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When 3 + 1 = 5

The formation of a Fourth Front by the constituents of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) - RJD of Lalu Prasad Yadav,Lok Janashakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan...

Written by A.K. Verma | April 9, 2009 11:53:13 pm

The formation of a Fourth Front by the constituents of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) — RJD of Lalu Prasad Yadav,Lok Janashakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan,and SP of Mulayam Singh Yadav — has been interpreted by many as a possible schism within UPA ranks. This has made electoral contestation tri-polar in Bihar and quadrangular in UP. Many think that the decision of the Congress to put up candidates in all the constituencies in UP and Bihar would harm the interests of both Congress and these allies,and help the BSP- BJP in UP and BJP-JD (U) in Bihar.

On a deeper analysis,however,the pointers lead us to a diametrically opposite picture. The entire Fourth Front appears to be a shrewd and subtle UPA game plan designed to increase the seats of UPA constituents in Bihar and UP. There are a couple of reasons to think that way. In the Indian scenario,a genuine political schism gets immediately reflected in the language — its tone and tenor — of the rival leaders; but Lalu,Paswan and Mulayam all continue to use reverential language for Sonia Gandhi. Secondly,these leaders consistently maintain that they are very much part of the UPA and assert UPA’s come back after elections.

Is the Fourth Front,then,mutually advantageous to the Congress and these allies? It is certainly advantageous to the Congress. One,Congress may not win more seats in UP and Bihar than before (2004),but it will certainly gain in terms of vote share and visibility. Congress is a national party and it has a responsibility to be visible in most of the constituencies — otherwise its traditional voters get bewildered and are forced to shift to other parties. Secondly,it would be a smart futuristic move and may revive Congress at the grassroots level.

Will the Congress decision to go alone also help the RJD-LJNP combine in Bihar? Probably yes. What may be the game plan of the UPA? Perhaps,the Congress move is not so much to make the fight triangular as to assume the role of a vote cutter. If Congress gets approximately 4-5 per cent votes in a constituency,then the BJP-JD (U) combine may be in trouble. This is because of two reasons: one,the BJP-JD (U) has to face the collective might of the RJD-LJNP; two,this almost bipolar contest would become very competitive,and the 4-5 percent votes polled by the Congress may positively affect the chances of the RJD-LJNP combine as the Congress,in all probability,would be getting the traditional upper castes votes which might be prone to shift to the BJP-JD (U) in the absence of the Congress. The Congress decision to field about 11 upper castes and the rest OBCs and Muslims may make a very substantial dent in the BJP-JD(U) vote bank. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in Bihar,Congress had a vote share of 4.46 per cent and won three seats out of four that it contested under a pre-poll alliance with the RJD and LJNP. The RJD pre-poll alliance in Bihar had polled a massive 45.1 per cent votes vis-a- vis 37 per cent of the BJP-JD (U) alliance. Though some kurmi voters are reportedly estranged with Nitish Kumar this time,his image as a development man and no-nonsense CM,and his government’s doings,may pose a serious challenge to the RJD-LJNP alliance this time. In this backdrop,Congress extricating about 5 per cent votes from BJP-JD (U) kitty may result in substantial gains for the RJD-LJNP combine.

Similarly,in UP,the Congress polled 12 per cent votes and won 9 seats in 2004. That shows that Congress has still a vote share substantial enough to disturb the winning chances of the ruling BSP. This is more so because the BSP vote share of 30 per cent in the 2007 assembly polls was very fragile,and not much could be guaranteed on this. The only advantage for the BSP is that the BJP has also a very substantial about 20 per cent vote share. In this scenario,even minor shifts of votes may lead to a very changed electoral outcome. The Congress voters are mainly upper caste and Muslims. The upper caste voters,who otherwise may be wooed by the BSP through its social engineering,may gravitate to the Congress if the party is present,whereas the Muslim voters,being hotly chased by BSP through Nasemuddin,may find an alternative Congress window if they don’t feel like voting for SP owing to Mulayam’s sudden love for Kalyan Singh,the prime accused in Babri Masjid case. Thus,the Congress strategy to contest most of the 120 seats in UP and Bihar may help the UPA allies increase their seats without the Congress incurring any losses,and may harm the chances of the BJP-JD (U) in Bihar and BSP in Uttar Pradesh.

The writer teaches politics at Christ Church College,Kanpur

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