Some political observers believe that Congress being kept out is part of the Opposition’s strategy
The Indian National Congress on January 13 announced that it would contest all 80 seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections alone.
The announcement came a day after the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) formalised their gathbandhan to take on the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The possibility of SP and BSP — the two arch rivals — contesting the elections together had emerged after their victories in Lok Sabha bypolls in 2018. SP, BSP and RLD had backed each other’s candidates to upset the BJP in Kairana, and bastions Phulpur and Gorakhpur.
Initially, the Congress was expected to be a part of the alliance. However, SP’s Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati had been hinting that Congress could be left out.
As part of the seat-sharing formula announced on January 12, SP and BSP would contest from 38 seats each. Two seats would be left for other parties that include the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). The alliance has decided to not field candidates in Rae Bareli and Amethi — constituencies of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
An analysis of the constituency-wise data from the 2014 general election shows that the BJP may lose as many as 37 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh that they currently hold, should the SP-BSP-RLD fight together in 2019. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) may win only 36 seats in the state.
In terms of vote share, BJP and its allies had secured 43.3 percent votes in 2014. Adding the vote share of SP-BSP-RLD would take the grand alliance’s vote share to 42.65 percent.
Why was Congress kept out?
Addressing the press briefing in state capital Lucknow, Mayawati said the alliance would stay equidistant from both BJP and Congress.
Mayawati, citing multiple occasions from the past, stated that Congress’ core votes are not transferable. Meaning, Congress’ core voters are less likely to vote for a candidate put up by BSP or SP, despite an alliance.
“Whenever we ally with parties like Congress, they derive benefits, we don’t. Their vote was not transferred to us in earlier alliance. They gain from us. Our 1996 experiment shows that, even SP saw that in 2017,” she said.
In the 1993 assembly election, SP, then led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, allied with Mayawati’s mentor Kanshi Ram, to take on BJP after the Ram temple movement. SP and BSP won 109 and 67 seats respectively out of 422 seats. The result showed that the votes flowed smoothly within the alliance.
Subsequently in 1996 assembly polls, BSP contested in alliance with the Congress. The two parties failed to make a mark, winning 67 and 33 seats, respectively.
Facing a challenge from the BJP, SP tied up with Congress in the 2017 assembly polls. The result was disastrous with the two parties winning 47 and seven out of the 403 seats respectively.
Congress could damage BJP more than SP-BSP
SP and BSP have their core voter base in Yadavs and the Scheduled Castes (SCs), respectively. Voters from these communities could vote for Congress candidates. However, Congress’ loyal voters may not vote for the SP-BSP candidates.
Some political observers, however, believe that Congress being kept out is part of Opposition’s strategy.
By fighting the election alone, Congress may position itself as a third alternative for voters who are unlikely to vote for neither the BJP, nor SP-BSP.
The Congress’ average vote share in the last three Lok Sabha elections has been around 12 percent, primarily believed to be a section of the upper castes and voters in urban pockets. While this is not transferable to any or away from either the SP or BSP, it is transferable to and from BJP.
According to a report by the Hindustan Times, Congress leaders believe that they have regained some of their lost ground among upper castes and a section of the middle class in UP. This could impact the BJP directly.
An upper caste candidate fielded by Congress could damage the BJP candidate’s chance there.
Opportunity for Congress
Reports had earlier suggested that a majority of Congress leaders had expressed reservations over the party joining the SP-BSP alliance and wanted the party to contest alone in the parliamentary elections.
Leaders argued that contesting alone would give the party an opportunity to field candidates in all constituencies and help galvanise the cadre.
Congress also sees this as an opportunity to rebuild its organisation in the state.Observers also suggest that besides not contesting from Rae Bareli and Amethi to help Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the Mahagathbandhan may field weaker candidates in some seats to help Congress.