What lies beneath


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IF we may use the analogy of Uttar Pradesh as an electoral battleground, then it must be said it is one that witnessed a war of all against all. The result was therefore always expected to be an indecisive one; it was only the degree of defeat (or victory) that was difficult to prophesy. To those who watched the first movements of the campaign in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress appeared on what reporters like to call a ‘come-back trail’. It was apparent too that the BJP juggernaut, treading heavily across India was bound to slow down, if not disintegrate against the strong tide of caste and other intra-social equations, carefully engineered and ‘ground-worked’ by the Samajwadi Party on one front and the BSP on their other flank. A resurgent Congress led by Sonia Gandhi herself was bound to pick off the walking wounded of the BJP in a few more areas; erstwhile bastions of the party such as Bansgaon, Varanasi, Mathura, Aligarh and Hapur were lost.

Zoya Hasan writes that Uttar Pradesh is: ‘…also the chief locale for the transition to a post-Congress polity, and is the pivotal site of contestation between non-Congress groups. Inter-caste conflict, assertive lower castes, and Hindutva politics all manifest themselves in UP. Potentially, the most radical challenge to upper caste hegemony, the outcome of which would affect the overall structure of social inequality, is taking place in UP. The way in which conflicts between castes and communities are played out in UP will influence the course of democratic politics in north India and alter the ways of wresting and sustaining political power at the national level.’

Nevertheless, the contribution of Uttar Pradesh to the structure of the new politics at the centre has been overlooked in the aftermath of the general election. This is largely because the Samajwadi Party, which won almost half the seats of the state, has not been able to manoeuvre itself into any role in government formation or indeed governance at the centre. The assessment therefore is a belief that those who represent Uttar Pradesh do not have a role at the centre. Yet, the fractured result from Uttar Pradesh is precisely what makes the state count in political terms. While most analyses about this election begin with Andhra Pradesh and end with Tamil Nadu, few have ventured to study the impact that UP has created.



This paper looks at certain crucial questions which arise from this election result. Consequently, it ventures to answer them through the perspective of electoral statistics, the competing themes and issues of the election and other data available and collected from Uttar Pradesh. Certain questions that are related to party performance have generic answers inherent to the results. Often the causes for one party’s defeat and another’s victory are interdependent upon ineluctable factors, primarily localised in their nature. Particular questions that fall in this category and which we shall shortly examine are:

a) What factor or factors were responsible for the substantial increase in the number of seats of the Samajwadi Party?

b) What caused the serious deflation of the BJP’s political power in the state?

c) Do the results indicate an electoral stability for the Congress in the state?

d) Has the BSP’s ability to transfer its vote been diminished?



All these questions can be contested from several points of view, the different arguments and responding answers can then provide an empirical and structural basis for larger questions regarding the possibilities of politics in Uttar Pradesh in the future.

The basic statistics from Uttar Pradesh are given below.




Seats ’04

% ’04

Seats ’99

% ’99



























Taking these statistics as structural resources, we can begin to qualify the positions of the various political competitors in the fray. At this point we approach the reasons for the SP’s ‘successes’. What indeed were the factors that prompted the highest return of SP candidates in a general election till date?

The SP gained nine seats on a less than 2% swing in its favour. Among these it won six seats by narrow margins (13,000 votes and less). Chail, Mohanlalganj and Farrukhabad are cases in point. Here the winning margin was less than 3000. Concurrently, the party retained a large number of its incumbent constituencies (15 of the 26 it won in 1999). It will serve well to remember that Mulayam Singh Yadav only contested 65 seats of the 80 in UP. It is still too early to surmise with a sufficient degree of accuracy an exact social pattern or behaviour that may have worked in the SP’s favour. Nonetheless, it is generally true that the SP has now inherited the appel lation of the only realistic ‘Rainbow Coalition’ in the politics of Uttar Pradesh. While this may be and probably is a transitory phenomenon, it is a new development.

The SP fielded 22 upper caste candidates of whom 11 were elected. Similarly, the highest number of winning candidates among Muslim, Dalit and OBC contestants, seven, seven and eleven respectively belong to the SP. Even among the 17 reserved (SC) seats the party scored seven wins, higher than any other party. Clearly there is a correlation between the distribution of tickets along caste lines and the corresponding vote received by the Samajwadis.

