When the Wheels came off Mahagathbandhan

This article was first published in the July edition of ‘The EDGE’ as a cover story. You can read the story and other articles here.

It’s been more than a month, since the declaration of results of the General Elections for the 17th Lok Sabha. NDA came back to power with a thumping majority bettering its previous tally from 2014 and in the process BJP too capturing more seats and crossing the majority mark on its own.

The opposition is still sulking from the rout and yet to come out of the shock and analyze what hit them. Many experts and psephologists didn’t even predict this kind of a win for the NDA. A bigger ‘Modi-wave’ hit them, which is popularly being termed as ‘Tsunamo’.

There were many alliances formed, at the national and regional level to take on the might of the juggernaut known as Modi-Shah. The wave has had a far-reaching impact. It is one thing to win an election with a majority and it is another where you end up decimating an entire opposition to the extent where they begin to self-doubt and self-criticize that might eventually lead them to implode.

The cracks in the alliances are beginning to surface. The blame game and mudslinging is at its peak. Nobody wants to own up to their failures and just wants to take the easy way out by pointing faults in others. The wheels have come off the much-hyped ‘Bua-Bhatija’ Samajwadi Party & Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in UP. Mayawati has already made it official that moving forward they would be contesting all elections on their own without any alliance, especially not the current one with SP.

Uttar Pradesh was BJP’s biggest bastion during the general elections of 2014 where they bagged 71 out of 80 seats. The Mahagathbandhan of SP-BSP was touted as a potent force to provide resistance to the wave, though the results tell a different story.

The Mahagathbandhan failed miserably, but the same cannot be said about Mayawati. BSP went from 0 seats to 10 seats from the 38 contested while keeping its vote share intact compared to the 2014 elections. Many experts are of the opinion that SP’s voter base helped Mayawati achieve this, while the same didn’t reciprocate for SP. Mayawati openly lashing out on Akhilesh for not being able to safeguard Dimple Yadav’s seat and criticizing him for the loss paved way for the split-up of SP-BSP alliance.

Irrespective of the result, this alliance would not have lasted long. It is the way BSP has been, it is the way politics of Mayawati is. She rode to power first on the support of BJP, then she shook hands with UPA when they came in power and when she realized that her politics is about to fade and BSP might go extinct, she jumped on the boat of their archrivals SP. Everybody from the political spectrum is aware of what are the events that led to the enmity between both the political fronts.

The formula of ‘Mahagathbandhan’ worked tremendously well in Bihar where the once archrivals, Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad Yadav, came together to form an unthinkable alliance along with Congress. Mathematics for the coalition was worked around and it defeated the first Modi wave and Nitish Kumar came back to power, hence laying down foundations for many of such alliances.

Some of them were based on chemistry some simply based on arithmetic but all had one common agenda of defeating BJP and more importantly Modi. Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party tried to use the same formula and formed an alliance along with Ajit Singh’s RLD, which was termed as UP’s Mahagathbandhan.

The common masses believed that Akhilesh Yadav as CM of UP (2012-17) did decent work and his performance was better than previous regimes but his fallout with his own uncle on the eve of UP Assembly elections didn’t go down well with their core voter base. The same base would turn up on the name of Mulayam Singh Yadav and vote blindly for them for the past two and half decades. Now the people would see him as someone who went against his own father’s wishes. The largely conservative rural voters would not approve of this any day.

During the same period, Mayawati was fighting an existential battle. BSP failed to secure a single seat in the General Elections of 2014. Don’t forget that the same Mayawati was eyeing the PM’s chair via a third front. The results of UP assembly elections 2017 came as a reality check for both SP and BSP where SP went from 224 seats in 2012 to a mere 47 seats and BSP went from 80 seats to a paltry 19 seats.

What mislead them were their vote percentages. BSP and SP both got about 22% while BJP single-handedly touched 40%. As per their simple calculations, 22 plus 22 would convert into 44, which was anyway more than what BJP secured; what they didn’t take into consideration that alliances and votes don’t work on mathematics. They work on ideologies.

