among SP (30 per cent), Congress (25 per cent) and BSP (18 per cent). The SP was the biggest loser: its Muslim support declined by 16 percentage points and a major chunk of that went to Congress
Mayawati’s discomfiture was aggravated when Congress hijacked her ‘inclusive politics’ model based on social engineering in 2009, thereby registering a massive upswing of 10 per cent over its 2007 vote share, recording vote accretions in every section of society. That gave Congress 21 LS seats (18 new; three old – Amethi, Rae Bareilly, Kanpur), beating even the most liberal estimates. Hence, Congress is pursuing silent inclusive politics and its focus seems to be on more and most-backwards, ati-Dalits (extremely backward Dalits) and pasmanda (backward) Muslims. For roping in backwards, Beni Prasad Verma has been given a free hand, and for the support of Dalits, Rahul Gandhi is going all out. Congress registered a massive mobilisation of Kurmi voters in its favour (+20) in the 2009 LS elections; even Dalit support increased by two percentage points and ati-dalit support by 11 percentage points.
Congress stands on solid ground as regards Muslim support. A heavy turnaround was seen in Muslim support during 2007-09. In 2009, Muslim votes were divided among SP (30 per cent), Congress (25 per cent) and BSP (18 per cent); even BJP got three per cent Muslim votes. The SP was the biggest loser: its Muslim support declined by 16 percentage points, and a major chunk of that went to Congress.
This trend may continue. Even Muslims backing BSP may emulate this trend as Mayawati has not projected any Muslim face except Nasimuddin Siddique. Indeed, Siddique’s image has decisively deteriorated due to the disproportionate assets scam and misuse of position; besides, he has limited clout in Bundelkhand. The Congress-RLD tie-up in western UP, with predominant Muslim presence, may also facilitate a Muslim shift towards Congress.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is keen to retrieve the 46 seats that he lost in the 2007 assembly elections without losing votes (25 per cent). His party’s vote share declined by 2.1 percentage points in the 2009 LS elections. The SP finds in Congress a strong competitor for Muslim votes. Congress has dangled before the Muslims the lollypop of 4.5 per cent reservation quota within the 27 per cent OBC quota. Though that may push Muslims towards Congress, but the move may also estrange OBC voters who may resent shrinkage in their reservation space.
This has also put Mulayam Singh Yadav on the horns of a dilemma; he cannot support, nor can he oppose this Congress move. In fact, he had to promise Muslims a reservation quota equal to their share in population, which may not really click with Muslims. Besides, they have not forgotten Yadav’s ‘Kalyan Singh connection’ during the 2009 LS elections.
SP is projecting Mulayam’s son Akhilesh Yadav – an educated, soft-spoken and pleasing young man – to the marginalisation of his uncle Shivpal Yadav, who is not forgotten by the people for the ‘goonda raj’ that flourished under his patronage during the SP government. However, the party is educating its contestants on dress code and mannerism through the help of an IIM-Ahmedabad ‘strategy and innovation’ ex-professor, who himself is an SP candidate from Lucknow (North).
Mulayam Singh Yadav is keen to retrieve the 46 seats that he lost in the 2007 assembly elections without losing votes (25 per cent). His party’s vote share declined by 2.1 percentage points in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections
Mayawati’s wholesale denial of tickets to over 100 sitting MLAs, including about two dozen ministers, may help SP, because, using the banner of small parties, such contestants may play spoiler against BSP. The recently released SP manifesto appears to be an effort to develop a share-market relationship with every section of society, especially among students, unemployed youth, the poor, farmers and Muslims.
BJP is placed low in the electoral race as it is devoid of a spirited leadership and a hot-selling agenda. Since the Ayodhya fiasco, the party just could not stand on its feet. More so, now, there is no visibility of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was largely respected, including by Muslims. After losing OBCs due to Kalyan Singh’s exit and Vinay Katiyar’s decline, BJP roped in Uma Bharati from Madhya Pradesh and the BSP reject Babu Singh Kushwaha to induct more OBCs – without worrying about fuelling factionalism in the party. While Kushwaha is test-fired to demonstrate his potential to get Kushwaha (most backward) votes transferred to BJP, Uma has been promised a leadership position should she successfully manage Lodh (more backward) votes.
Small parties are going to play the role of spoilers. These parties are formed by ambitious leaders from Dalit or backward castes. They usually remain in hibernation, but reappear during elections. They offer tickets to the disgruntled, especially from BSP or SP; since they have some influence in their caste/community, they are capable of playing spoiler against their parent party.
Notable among such parties is Suhaildeo Bhartiya Samaj Party of Om Prakash Rajbhar, which has a strong presence in 42 constituencies; Janawadi Party, formed by an alliance of 15 castes from extremely backward classes; and Peace Party of Dr Muhammad Ayub, which wants an autonomous role by Muslims in state politics. The Peace Party surprised political observers in the 2009 LS elections. It used the Muslim-Brahmin coalition to poll over one lakh votes in Sant Kabirnagar, a little less in Domariyaganj and Gonda, and came second with 18,000 votes in the Lakhimpur assembly bye-elections in 2010.
A new issue of tribal identity has entered electoral contestation in UP. According to Census 2001, there are one lakh Scheduled Tribes (STs) in UP – 0.06 per cent of the total population. Tribes contest this. They argue that a sizeable tribal population has been denied ST status, and wrongly classified as Scheduled Castes (SCs) in 1950. Only five tribal groups (Bhotia, Bukasa, Jaunsari, Raji and Tharu) were recognised as STs in UP by the Constitution (ST) order, 1950. After 52 years of struggle, the president transferred 10 more SCs to ST category in 2002-03, but did not give them statewide recognition. For example, ‘Gonds’ are recognised as STs only in 13 districts of eastern UP; elsewhere, they are all SCs. This is ridiculous. The five original STs in UP had also been given district-wise recognition in 1950; in 1967, the president had to extend them statewide recognition.
Also, there are descendants of ‘Gonds’ who must be treated as STs, but they are classified as SCs. ‘Kols’ are one such example. In Madhya Pradesh they are recognised as STs, but across the UP border they are in the SC list. A correct categorisation of tribes as STs and their proper recount may raise the ST population in UP close to the national average, that is, approximately 8 per cent. Otherwise, non-scheduled, nomadic and semi-nomadic, and denotified tribes are getting restless and organized, especially after the Constitution (89th Amendment) Act 2003 that created a separate National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. Indeed, Congress is trying to collect them under the banner of ati pichhda varg (extremely backward class).
We must not forget that Election Commission’s data suggests that only 44 per cent Dalits are voting in UP; 56 per cent are not. Those Dalits who are not voting may not really be SCs, and certainly, they are not with Mayawati as they feel that the SCs, patronised by BSP, have gobbled up their reservation share on the pretext that there are no STs in UP. Any party that successfully captures this newly mobilised and organised tribal groups, agitating for ST status, may become a potential force in UP politics. Indeed, so far, the electoral game in UP is wide open.
The author teaches Politics at Christ Church College, Kanpur. The data used in the text have been taken from CSDS, Delhi