While that is a feature of pre-election tactics, larger and more sustained reasons for their success is the choice of issues which the party pursued for close to two years prior to the election and the analogous inability of its competitors to confront or prevent this pursuit. Mulayam Singh Yadav alone actively opposed the arbitrary and subsequently unpopular fashion with which the Mayawati administration ran the state. Consequently, once installed as chief minister, his dispensations towards his core support, the OBC’s, his ostensible postures of opposition to the BJP and the appeal that generated among minorities, alongside his activism in gaining judicial respite for popular upper-caste leaders – all contributed to preparing a comfortable support-base for his party in any forthcoming electoral contest.



The second ancillary to his success was the employment of a patrimonial bureaucratic and administrative apparatus in the service of his political/electoral aims. For it to be a success, Mulayam Singh’s social mobilization depended heavily upon the intervention of state authorities which happened to a far greater degree than has been apparent in recent elections. Political and administrative activism, first as regional opposition and then as a regional administrator was concentrated towards the singular objective of gaining success in the Lok Sabha election. While he was able to do so the subsequent desire to use those gains to leverage power at the centre is not a possibility for Mulayam Singh or his party in the near foreseeable future.

This leads us to our final assessment of what that future may be. With representatives from almost every caste and community (the sole exception being Brahmins), it is possible the party might have to dilute its intrinsic backward-caste character. In order to secure similar successes in the future the SP will have to consolidate the gains made in this election. While such logical positions may not appear to be irrefutable axioms in the face of local or individual cases, they do provide substance and credence to caste theories and their impact on politics in the state.



The prime reason for the collapse of the BSP-SP coalition government in UP in May 1995 was the inability, or perhaps the unwillingness of the alliance to entertain the demands of their respective social supporters. This demonstration of social compulsions driving politics also suggests that political compulsions are alternatively susceptible to ignoring these social compulsions, sometimes treating the breakdown of social demands as a necessary tool to consolidate ones own core constituency – in the case of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the OBC’s and Yadavs. The position the SP finds itself in now is the most elaborate and sophisticated, and at the same time complex, articulation of its so far short political experience.

If a single party can indeed represent the interests of multiple social groups then it need not necessarily be the SP. That it has managed to do so in this election may bring it closer to inheriting the mantle of the Congress at its height, but balancing caste equations within its own organization will not be so easy. Simultaneously the growth of the SP should indicate to its natural competitor, the Congress, that organizational reconditioning and some core pre-election management can substantially improve its position in Uttar Pradesh.



This brings us to consider the position of the BJP which died at its own hand in Uttar Pradesh. There is, however, little one can analyze about the BJP’s decline in UP. There was not much room for foreseeable improvement for the BJP in the state; at best the party could have stood its ground. Instead, the decline in the party’s standing in the state is correlated to its six years in power.

Was the verdict of Braj and Bundelkhand, Awadh and Purvanchal, Rohilkhand and other specific seats like Allahabad and Aligarh a verdict of an ideological revolt? Or was the rejection of the BJP a denial of power to a central government that had overlooked the administrative and economic problems of the state and its people? So severe has been the BJP defeat that even its resounding successes in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh put together could not cover the deficit of the debacle in Uttar Pradesh. How did this happen?

From holding 52 seats in 1998, it only managed to win nine this time round. Among these it retained six but gained only three. As we mentioned earlier, caste combinations wreaked havoc against the party’s much vaulted and trusted but misinformed media campaign. The essential contribution of Brahmin support was evidently missing, so much so that party icons such as Murli Manohar Joshi, Vinay Katiyar and Swami Chinmayanand all lost their seats. In the top-seven Brahmin dominated seats the voter turnout was below the state average of 48%. More crucially, while the BJP had held all these seats in the 1999 general election, it lost every one of them in this one.

Furthermore, the Rajput vote gave battle to the BJP’s aspirations everywhere it counted. Finally, it was the tactical missives to the Muslims of UP by none other than former Prime Minister Vajpayee himself which created a reaction within his own party. The only group that took his salutations of peace sincerely and seriously was the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres and workers who then participated in the election merely as a walk-on crowd.



At another level, what counted in terms of governance elsewhere did not make sense to the electorate of UP. The administrative and or governmental compass of the party at the centre left the daily lives of the party supporters untouched. At the same time there was no credible explanation for the Ram Mandir agenda remaining unfulfilled, despite frantic and desperate attempts by the BJP to appear concerned in the last days of the NDA government. It was this dual disassociation; an absent social/casteist/sectarian base for the first time coupled with an inability to bring any economic or material change to its erstwhile supporters that hurt the BJP.

