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In an interesting turn of events in Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav removed his uncle Shivpal Yadav and his supporters from the cabinet on Sunday, only to reinstate them this morning (25 October). The Shivpal camp, in a clear attempt to settle scores, had earlier expelled senior leader Ramgopal Yadav from the ministry.
Mulayam called a meeting of top aides and on Monday it was expected that he would take over as chief minister to end the row, but surprised all by retaining Akhilesh.
However, he tried to make up for it by claiming that Amar Singh was his brother and that he would remain in the party. How long will this truce last is a million dollar question. All this does not bode well for the party, especially when elections are due early next year.
But in the end, SP is likely to suffer significantly from this internecine conflict.
Two scenarios are possible at this moment. One, the party remains as it is. Two, Akhilesh forms his own party.
If the party remains united, the impact on the elections would be as follows. In the past three decades, UP elections have been a three-cornered contest. However, as elections approach nearer the contest has narrowed down to two parties. Early polls showed Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as the top contender followed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Then SP became the leader with BSP in the third position as leaders left the Maya camp. Latest polls show BJP ahead and Maya back on the second position, partly due to family feud in SP. With the feud intensifying, the battle is now clearly between BJP and BSP.
The SP voters (especially Muslims) would now think whether the Yadav family can take on the BJP and defeat it. They might be seen rallying behind BSP. On the other hand, a section of OBC voters and Yadav family loyalists could now look towards the BJP.
The battle is clearly slipping away from the Yadavs.
Thus, in the event that there is no split in the party, the biggest gainers are likely to be both the BJP and BSP.
Given below is a brief note on how different voter-groups might behave in the wake of the implosion of the Samajwadi Party, and why the BJP may be hurt by the lack of a chief ministerial candidate in UP.
Historically, BSP has never been able to get more than 20 per cent Muslim votes. Even in 2007 when Mayawati won, BSP got only 18 per cent of the minority community support. Every 10 per cent gain in Muslim votes would deliver an overall gain of 2 per cent to the BSP. The latest Axis Poll shows the BSP at 28 per cent of the total votes in UP (just 3 per cent lower than BJP). A swing of 15 per cent Muslim votes from SP to BSP could easily bridge this gap in terms of vote share.
With the SP deteriorating as a serious contender, many other OBC voters and even young Yadav voters are likely to vote for the BJP (just like they did in 2014), neutralising the gains made by the BSP amongst Muslim voters.
While the BJP has decided not to go with a chief ministerial candidate, two factors could complicate the situation. One, Mayawati is already ahead on the leadership stakes and if she gains on Akhilesh’s loss on leadership ratings, the BSP could be seen as a winner and gain voters who make up their mind in the last week or so.
Second, should Mayawati take the decision to align with the Congress and other parties, the BSP leader’s ratings could crack through the roof and prove to be headache to the BJP. The BJP may be forced to nominate a candidate for the election in that case.
In sum, a weaker SP does not necessarily assure electoral victory for the BJP. Both the BSP and BJP benefit almost equally with the BSP still having the option of building an electoral alliance with Congress and other smaller parties.
In the second scenario of Akhilesh splitting and forming his own party, the dynamics could get very complex. He would certainly get a dent on his leadership ratings but whether the split would enable to expand the new party’s base outside the Muslim-Yadav stronghold is difficult to predict. Also, it is unclear how voters would react if Akhilesh were to form an alliance with the Congress and other small parties. In any event, the impact of such a decision will thin out the closer it gets to the election. It is likely that this level of unpredictability and the lack of access to finances is discouraging Akhilesh from splitting the party.
Way forward for BJP
BJP must continue to focus on the development platform and train its sights on the specific benefits for the myriad set of voters who intend to vote for the party given that this is a state election. Unemployment is a big issue and targeting this through an urban employment programme, for example, would be a great idea. The idea should aim at replicating the voting coalition that delivered 40 per cent plus votes in 2014. That is the only way that BJP can ensure a win in 2017.
The article has been co-authored by Politicalbaaba and Subhash Chandra and was first published in Swarajyamag.