On 3 March 2018, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed to victory in Tripura, bringing an end to 25 years of uninterrupted Communist Party of India (Marxist) rule in the tiny North-East state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has described this victory as an ideological one, in spite of the fact that most of the newly elected BJP legislators are former Congress men.
With the Tripura, BJP also celebrated the election results of Meghalaya and Nagaland, though both the states have failed to deliver a clear popular verdict. The favorable election results in these three North-Eastern states led many commentators in Indian media to jump into conclusion that Modi-Shah election machine is unbeatable and opposition has no chance to dethrone Modi in 2019 election. There are two points which were overlooked deliberately to sing in a pro-BJP tune. For the last seventy years, political elites of North-Eastern states have primarily sided with the party in power at the Centre. More importantly, these 3 states send only 5 MPs (Tripura – 2, Meghalaya-2, and Nagaland – 1) to the Lok Sabha.
While the day was going well for the BJP at least in terms of media coverage, an innocuous looking tweet by Samajwadi Party spokesperson Pakhuri Pathak in the evening of 3 March 2018 was enough to make ruling party seriously worried about its 2019 reelection bid, though it did not get into news cycle immediately.
Pathak in her tweet had hinted at Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati’s consent to give her party’s support to SP candidates in Lok Sabha by-polls in UP’s Phulpur and Gorakhpur constituencies. A day after, BSP has come out openly declaring that it will vote to defeat BJP in these two constituencies and will transfer its votes to SP candidates.
These two constituencies are symbolically extremely important for both BJP and opposition parties as the present Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister were elected from there in 2014. These two constituencies are going to poll in a week time and the favorable results of these by-elections will have serious psychological value for opposition parties in India, particularly after BJP’s by-poll debacles in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Unlike tiny North-Eastern states, UP is the electoral power center for Indian politics. It sends 80 MPs to Lok Sabha. In 2017 UP Assembly Election, BJP had won 312 of the total 403 seats. Its vote share was 39.7%, while BSP had got 22.2% and SP had 21.8%. A simple arithmetic of BSP and SP votes coming together put them ahead of BJP. If 6.3% vote share of the Congress Party adds more to it, BJP will find itself in serious trouble. In 2014, BJP had won 71 seats and its ally Apna Dal had won 2 more seats and that spectacular electoral victory had made it able to gain an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha on its own.
Mayawati has refrained from declaring an open alliance with SP for the 2019 general election, but her open declaration about her party’s vote transfer to her arch enemy SP is nothing but a clear indication of her willingness to work towards a larger anti-BJP alliance for the 2019 election. In her eyes, Akhilesh Yadav led SP is not anymore untouchable. Both Akhilesh and Mayawati have made alliance with the Congress Party in the past, so all these three parties coming together to fight against BJP in 2019 election is not any more a mere speculation. Rather, it looks now a real possibility.
Of course, it is difficult to guess how far the party base will be willing to work together and the party will be able to transfer its votes to other. It is true in electoral understanding between parties, 1 plus 1 is not always 2. It might be less than 2 and can even more than 2. In these information-heavy days, perception matters most. An understanding of major political opponents of BJP in an electorally crucial state like UP will not only impact the electoral results of the state but also it will send a strong message to the rest of the country that Modi is not invincible anymore.
The ripple effects of the possibility of an alliance between BSP and SP will be certainly felt in neighboring Bihar and also to some extents in states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where the probable realignment of political parties is being seriously explored. If the Congress Party manages to act fast and be able to stitch a larger alliance with BSP and SP in UP, RJD in Bihar, TMC in West Bengal, NC in Maharashtra and DMK in Tamil Nadu before the 2019 election, there is no doubt that the country’s electorates will be assured of a viable alternative at place before ousting BJP from power. Moreover, these regional parties are not only major political forces in their respective states, they also hold a small but very significant vote shares in other parts of the country, which will help the Congress Party to gain in states where it dominates.
A spectacular victory for BJP in Tripura election has very little significance for the 2019 general election. Similarly, of its sharing of the power in Meghalaya and Nagaland. But, the BSP and SP cooperation in the coming UP by-poll is a game changer. The success of this experiment in Phulpur and Gorakhpur constituencies might lead to not only an anti-BJP alliance in theUP, butin a much larger scale and force covering most of the country. Instead of BJP gloating over insignificant electoral victories in North Eastern states, it should be seriously concerned now over the developing electoral understanding between Akhilesh and Mayawati in UP.
The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden