Numbers reveal a missed opportunity for BJP's opponents

Dejected Indian Samajwadi Party supporters sit at their party offices as they discuss the party's poor performances in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in Lucknow on March 11, 2017. PIC/AFP.
By: Charu Sudan Kasturi
Updated: 12 Mar 2017 10:06 AM
New Delhi: The BJP's chariot may have been halted in Uttar Pradesh, as in Bihar, had the Samajwadi Party and the Congress tied up with Mayawati before the polls and successfully transferred votes among themselves, Saturday's results suggest.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party tallied 312 seats in a House of 403, polling 39.7 per cent of the state's votes, while the Samajwadi-Congress alliance won just 54 seats. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party finished third with 19 seats.

The BJP's two allies, the Apna Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, together won 13 seats, with the Apna Dal's 9 seats outdoing the Congress's 7.

But the BJP's votes in 183 of the seats it has won are less than the combined votes of the Samajwadi-Congress alliance and Mayawati's party, whom outgoing chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had tried courting on the eve of the results.

Had Akhilesh, Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati struck a successfully functioning pre-poll alliance, the BJP would have won just 129 seats. The BJP's allies too would have lost seven of the seats they won, and the coalition would have bagged 135 seats in all.

The Opposition alliance would have racked up a tally of 263, a clear majority.

Experts cautioned that making coalitions work - in every seat across the state - is a bit more complicated than simply adding up their vote shares.

But if backed by successful political messaging, a three-way Opposition "grand alliance" would have been able to stop the Modi juggernaut in Uttar Pradesh, the results suggest.

"Forming a coalition only on the agenda of anti-BJPism will not work," Harish Wankhede, assistant professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told The Telegraph.

"You need to create an alternative political arrangement, a different vision, and take it to the people - and the Opposition appears unable to come together on that."

The Congress had helped forge such a coalition between hardened rivals Nitish Kumar (Janata Dal United) and Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal) in Bihar in the autumn of 2015 at a time the BJP was nationally on a political high.

Then, too, the BJP had received more votes than any other party - 24.4 per cent of those polled in the state overall. But the "grand alliance" of the JDU (16.85 per cent of the vote), RJD (18.35 per cent) and the Congress (6.66 per cent) swept the election with a combined vote share of 41.86 per cent, winning 178 seats in a House of 243. The BJP won just 53 seats.

Ahead of the Uttar Pradesh polls, too, political pundits had suggested a Bihar-like coalition between archrivals Mayawati and Akhilesh's father Mulayam Singh Yadav as a model for the BJP's opponents to contemplate.

The Congress wanted an alliance with Mayawati but was rebuffed.

The Samajwadi Party, in the meantime, found itself caught up in a public feud between Akhilesh and uncle Shivpal Yadav, with Mulayam siding with his brother.

Once Akhilesh took over the party's reins, the Congress sealed an alliance with a Samajwadi Party hurt by the public battles within.

Still, the sum of the votes polled by Mayawati (22.2 per cent), the Samajwadis (21.8 per cent) and the Congress (6.2 per cent) - 50.2 per cent overall - is far higher than the BJP-led coalition's 41.4 per cent.

Realisation of the benefits of such an alliance appeared to have dawned on Akhilesh only yesterday, when he told an interviewer he would be open to a partnership with his " mausi (aunt)", a respectful reference to Mayawati.

By then, of course, the votes - and the die - had been cast.

-The Telegraph, Calcutta