The only external factor that worked against the BJP was the choice of issues upon which it engaged its national ‘enemy’, the Congress. Plainly for the BJP there were no issues but the sole symbol of the Congress campaign, personified in Sonia Gandhi, which deserved the party’s flak. Ultimately, this was a misinformed strategy which did not work, not only in UP but elsewhere too.

The Congress has also suffered a reverse in Uttar Pradesh, having dropped almost 4% of its vote-share from the 1999 results, although the 12.64% is still far higher than what the party received in the intervening Vidhan Sabha elections of 2002. What differentiates the Congress position from that of its competitors is that, by and large, its weakness lies in a chronic and overwhelming organizational paralysis rather than any social or political factor. As late as 1998 the Congress election campaigns generated hostility from vast sections of the UP electorate. While for the first time since 1985 that is no longer true, the period out of office and influence, particularly at a regional level, resulted in an internal crisis of infrastructure and organization that could turn goodwill into votes that matter.



A state level crises of leadership, a generally weak and faction-ridden district level workforce, coupled with an inability, bordering on refusal, to highlight issues effectively has in turn weakened the level of the party’s political activism in the state. The other external factors which affect the party are therefore a result of this preceding organizational weakness. It is difficult in such a situation to assess whether Congress has stabilized itself within the state polity. Statistics would suggest it has; after all the number of seats the party won do not indicate a decline. Moreover, it has successfully challenged the BJP in a number of seats in the state and can perhaps develop this progress further. Recent postures of Sonia Gandhi herself suggest a willingness within the party leadership to adopt confrontational rather than ‘co-habitational’ politics vis-ŕ-vis its strategy for Uttar Pradesh.

Despite these circumstantial developments the party must not initiate any political action which substitutes the present government with just another non-Congress formation. The results of the election are a motion towards greater acceptability for the party in UP but they are not a mandate to rule. Forty candidates of the party among the 73 in the fray polled less than 10% of the vote. At the same time unexpected gains – in Varanasi, Bansgaon, Aligarh, Hapur and Mathura – are certainly promising. The intervening gap between these two divergent trends is too large and will not allow any momentum to be sustained unless there is some effective and credible correction of the leadership crises in the state.

In UP, as opposed to the rest of the country, the Congress cannot hope to make a comeback with the support of any other political party. It must traverse this ground on its own and it has the strength and resources to do so. That finally is what the results indicate. A restructuring of the Brahmin-Muslim combine is quite possible, and it has quite evidently proved successful in a number of seats. Similarly, with Mulayam bound to face social pressures from within there is no reason why the splinters of this possible disintegration cannot be bound to the cause of a Congress revival.



The final factor is of course the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and its leader Mayawati. On surface it would appear that she is progressing from strength to strength. From 2.07% of the vote and a couple seats in 1989 the BSP received 24.67% of the vote and won 19 seats in 2004. A tremendous success? Not if one looks at the results more closely. Of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, the BSP has only ever managed to retain four seats (since 1989), including Mayawati’s own seat of Akbarpur. A look at the reserved (SC) seats shows an even worse track record of holding on to its seats. Again it is only the Akbarpur seat of Mayawati that the party has ever retained.



So if we consider the hypothesis of the total transferability of the BSP vote, what conclusion can one draw on the basis of this data? Clearly, it takes much more than the dalit vote, substantial though it is, for the BSP to advance. At the same time how credible are the claims of the party about transferring ability when it cannot even retain its seats among the reserved (SC) constituencies? In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections Mayawati went into the fray with a dalit, Muslim and OBC combine; of her 80 candidates in UP 63 belonged to either of these social groups. At first sight this suggests a competition with the social base of the SP. Simultaneously it challenges the Congress effort to rebuild its own base in the state on any strong dalit support.

In conclusion it would be appropriate to once again underline the significance of the fractured verdict of Uttar Pradesh to the changed scenario at the centre. There can be no doubt that the UP results were prompted by a strong regionalism which effectively blunted the campaigns and strategies of the national parties. Nonetheless, Uttar Pradesh cannot become sequestered politically or in policy matters because both the BJP and Congress require a revival in the politics of the state.

The indications from the election results may not suggest a role for the majority of the newly elected MP’s from Uttar Pradesh. However, now more than ever, it is the national parties which must confront regionalism as well as each other in UP. What continues to lie beneath is a war of all against all until there is one definite victor. The chances of that happening immediately remain remote.