Defining the UP Problem

Let’s explore the equilibrium of the parties in Uttar Pradesh to understand the game they are playing, a bit better. The following is common knowledge or conventional wisdom. They also seem not very inaccurate.

  • If one were to assume BSP has all Dalits voting for it — where the percentage of Dalits not voting for it are possibly more than made  up by other groups voting for it — we can estimate the party’s base strength at 22% vote share. That’s consistent with the past 2 election cycle results as well.
  • For the SP, assuming a majority of the 9% Yadav vote share and roughly half or more of the 18% Muslim vote share seems a simple rule of thumb to calculate the base vote. Let’s ball park that at 20% overall base vote share. Again, that’s borne out by past two election cycles.
  • The INC has some Muslims, some upper castes, some Dalits and some non-Yadav OBCs. The trouble with estimating the INC base vote share is, no one group is a fervent supporter but it’s possibly an acceptable second choice for many groups. Ball parking the base at 0% seems too low and 15% seems a bit high.
  • The BJP has a similar problem like the INC. Except, not enough Muslims vote for the party as they do for INC. Nor do as many Dalits. So, the party tries to make this up by appealing more to upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs. A 10-15% base seems a fair estimate. Though the lack of Dalit and Muslim appeal reduces the catchment options and therefore limits the upside swing under regular circumstances.
  • Other caste parties, local thugs and the Left possibly have about 10% vote share put together.
  • The remaining 20% of the vote, unlike in a bipolar race can’t really be considered a swing vote since their distribution is possibly correlated to the base vote; albeit skewed in the favor of the party that’s seen to be winning.

Ideally, an electoral alliance will solve the problem almost entirely in this situation. Except, the reason for fragmentation in a caste-ridden society is an organized outpouring of animosity in the best way Henry Adams described it. That is, that the BSP views Dalits as a vote base is a political pundit’s way of reading the situation. The construct of Dalits having genuine animosity towards their immediate oppressors in OBCs likely precedes the existence of BSP and therefore the party merely provides the organization part in the outpouring of animosity. That makes a BSP-SP alliance impossible even if Ms Mayawati and Mr Yadav were to not treat each other as enemies.

The next complication is a problem at the opposite end of the animosity spectrum. That is parties with similar or same vote bank targets. For example, the SP and the INC both have Muslims voting for them in reasonable numbers. To ally with each other will mean the weaker party surrenders to the stronger one much of its appeal to this common section. This has been particularly proven true in Tamil Nadu where smaller parties have consistently been subsumed by the larger Dravidian party they allied with. The INC’s problem with the SP is identical to that it has in allying with the BSP as well, given it still has some Dalits voting for the party. So, if the INC wants to stay relevant in UP, unlike in Tamil Nadu, it ought to have a ‘stand-alone’ strategy.

That leaves the only other possible alliance as one between BJP and BSP[1]. This alliance does not have significant overlap of vote-banks nor does it have the virulent incompatibility of the base. The BJP, seen mostly as an upper caste party despite some OBC support, is not associated with Dalit oppression as much as OBC dominated parties are. The loss for the BJP in such an alliance in electoral terms will be losing even that rare Dalit who votes BJP in the long term to the BSP. The BSP’s upper caste vote is possibly largely from the tactical voting and aligning with the winner phenomenon — which don’t really threaten the base seriously. The question for the BJP is simply whether it trusts Mayawati.

Whereas for Ms Mayawati, the question is complicated — is her situation against SP so dire that she can sacrifice the Muslim votes not just this cycle but for several future elections? What if the INC influence on the upper castes grows in the near future? Will she have compromised too much long term gain for alleviating too little short term pain? It’s a question most companies face on an everyday basis — concentrate on profitability or diversify to expand market share? All this is absolutely irrelevant however, given Ms Mayawati is temperamentally against such an alliance for reasons other than arithmetic.

[1] — An alliance between the BJP and INC was not considered.