With Governor T.V. Rajeshwar’s notification on Tuesday kickstarting the seven-phased electoral process for the fifteenth assembly in Uttar Pradesh, the air is thick with curiosities about the poll outcome. Will Mulayam Singh Yadav retain power? Can Mayawati dislodge him? Will the BJP stage a comeback here, as in Punjab and Uttaranchal? What are the chances of a Congress revival in UP? How will the RLD figure in these elections? Will the new Muslim Fronts, UDF and LDF, impact the outcome?
We must wait for two long months to get the answers. Despite the scientific methodologies adopted by psephologists, pre-poll and the exit-poll findings may still be off the mark. But the municipal elections held on party lines in UP in October-November 2006 may provide some clues.
There is a caveat, however: Municipal elections are urban phenomena and do not tell us what the rural electorate is thinking. Additionally, the BSP did not participate in that municipal election, distorting the entire outcome.
Contrary to the bipolar nature of the recently held elections in Punjab and Uttaranchal, UP has quadrangular contests in most constituencies, with the BSP, SP, BJP and Congress as major contenders. At some places, even the RLD and UDF-PDF may be potential players. In the 2002 assembly elections, BJP, BSP and SP all had a vote share of 20 per cent-plus with the BSP lead over the BJP at 3.08 percentage points and the SP lead over the BSP at 2.25 percentage points. They all got different numbers of seats but in terms of votes, the contest was close indeed (see table).
Contrary to the general belief, the SP was not a loser in the 2006 municipal elections. Rather, it was a gainer all around as compared to the previous municipal elections in 2000. The SP maintained its seat tally in the mayoral elections, but gained 45 more seats in the municipal corporations. In the municipal councils, it got 23 more chairmen and 133 more members, whereas in the nagar panchayats it won 35 more chairpersons’ and 254 more members’ seats. The fact that the rural-based party did well in the urban centres was a good signal for the party. But Mulayam Singh is on the defensive: First his ally RLD deserted him, then there was a dismissal possibility, and now there is the Supreme Court’s indictment in the disproportionate assets case.
The BJP had swept the mayoral elections winning 8 out of 12 seats; it also won 58 more seats in the municipal corporations. But, the party lost heavily both at the municipal council and the nagar panchayat levels. That showed that an urban-based party was facing erosion in its own fort notwithstanding its victories in the big urban centres. With the electorate apparently rejecting the party’s ideology of hindutva combined with an upper caste shift — the Brahmins to BSP and the Thakurs to SP — the BJP faces a big challenge in the assembly elections.
The Congress had improved its performance at all levels except in the municipal councils where its chairpersons’ tally was reduced by two. The party won three new mayors’ seats at Allahabad, Jhansi and Bareilly, but its mayor lost at Kanpur. It recorded substantial gains at the municipal council and nagar panchayat levels, thanks to the tactical voting by BSP. With the Muslims finding themselves at the cross-roads, and the dalits seemingly bewildered at the brahminisation of BSP, the Congress may want to move swiftly to reclaim its erstwhile constituencies.
The BSP had abstained from the municipal elections and opted for tactical voting by the dalits to defeat the SP, and ensure victories for the BJP and Congress, filling them with a false sense of elation, victory and recovery. The BSP is attempting a social coalition with Brahmins through brahmin-jodo sammelans and bhaichara committees to pre-empt a political coalition. In its list of 403 candidates, 86 brahmins have been fielded. Mayawati has also tried to attract the OBCs by giving 110 seats to them. The dalits are somewhat apprehensive of Brahmin dominance in the party, but that may not change their voting preference. If the BSP could retain its vote bank and if the Brahmin votes (approximately 8-9 per cent) could be transferred to the BSP, then that could be a formidable electoral chemistry in UP.
The RLD’s good showing in eastern UP in the municipal elections has emboldened Ajit Singh, and the party is already well entrenched in western UP. The Muslim Fronts — UDF led by Maulana Abdullah Bukhari and PDF led by Maulana Kalbe Jawaad — have the potential to create upsets in several constituencies. The UDF had polled a strong 28000 votes in the mayoral elections in Allahabad in its first appearance. With Mulayam’s minister Yaquoob Quareshi deciding to become a UDF candidate and Azam Khan’s annoyance with Mulayam over the Johar Muslim University, Muslim votes are sure to divide among UDF-PDF, SP and Congress. That could give the BJP an advantage in some cases.
The writer teaches politics at Christ Church College, Kanpur