The followers, party workers, and cadres go by how and what their leaders say or is it? For more than two decades Mayawati and Mulayam Singh spat venom on each other and so did their party members and workers at all levels. Now to expect that all of a sudden the same antagonism would evaporate in a day was an idea little far fetched.

The topmost people of two political parties might get up one day and decide to shake hands and appear to become friends doesn’t necessarily mean that same would transpire among grassroots level party worker leave alone voters. It is literally difficult for them to become friends and work shoulder-to-shoulder with someone, whom they abused and badmouthed for the past twenty years.

When the Lok Sabha by-elections happened in UP after the assembly elections of 2017, the verdict was more or less against Yogi than against Modi. But when it came down to the general elections, the Modi-Shah duo was successful in converting it into a presidential format of election where it was all about a single personality of Narendra Modi. A personality that they have successfully marketed into a towering figure against which no other figure from the opposition stands tall.

As the dates for voting approached, Mayawati started openly batting herself for the prime position of PM that didn’t go down well with the voters. I met people who claimed that they voted for BJP because they didn’t want somebody like a Mayawati to be the PM. She might command respect and support from her community in UP but the same is not the case when it comes to other states of India, whereas Narendra Modi since 2013 has successfully catapulted himself as a national leader.

I am sure how Mayawati worked her way around Akhilesh in gaining their support and in the process bagging more seats, he would not have objected when she would have put her name forward for the PM’s chair.

Both, SP and BSP’s ideologies are caste centric, which made it even harder for their bases to align together. The last time when Mayawati came to power was when the upper caste voted in her favor. That is not the case now. She has even started losing the support of non-jatav dalits and hence the slow decline in BSP’s vote share.

The same worked this time in BJP’s favor where a majority of Hindu votes consolidated in their favor. Of the alliance’s 15 winning candidates, 11 were Muslims, Yadavs and Jatavs. Many reports suggested that this verdict is against caste politics. Well, it is not. BJP was smarter in fielding their candidates. NDA fielded about 34 upper caste candidates and 28 non-yadav OBCs.

In 2014, Mulayam Singh Yadav won by a margin of 3.64 lakh votes from their bastion of Mainpuri, which got reduced to 95,000 votes signifies that the vote transfer didn’t take place on the ground despite Mayawati campaigning for him.

Rajan Pandey, a journalist who co-authored a book on elections in UP highlighted, “BSP claims it is a party of Dalits but it has been reduced to be a party of Jatavs and even not all Jatavs are with it.” The alliance only considered their core voting communities and completely disregarded the non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits.

Surprisingly, they even fielded 20 odd candidates from upper castes when contrarily they were propagating a 2% tax on elite upper castes. In the reserved seats, BJP fielded as many as 15 non-Jatavs and only 2 Jatavs.

BJP played smart in constituencies where their incumbent MPs performed poorly and the general vibe was against them. Like in the case of Menaka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi – they simply swapped their constituencies. The Nishad Party candidate who won the by-poll from Gorakhpur constituency was also easily poached and he joined hands with BJP right before the elections leaving the alliance looking foolish.

The rebellion from Shivpal Yadav and BJP forming strategic alliances with smaller parties like Apna Dal and Nishad party too helped them. Presence of Shivpal in Firozabad ensured that his nephew Akshay Yadav lost.

The fielding of wrong or weak candidates too catalyzed this drubbing at the hands of NDA. Ajit Singh’s RLD fielded 3 candidates out of which 2 were from their family clan and still lost in their traditional Jat belt. Similarly, in Phulpur where the alliance won a stunning by-election by fielding a Kurmi candidate changed its candidate this time around with a Yadav candidate. Phulpur having a Kurmi majority helped BJP’s Kurmi candidate to win by 1.71 lakh votes.

Now, when the alliance has been called off, it is easy to claim that the caste-based politics didn’t work for the Mahagathbandhan but it was the consolidation of other Hindu votes in sync with the ideology of Hindutva against these three core community votes that led to the debacle of the promising alliance.

Manas ‘Sameer’ Mukul

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