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2019 Indian General Elections: The Impact Of The Mahagathbandhan Is Unknown. Here's Why

Written By Pradeep Bhandari (Guest Writer) | Mumbai | Published:


  • With the Lok Sabha elections nearing, the talk of the town over the past year has been the 'Mahagathbandhan'
  • The importance of UP cannot be stressed more with 80 Lok Sabha seats impacting the chances of any political party substantially
  • Will the Mahagathbandhan be able to reverse the BJP's stunning 2014 72/80-seat-performance in 2019?

The 2019 elections are nearing, and in less than a year the Indian electorate will vote a new government into office. The talk of the town in past one year has been the -"Mahagathbandhan", a term colloquially used for an expected alliance of all opposition parties thriving on Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party fighting elections jointly in Uttar Pradesh (UP). 

The importance of UP cannot be stressed more with 80 Lok Sabha seats impacting the chances of any political party substantially. Terming it as a swing state will not be an exaggeration. The BJP  performed exceedingly well in 2014 winning 72/80 seats in 2014. This was the peak of the Narendra Modi 'wave'.

Post the victory of BJP in the 2017 UP assembly elections, the BSP was cornered to 19 seats; down from 80 in 2012, and SP to it's lowest since the inception of the party in 1992, that is 47. This "fringement" of mainstream political players in Uttar Pradesh created a void for them to move towards an alignment to stay relevant in order to challenge the new political pillar in Uttar Pradesh - the BJP. In order for this alliance/ realignment to work effectively, test of transferability has to work efficiently. Test of transferability is the principle of the ability of any political party to transfer votes to its alliance partner in similar political circumstances. The three-test case of the test of transfer has been in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana.

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Gorakhpur is the bastion of the current Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The SP (as the representative of combined opposition) won the seat by 21,961 votes. The margin of victory was even more in Phulpur, the seat of Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. The SP yet again being the representative of combined opposition won by a margin of  59,460 votes. In the recently concluded Kairana bypolls the RLD, being the representative of 'Mahagathbandhan', won by a margin of 44,168 votes. However, these may not be appropriate tests of transfer to conclude a workable effective efficient Mahagathbandhan in 2019.

1) Bypolls do not give a clear picture -

All the three were bypolls polled in a non-Narendra Modi campaign mode. In September 2014, just 2 months post the BJP coming to power at the Centre, it lost 7/10  bypoll seats in Uttar Pradesh. In all these bypolls the BSP was silent. Erstwhile Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav called it as the "defeat of communal forces". Even in Tripura the BJP lost the two bypolls (Barjala and Khowai) in 2017 with a differential of more than 10% votes. The actual results in UP 2017 and Tripura 2017 were completely different - both swept completely by the BJP. Similar was the situation in Karnataka, where the incumbent Siddaramaiah government won a few bypolls before the Karnataka assembly elections. 

Bypolls have no direct correlation to the impact of the same alliance in a national, or state election. The BJP in the past has performed better in an election campaign mode, vs a non-election campaign election.

2) Voting percentage-

All the three cases of the test of transferability had a substantially low voting percentage. Gorakhpur recorded 43.17%, Phulpur 37.39%, and Kairana 51.5% turnout. This was 23%,29%, and 15% less than the average Lok Sabha voting turnout of 66.38%. The variable factor voting percentage is extremely critical to prove an extremely effective ability of SP-BSP alliance to replicate the bypolls results in a national narrative. A higher voting percentage can have a different outcome, as has been seen in past state elections. Apart from the voting percentage, more important is what constitutes that voting percentage- is it been constituted by more of Jatavs and Yadavs, or by non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav SC. Age group constituting the voting is also critical. A 90%  voting percentage can shoot a higher voting percentage which may give different results. To cut it short, the ingredients of the voting percentage can catalyse or reduce the chances of the " Mahagathbandhan" to convert into seats.

3) Art of arithmetic needs to be balanced by the art of chemistry-

Elections are not just about adding voteshares but are also about the ability of votes to convert into seats. If arithmetic alone had to prevail, BJP would not have won maximum seats won by any party at the least proportionate vote share 31%. In 2014 the BJP had a vote share of 42.63% in UP, SP-BSP combined 42.19-almost the same as BJP's. Adding the vote share of Congress will make the combined vote share more than that of the BJP's. However, all these voteshares are not similar, and adding them directly may not be true.

The Yadavs and Jatavs do not share a pretty history. It is difficult to conclude the Yadavs (9%) voting as a block for a Jatav candidate. Especially, since there were 30 seats out of 80 where the vote share of BSP and SP was similar (difference less than 20%). The ticket distribution and effect of the ticket distribution on the core voters will be critical for the effectiveness of the alliance to convert votes into seats. 

Ignored is the behavior of the swing voters in UP-36% non-Yadavs OBC which will determine the ability of alliance to convert votes into seats. The BJP was successful in winning the trust of the maximum of this group in 2014, and in 2017 despite SP-BSP fielding many non-Jatav SC and non-Yadavs OBC. The disenchantment of this 36% OBC can move seats in favour of SP-BSP, not just consolidation of the core SP-BSP constituencies.

Lastly, the bypolls, in a limited sense, have tested the ability of BSP to transfer its votes to a non-BSP candidate. In Gorakhpur and Phulpur BSP transferred it to SP, and in Kairana to RLD. But, there has been no test of transfer of SP, or RLD, or Congress with equal effectiveness to BSP, or any other alliance partner.

It will be unscientific to conclude that the BJP will suffer the massive loss in UP based on a wrong test of transferability. At best we can conclude that UP will be equally tough for BJP, as it will be for SP and BSP alliance. Seat prediction in a non-camping mode is mere conjecture.

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