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This article has been co-authored by Polticalbaaba and Subhash Chandra.
The feud in the Samajwadi Party, exodus of leaders from Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress party’s poor show in opinion polls has re-ignited the talks of a grand alliance in UP to take on BJP which appears to be steering ahead and consolidating its position in the aftermath of the Uri surgical strikes.
In this scheme of things, Congress the no. 4 party in the state since the past 2.5 decades has become hot property. At one end both the factions of the Samajwadi party are interested in an alliance while at the other end, the BSP Congress alliance always had the potential to change the election scenario in UP.
Common agenda to defeat BJP has re-ignited talks Mahagathbandhan on Bihar lines
Akhilesh has already sent feelers to Congress for an alliance in the event he breaks away and forms his own party. Rahul and Akhilesh share a good bonhomie.
Shivpal has spoken to JDU leaders and Sharad Yadav reportedly spoke to Sonia to be part of mahagathbandhan. BSP-Congress talks which had reached a dead end have now been revived through back channel talks. Anything between 75-100 seats could be offered to the Congress which is a good deal for the party.
Why is everybody wooing Congress?
The Congress party has limited presence in the State with its share hovering around 6% in most polls carried out in the last 3 months. The lower share is probably due to the fact that voters donot see the Congress party as an important player in the scheme of things. However,
Opinion polls show BJP ahead with 30%-32% vote share and BSP / SP lagging behind with 25%-28% vote share each. With Congress on their side, arithmetic could tilt in favor of party forging alliance with Congress and they could surpass BJP.
The three biggest vote bank of Congress are Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins. It has decent to good influence amongst Muslims (average 16% in last five polls), Brahmins (20%) and Other SC (non-Jatavs 10%). If Congress manages to get same vote share from its anchor vote segments as in the past, it could easily cross 6% overall vote share.
|Anchor Vote Segments||2002 VS||2007 VS||2009 LS||2012 VS||2014 LS|
|Other SC / ST||9%||4%||16%||17%||4%|
Source: CSDS Reports
Muslims account for 20% of state population. Their vote is predominantly anti-BJP and hence easily transferable to SP or BSP. The Muslim vote of Congress alone translates to 3% vote share which is very crucial in these elections. Congress best performance was in 2009 lok sabha polls where it garnered 25% of Muslim votes.
Muslims determine the results of 73 seats wherein their population is more than 30%. While SP has traditionally got majority support of the community, its vote share declined from 54% in 2002 to 39% in 2012. It rebounded to 58% in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. BSP’s vote share from the community has doubled from 9% in 2002 to 20% in 2012.
Azam Khan cautioned SP recently about “over worried” Muslim voters due to family feud within Yadav family. Muslims would ally with the party better positioned to defeat BJP and SP can’t take them for granted. Congress participation in any grand alliance lends it credibility and converts it into a potent force capable of defeating BJP.
SP feels with Congress and Quami Ekta Dal on its side, it can consolidate Muslim vote and majority votes from MY combination (30% of population) would pull it through.
Finally, our own estimate is that the Congress vote bank is the strongest in 50-75 seats where it could do very well in alliance with either the SP or BSP. In a situation where 200+ seats can help form the Government, any party that can win 50+ seats becomes extremely important in the scheme of things.
Transferability of votes a key issue
Some parties especially BSP has in the past raised question mark over Congress ability to transfer votes. Maya believes any such alliance would benefit Congress more than BSP. In 1996, when BSP allied with the Congress, grand old party’s vote share doubled from 15.% in 1993 to 29.1% in seats contested while BSP vote share declined marginally from 28.7% in 1993 to 27.7% in 1996.
Congress proved skeptics wrong when it was able to transfer its vote share to JDU-RJD candidates in Bihar. This didn’t happen though in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu where neither the communists nor the DMK were seen as a front runner. Essentially, the Congress was able to transfer votes when it was part of an alliance which was perceived to win. If an alliance happens SP + Congress or BSP + Congress will emerge as a front runner and would help tackle transferability issue.
Can Congress transfer votes to SP or BSP?
|Caste / Religion||Transfer to SP
|Reasoning||Transfer to BSP
|Supported SP in 2012 to defeat BSP.||Yes
|BSP a champion of Dalits|
|SP perceived as anti-Brahmin party.||Yes
|BSP got good support from Brahmins in 2007 and 2012|
The alliance is also a face saver for Prashant Kishore
Despite all the hallah and media attention Congress performance in opinion polls has not been encouraging. Congress needs a helping hand. It performed significantly well when it allied with RJD-JDU in Bihar and Left Front in West Bengal bagging 29 and 44 seats respectively.
PK is also an advisor of Nitish Kumar and JDU may nudge the deal in favour of Samajwadi Party. A split in SP would complicate matters and then essentially it would be Rahul’s call who to ally with. Akhilesh would also be wary of splitting the party due to “M” factor. While young voters could see Akhilesh as champion of development, majority Muslim voters could remain with father Mulayam in our opinion.
Priyanka Campaigning could have a multiplier effect
In the event that the Congress ties up with SP or BSP, Priyanka Gandhi campaigning for the Mayawati or Akhilesh could have a bigger effect on consolidating neutral voters in favor of the alliance. This itself could deliver 1-2% more vote and probably deliver an overall landslide to the alliance.
To sum up, the minority vote which Congress commands and its cadre vote base (though small) has turned out to be key in efforts of parties to defeat BJP in UP. It has emerged as the joker in the pack. And it may as well have a last laugh. It has the luxury of now choosing from amongst its suitors. An unprecedented change in fortunes of the party in UP.
This article was originally published in The Quint.