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A full hand

How will the Congress revival rework UP’s political equations?

Written by Dhananjai Joshi |
May 28, 2009 12:37:46 am

One of the big surprises of the recently concluded general election is the revival of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. Many,including Mayawati,were under the illusion that the BSP would sweep UP,while others felt that the controversy surrounding Varun Gandhi and the RLD alliance would result in a BJP revival. But politics is the art of the impossible: against all odds,the SP managed to stay UP’s single largest party,and to the surprise of pollsters,pundits and even Congress-walas,the Congress came in second.

Why and how did the Congress revive,and at whose cost; and,if this trend continues,what will the future face of the UP battleground be? What must be noted is a political realignment of social forces which has created opportunity for the Congress. The SP,BSP and BJP have been confined to their core constituencies,while the Congress made marginal gains from all sections — with major gains among Brahmins,Banias and Muslims,its traditional support base in its heyday. As field reports suggest,the BSP lost most of the upper caste and OBC votes it had gained in the 2007 assembly election. The BSP still leads in UP in terms of vote share,because its core Dalit — and more particularly Jatav — constituency stays intact. Upper caste support for the SP has eroded and it has also lost a major chunk of its Muslim votes. Yet it remains the single largest party because approximately 80 per cent of Yadavs continue to rally behind the party,and the alliance with Kalyan Singh got it many Lodh votes. The BJP lost a big chunk of its lower OBC voters along with a few Brahmin,Bania and other upper caste voters.

Most of these were transferred to the Congress,which means it could potentially revive itself as a “catch-all party” accommodating different social groups under a “rainbow coalition”. The biggest loser in such a situation will certainly be the BJP,which depends on en-bloc votes from Brahmins,Banias and other upper castes along with a marginal lead among lower-OBCs. Further fragmentation of lower-OBC votes will certainly hurt the saffron party; an upper caste swing to the Congress would damage it the most.

The SP and BSP may not suffer as much as the BJP. The SP’s base,Yadavs at 10 per cent and some Lodhs,Kurmis,other backward castes and Muslims should keep it at least 18 per cent. Similarly,Jatavs and other Dalits,at 22 per cent of the electorate,form the nucleus of the BSP’s support. Irrespective of the extent to which the Congress succeeds,the SP and BSP will continue to be strong contenders,if as narrow-based caste parties,such as they were in the early ’90s.

This change in UP politics,which may have started from the 2009 elections,may in no way alter the course of identity/ caste politics. The results indeed signal a reconfiguration of caste alliances. In this new arrangement,the Congress may hold the potential to command loyalty of the largest bloc — Brahmins,Banias and Muslims together form around 31 per cent of the state’s electorate. In addition,if the Congress can win some portion of non-Jatav and lower OBC votes to its second generation “rainbow coalition” then the party will get past the threshold to convert the votes into seats. A big difference in this new realignment of castes is the multipolarity of the party system in UP — given this,new votebanks in the state would give the party an edge. Another apparent difference is that,unlike its competitors,the Congress seldom makes appeals in the name of caste,but it does play the caste card in a subtle way through distribution of patronage.

The big battles then in UP will be between the Congress and the BJP for the other upper caste votes,and between all the four parties for fragmented lower OBC votes. In any given election,if the BJP gets a lead over the Congress among other upper castes,and a marginal lead over its three rivals among lower OBCs,it will be ahead of the SP and BSP. Given their core votebanks,the SP or BSP will need a decent lead among lower OBCs to emerge as the strongest rival to the Congress. Along with its 31 per cent bloc,the Congress on the other hand will need a marginal lead over the BJP among other upper castes and over the other three parties among lower OBCs to emerge as the strongest player in UP.

In the last two decades,the Congress should have realised that a stable road to New Delhi comes only from Lucknow. The 2009 election has just opened a window,and the Congress might never get such an opportunity

to revive itself in the Hindi heartland. The degree to which they will succeed remains to be seen in the 2012 Vidhan Sabha election.

This article was co-written by Rahul Verma. The writers are at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies,Delhi

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