Vol. XLII No. 12 March 25, 2018

Uttar Pradesh Portents

THE BJP has suffered a shock defeat in the two by-elections to the Lok Sabha seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, these two seats were won by Yogi Adityanath, now chief minister and Keshav Prasad Maurya, now deputy chief minister with a margin of over 3 lakh votes each. This time around the seats were won by Samajwadi Party candidates who were supported by its arch rival, the BSP.

There is no doubt that these results will have significant implications for the future. The BJP had won 71 out of the 80 seats in UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections decimating its rivals SP and BSP who got a tally of 5 and 0 seats respectively.

How did this stunning result come about? The SP and the Congress had fielded candidates in both seats. The BSP in keeping with its long held policy of not contesting by-elections had not done so. But just a week before polling, the BSP announced its support for the SP in both seats. In an impressive ground level campaign, BSP workers were able to convey the message to BSP supporters to vote for the “cycle”. The results show that this unity led to a consolidation of votes of the OBCs, dalits and minorities. Apart from that, there was a swing away from the BJP, one of the factors being, the record of one year of the Yogi government.

In UP this was the first time SP and BSP worked together in an election. Many people have talked about the 1993 assembly election as the first time they cooperated. But actually, there was no pre-poll alliance at that time. It was only after the election that the two parties came together to form a government with Mulayam Singh as the chief minister. The alliance fell apart in two years time, never to have any cooperation till now.

The UP by-election provides important lessons for the future in terms of election tactics to defeat the BJP. If the BJP loses the bulk of the seats in UP, it cannot come anywhere near a majority in the Lok Sabha. If the major non-BJP parties unite, then the smaller parties and forces can extend support to them. In this instance, the Left parties, following BSP’s announcement, declared support for the SP candidates; so did other smaller parties. The Congress which did not withdraw from the elections got a poor vote and lost its deposits. However, it remains to be seen if the two parties can sustain a longer term cooperation beyond the tentative step taken for these by-elections and the Rajya Sabha polls.

The second lesson is that the effective way to take on the BJP in the Lok Sabha election is not by forging an all-India alliance or front of all opposition parties. The Congress hopes to build an extended UPA style alliance to counter the BJP. However, this will not succeed.  The Congress has no credibility to lead such an alliance in terms of an alternative programme.  There are many regional parties like the BJD in Odisha, the TRS in Telangana and the TDP in Andhra Pradesh who will not accept to be a partner in an alliance with the Congress. There are other parties who are chary of accepting the Congress as the leader of the alliance. The CPI (M) has already declared it will not be part of a national alliance with the Congress.

Similarly, any effort to build a non-BJP, non-Congress “federal front” mooted by the Telangana chief minister KC Rao, is bound to fail. Some of the regional parties like DMK and RJD are with Congress in their respective states. Further, there are many contradictions amongst the regional parties in terms of policies and regional interests which will prevent all the regional parties coming together.

So, the most effective electoral tactics to defeat the BJP in the Lok Sabha election will be to ensure pooling of anti-BJP votes state-wise. This is what happened in the UP by-elections.

Here, a digression will be relevant. During the 1993 assembly election in UP, Comrade Jyoti Basu went on a four day election campaign in the state. This was the election held after the dismissal of the BJP government and the dissolution of the assembly consequent to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It was essential that the BJP be defeated for this dastardly attack on the constitution and secularism.

On the first day in Varanasi, at a press conference, Jyoti Basu called on the people to vote for the candidate and party who can defeat the BJP in their constituency. This was in essence calling for the pooling of votes of all the anti-BJP forces. The BJP was defeated and the SP-BSP government was formed.

Along with UP in 1993, assembly elections were held in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, both states where BJP governments had been dismissed for their role in the Babri Masjid demolition. Here, the CPI(M) Central Committee decided for the first time, to fight a few seats where it had some strength and conduct a general campaign to defeat the BJP, so that all anti-BJP votes could be pooled. In both these states, it was the Congress which was the main opposition to the BJP.

Some secular circles have questioned the efficacy of the proposed tactical line to be adopted by the CPI(M) at it 22nd Congress for defeating the BJP. That political line in short calls for intensifying the struggles against the Modi government’s pro-rich economic policies and building broad unity to fight the communal forces and authoritarian attacks. It is these struggles and movements which will forge people’s unity against the BJP and RSS. An electoral alliance or understanding with the Congress which adopts and follows the same neo-liberal policies, will not serve the purpose.

Based on this line, electoral tactics can be worked out which will help to maximise the pooling of the anti-BJP votes.  As the 1993 assembly election tactics in three states and the UP Lok Sabha by-elections show, this is the most practical way to isolate and defeat the BJP in each state and at the same time safeguard the interests of the Party and pave the way for the advance of the Left and democratic forces.

(March 21, 2018)