Finally after much drama, SP and Congress finalized their seat sharing pact. SP will contest on 298 and Congress on 105 seats. Given the recent trend of all opinion polls, it was clear that SP would not pass the half way mark on its own. It felt that it was best to have the buffer of 6%-8% vote share which grand old party offers.
The ‘minigathbandhan’ on the lines of ‘mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar aims to prevent BJP from coming to power which was leading in 328 assembly segments in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. SP and Congress combined received 42% vote share in 2012 state polls and 30% in 2014 central elections. Anywhere between 35%-36% vote share should be good enough to win considering that BJP has in state elections lost about.20% of votes received in central elections, implying it would land at somewhere around 33%-34% vote share.
The strong rationale of the alliance is that it would give a call to Muslims that SP-INC is best placed to beat BJP and hence consolidate community support in its favour. Along with Yadavs, the alliance aims to bag three-fourth support, resulting in a head start with 21%-22% vote share.
Though the alliance looks strong on paper and has the arithmetic, it faces serious challenges as enumerated below:
1. Delay and Chaos leading upto the finalization of alliance
The alliance was finalized on 22nd Jan. 2017, just two days before last day of filing nominations for Phase I ends. Still the exact seats on which each would contest has to be thrashed out. This has left the cadre of both groups confused. On the other hand, BSP finalized seat distribution two weeks before them on 8th Jan. 2017 and has already hit the campaign trail. BJP also announced 149 candidates before SP’s list.
SP has already announced candidates for 268 seats and as per reports 40 of these would now go to Congress quota. This is adding to the confusion and increasing anxiety levels of candidates. As per reports while Congress has announced that it would contest on all ten seats of Amethi and Rae Bareli, CM Akhilesh, the other day in Sultanpur rally, sought support for Gayatri Prajapati who is SP candidate from Amethi. Friendly contests on a few seats are expected.
2. SP will likely face rebel candidates
SP contested on all 403 seats in 2012. This means that 100 odd ex candidates will not get seats this time. Many of them are expected to rebel and contest as independents or join other parties. Though, delay has ensured that it faces minimum rebellion in Phase I as dates for filing nominations already over.
Some candidates who have been denied ticket have already joined Lok Dal, the party, Mulayam was rumored to take refuge in, if family feud escalated.
3. Seamless transfer of votes may not happen
While majority supporters of SP could back Congress candidates, reverse may not be true. Yadav and Muslim voters of SP would have less issues voting for Congress, however, upper caste and dalit voters of Congress who fear Yadav power may not support SP candidates. This will lead to leakage of votes and ultimately its quantum would decide the fate of this alliance. This is something that was seen in West Bengal also when Congress supporters chose TMC over the Left front.
Ground level co-ordination between SP and Congress may not work smoothly as they have been adversaries all this while and are entering into an alliance for the first time. The entire philosophy of SP is built on anti-Congress-ism and now anti-BJPism.
4. Constituency level dynamics
Mayawati has given a call to Muslims to forge an unbeatable alliance with Dalits. She has given the maximum number of tickets to minority community. Who would the community support where BSP has a Muslim candidate, but SP/INC have a Hindu candidate? The confusion among community members would aggravate where BSP candidate is better placed to defeat BJP than SP/INC.
Muslims also have to ensure that they get represented well in assembly, especially after the state couldn’t even send a single Muslim MP to Parliament. Similarly who would Yadavs support, where BJP / BSP have fielded a Yadav but SP/INC another caste group?
5. Counter Polarization
It is likely that Dalit and OBC voters who voted for the BJP in 2014 and were beginning to abandon it for the BSP and even SP may reconsider their decision. With SP-INC emerging as frontrunner, Dalits and specifically, non-Jatavs may return to BJP fold. Similarly, section of OBC voters may go back to BJP because of their dislike of Congress.
MY consolidation could lead to counter polarization of Hindus across caste groups like in 2014. This could reduce the likely losses of the BJP from 20% to about 15%, giving it an additional, 2-3% additional vote taking it also to 35-36% and thus help it in doing as well or better than SP-INC alliance
6. Chemistry & Lack of Trust
The events folding up to final announcement show lack of trust amongst partners. The discussions were going on behind the scenes but issues were not sorted out till last minute. SP announced manifesto without Congress on board and there is no joint manifesto or common minimum program.
While Akhilesh was keen to hold a joint presser along with Rahul to announce alliance, Rahul backed out as per reports. After all Congress, a national party, and Rahul, a national leader, would not want to play second fiddle and piggy back on Akhilesh, a relatively new kid on the block.
Each would want the other to have a lower strike rate. SP would want to win as many seats as possible on its own to reduce dependence on Congress. Congress on the other hand would want to have a better strike rate than SP and hence a larger role in government decision making.
7. Family feud and infighting
Though, things have been settled down and Akhilesh has gained control of party, both Mulayam and Shivpal are sulking. Mulayam didn’t attend manifesto program and has refused to campaign for the son. Uncle is fighting a lonely battle and as per rumours is hobnobbing with Mayawati to ensure defeat of Akhilesh. Supporters of both groups do not see eye to eye and are working to see the defeat of each other. There is significant unease at the ground level.
In the end, the only way the alliance can win is only if they are seen as transcending the caste politics that has troubled UP politics for a very long time. While it is likely to be debated whether Akhilesh gave Congress higher number of seats than it deserved, the success or failure of the alliance will depend on how well Akhilesh is able to cross over his image across multiple caste groups. If Congress performs like in Bihar and West Bengal, then the alliance will win. However, if it performs like it did in Tamil Nadu, then the alliance fortunes are doomed. We will know only on 11th March, 2017.