By Harihar Swarup
With the campaign for 2019 Lok Sabha election slowly and steadily heating up, BJP and Congress have firmed up alliances barring a few hiccups. The BJP, however, seems quicker on this score. It has displayed pragmatism to promptly seal seat-sharing deals in important states like Maharashtra, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. The party’s top brass appears to have implicitly acknowledged it faces anti-incumbency and therefore can’t ride roughshod over allies. And given that today’s BJP is pretty much centred on the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the decisive messaging from the top has ensured that seat sharing isn’t thwarted by regional satraps.
The BJP has, however, been slow to release the list of candidates for the polls. True, there have been some minor instances of party leaders being unhappy over the way seats have been split with allies. For example, in Bihar Union Minister Giriraj Singh has expressed displeasure over the Nawada constituency being taken away from him and given to LJP. Plus the party has been ruthless in deciding to replace all ten sitting MPs from Chhattisgarh. But if it leaves things too late on the candidate selection front, it could invite hiccups.
Meanwhile, the Congress has already released its sixth list of candidates bringing the total number of its contestants to 146 so far. This should give party nominees ample time to mount a creditable campaign in their respective constituencies. However, Congress seems to be dragging its feet on the alliance front. The party may be giving too much leeway to state unit here. As a result, beneficial alliances are failing to materialize.
In Delhi, talks between Congress and AAP have hitherto failed to deliver amidst resistance from Delhi Congress leaders. In U.P. Congress has been unable to convince the Opposition SP-BSP alliance to bring it on board. In Bihar, the seat sharing formula between Congress and RJD is yet to be formally announced. And, Bengal appears heading for a four-cornered contest, with Congress failing to tie up with the Left and Trinamool. While hearing out local leaders is good practice, this is, after all, a national election. Congress President Rahul Gandhi needs to be more decisive to seal alliances. If he remains undecided between compromising with allies and building the party long term, he is bound to fall between two stools.
One need not be partisan to either side in India’s political theatre to see the obvious contrast in how the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress are managing their respective campaigns. The BJP has its leadership, campaign, organizational machine, and most significantly, a range of alliances across key states in place. But three weeks to go before the first phase of the poll, Congress appears to be struggling on a range of fronts. This is most stark in its failure to stitch up alliances.
How many seats will the BJP get in UP in 2019? Predictions are always hazardous. However, retracing how the BJP achieved what it did in 2014 can help us understand the state of play.
Logically speaking, the BJP’s overwhelming victory—it won 73 of the 80 seats in the state along with its ally in 2014—was an outcome of two factors: an extraordinary vote share and a fragmented Opposition. BJP’s UP share of 42.6% in 2014 in the highest any party has managed after 1984 elections. The BSP and Samajwadi party had combined vote share of 41.1% in 2014. This was nearly same as BJP’s, but almost equally divided.
The BJP’s gain from divided opposition will be limited in 2019. The SP, BSP and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) have significantly increased the index of Opposition unity in UP with a pre-poll pact in place. And if one has to assume that party -wise vote share remain unchanged between 2014 and 2019, the BJP’s UP tally could come down significantly due to alliance. This number could vary, depending on whether SP-BSP alliance galvanizes each party’s supporters or drives them away.
Let us now come to the question of the BJP’s share in 2014. A party can increase its vote share in two ways. It can either eat into the support base of other major player, or attracting, floating votes, which are not aligned with any political party.
To sum up: In 2014, two factors contributed to the BJP’s unprecedented victory in UP; extremely high vote share and split in Opposition votes. In 2019, the Opposition is more united than it was in 2014, so BJP’s vote share will be an important factor in its performance.
An analysis of vote shares from 1989 shows that BJP’s rise has been primarily at the cost of Congress in UP. So, even if the Congress increases its vote share the BJP could suffer losses. In 2004, the BJP also damaged both SP and BSP, as it took away large sections of non-Yadav OBC, and non-Jatav Dalit vote in the state.
But the BJP’s recent dominance has also led to a return of upper caste dominance in UP. If the SP-BSP can exploit this to regain their broader OBC and Dalit voter base, it could create problems for the BJP. (IPA Service)