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Why UP panchayat results aren't a guarantee Samajwadi Party will win Assembly polls

By Divesh Ranjan, Brijesh Kumar Rai, Sandeep Pandey* 

Recent Uttar Pradesh Panchayat election results indicate that Samajwadi Party supported candidates have won more number of seats than Bhartiya Janata Party supported candidates in the election of District Panchayat Members. Interestingly, BJP supported candidates have been defeated in bastions key to Hindutva politics like Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura. This implies that building a Ram temple is no longer going to fetch votes.
However, a large number of elected candidates, numbering more than 900, are independent whose alignment is as yet unclear. So, based on this Panchayat elections’ mandate we cannot accurately predict as to who is going to be the likely winner in the upcoming Assembly elections. 
However, despite a not so high profile campaign by SP in UP Panchayat elections, it has scored a big victory and that signals a change in people’s mood. Aam Aadmi Party has also registered its presence with significant number of seats in UP’s three tier Panchayat system.

Can BJP/National Democratic Alliance win 2022 assembly election in UP?

BJP is the second largest winning party in the recent Panchayat elections. Now it is trying its best to woo the independents so that it can win the Chair positions of most Zila Panchayats and Block Panchayats, a game in which BJP can outsmart any party because of its state and money power. It will certainly face a very tough competition in Assembly elections but still there is a good chance that it can win. 
The anti-incumbency factor and the government failure to manage Covid situation may severely impact its winnability chances. However, it is observed time and again that Indian voters have short lived memory. In Bihar elections last year the Bihar state government’s apathy towards returning migrant workers did not seem to have impacted the election results adversly.
Apart from pandemic crisis, there are other factors which create voters’ perception. BJP has the strongest vote bank in UP among all states. BJP is very adept, with the help of IT cell and media, at polarizing voters on communalism and nationalism just before the elections to divert attention of public from misgovernance. Finally, they had successfully crafted a TINA factor, “if not Modi then who?” which clearly failed to yield results in West Bengal elections in spite of a high decibel campaign.

Can BJP get defeated?

If it is defeated the biggest reason will be pathetic management of Covid pandemic crisis which has exposed the government’s failures and tainted the image of ruling party badly. It has shaken the faith of a large section of people in government. Unprecedented unemployment, increasing income disparity, poor law and order situation are other reasons for people’s dissent. 
Before this crisis the government also witnessed people’s anguish on Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens and Farm laws. The ongoing farmers’ agitation is certain to dent BJP’s show in western UP.
In terms of caste equation, Brahmin, Vaishya and other forward castes are traditional supporters of BJP. In case of western UP, in the last Assembly elections, Jat community had mostly voted for BJP but this time they are likely to vote for Rashtriya Lok Dal largely due to farmers’ agitation. 
Vaishya community has also suffered immensely due to lockdown and various BJP government experiments like demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax. This resentment is likely to be reflected in election results. An alliance among opposition parties could play a key role in defeat of BJP just like in Tamil Nadu.

Can SP, without alliance, win the election?

SP is aspiring to win the election without any alliance. In last Assembly elections of the state, it fought in alliance with Indian National Congress. SP lost 170 seats on 2nd position whereas INC lost 49 seats on 2nd rank. Bahujan Samaj Party became the largest obstacle for the alliance. 
BSP received 22.2 % votes, SP got 21.8% votes, INC got 6.2 % votes approximately while the NDA received 39.7% mandate in total 403 constituencies. This data indicates that for SP fighting alone will reduce its votes drastically and it may just fall short of success like in Bihar and Assam.
On the basis of panchayat election results it may not be appropriate to predict a victory for SP in the Assembly elections, because it was not fought on party symbol. People exhibit different voting behavior in Parliament, Assembly and Panchayat elections. In Panchayat elections it is more based on individual persona and connection rather than the Party behind the candidate.
Therefore, SP must not be misled and should think in terms of bringing opposition parties together. However, because of its unpleasant experience with BSP and INC in past it remains to be seen whether Akhilesh Yadav is willing build bridges with these two parties. 
The only party that SP is sure of allying with is RLD which will be to the benefit of both parties. The other party that SP should consider bringing in its alliance fold is Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party led by Om Prakash Rajbhar which won four seats in last Assembly elections as a partner of NDA but is now estranged from that alliance.
Although Akhilesh Yadav has formed a Baba Saheb Vahini within his Party on the last Ambedkar Jayanti, but he would do well to explore an alliance with Azad Samaj Party of the upcoming Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad. SP should learn from the distribution of seats by Secular Progressive Alliance in Tamil Nadu which resulted in a huge victory of the alliance.

The role of BSP-AIMIM in the election

If BSP and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen come together in UP, then beneficiary will be BJP like in Bihar and Assam Assembly elections where secular vote was split. This alliance will damage SP alliance. The possibility of alliance between BSP and SP seems to be negligible.

The role of Indian National Congress in the election

INC must be realistic at this time. It must accept that it has lost its voter base. INC became the reason for failure of Mahagathbandhan alliance in Bihar Assembly elections by contesting a large number of seats. It won only 19 seats out of 70 seats, that is victory over 27% of contested seats, whereas alliance partners like Rashtriya Janata Dal and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) won on more than 60% of contested seats.
It also lost the election in Assam due to not bringing a popular face and because of failure to form alliance with newly founded parties which were the voice of Assam during the anti CAA protests. In Bihar and Assam, where its ambition got the better of it, Congress lost badly. While in recent Tamil Nadu Assembly elections Congress made reasonable adjustments with its alliance partners resulting in grand victory of Secular Progressive Alliance.


Lessons to be learnt in Alliance Politics

Looking at Table 2 if SP, BSP and INC were to contest together and were able to win all seats where each of them lost by under 15% vote margin, then today this alliance would have been in power with comfortable majority. Moreover, if SP and INC were to be able to win all seats where each of them lost by under 20% vote margin, then they could form government even without BSP’s support.
The mandate in the last UP Assembly election, last Lok Sabha elections, and recent UP Panchayat elections clearly shows that Congress has lost its large voter base. In the coming elections if it fights alone then it may barely win a few seats but may harm winnability of SP. If INC compromises on its ambition and forms alliance with SP and contests only on selected seats then the alliance can emerge victorious. Support to regional parties by INC may pay off in Lok Sabha elections.
In nutshell, if SP enters into an alliance with RLD, INC, SBSP, ASP and possibly AAP to control the division of secular votes that will be caused by the BSP-AIMIM alliance, then SP led opposition alliance is likely to win.
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*Divesh Ranjan is a political analyst, Brijesh Kumar Rai is a former faculty member of IIT Guwahati, Sandeep Pandey is vice president of Socialist Party (India) and Magsaysay award winning social activist

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