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2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and the future of UPA January 13, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , trackback

Vikas Kumar

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been paralyzed among other things due to the populist politics of Mamata Banerjee, the leader of All India Trinamool Congress (Trinamool). Dr Manmohan Singh’s historic Bangladesh visit was almost derailed, when mercurial Mamata vetoed the agreement on water sharing. The list of domestic legislations and policy initiatives that have been delayed or even mothballed to keep Mamata in good humour is long: Lokpal Bill, FDI in retail sector, disinvestment of public sector undertakings, and rail fare rationalization. To add insult to injury, Mamata now seems to be keen to get rid of Congress. There can be four reasons why Trinamool may want to change course. First, it does not make sense to contest the next local and parliamentary elections as an ally of a corruption-tainted party. Second, Trinamool is trying to monopolize the non-Left vote in West Bengal. Third, Trinamool now faces a weakened Left Front in West Bengal and is no longer critically dependent on the support of a national party. Fourth, Trinamool is trying to strike roots in other provinces like Uttar Pradesh and Manipur. But Trinamool may postpone its exit from UPA in order to get extra-financial support from the centre for West Bengal and even continue to ‘support’ UPA if an utterly humiliated Congress continues to tolerate Mamata’s populism at the expense of the central exchequer.

Ironically, Congress has no one to blame but itself. Mamata’s assembly election campaign should have alerted Congress long ago that Trinamool will out-left the Left Front. But to get rid of the Left Front, a key ally of UPA-I (2005–2009), Congress promoted Trinamool at the cost of national security. For instance, in the run-up to West Bengal assembly election (2011), the central government extended half-hearted support to the Left Front government’s police campaign against Maoist extremism, the biggest internal security threat according to Dr Singh. Dr Singh also overlooked the misuse of the Railway ministry by Trinamool’s campaign machinery. More importantly, as I have argued earlier, Congress has ignored its long term interests in its single-minded quest to weaken the Left.

In any case, UPA has again hit a roadblock and now Congress seems to be looking for new allies. Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the major parties of West and South India are already part of UPA government. Congress has no incentive to jettison DMK and rope in All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (AIADMK) because DMK has 25 MPs compared to AIADMK’s 14. Moreover, AIADMK leader Jayalalitha is as unpredictable as Mamata Banerjee, while scam-tainted DMK is a relatively cautious partner. Similarly, Congress has no incentive to jettison NCP and ally with Shiv Sena because allying with Shiv Sena will not improve Congress’ parliamentary strength, while it will destabilize its coalition government in Maharashtra and also send a wrong signal to minority voters. Further, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Janata Dal-United (JDU), and the Left Front, the major parties of East India outside UPA, have no incentive to ally with Congress.

So, among the major parties outside the government Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are the only prospective allies. Since SP and BSP are sworn rivals Congress can ally with only one of them to rejuvenate UPA-II. But neither would like to join the UPA government before the conclusion of forthcoming Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly election (4–28 February, 2012). Congress too has no reason to rush because parliament’s budget session is two months away. Also, at this stage, alliance with parties that Rahul Gandhi has vigorously campaigned against will backfire in elections particularly because both SP and BSP have better grassroot cadres. So for now, all eyes are on the outcome of the assembly election.

In the last two decades, SP, BSP, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and Congress have been the most successful parties in UP. Together they bagged between 37 and 46 per cent of the total votes, 77 and 83 per cent of votes cast, and between 87 and 94 per cent of assembly seats. But the vote and seat shares of Congress and BJP in assembly elections have declined irreversibly during this period, with SP and BSP being the primary beneficiaries (see figures). The trends of the last two decades suggest that neither Congress nor BJP has any chance of emerging as the largest party or even the second largest party in the forthcoming election.

Source: Election Commission of India (http://eci.gov.in) Note: In 1993, there was a pre-poll alliance between SP and BSP

A quick look at the current strength of these parties in the parliament will help better understand Congress’ post-election calculus. At present, SP is the third largest party in Lok Sabha, while BSP is the third largest party in Rajya Sabha. But the forthcoming assembly election could end this disjunction if SP emerges as the largest party because the new assembly will choose replacements for UP’s ten Rajya Sabha members who are retiring in April 2012. So, the outcome of the assembly election will also affect Congress’s capacity to pass legislation in Rajya Sabha, where it is woefully short of a majority. (The new members of Rajya Sabha will also play an important role in the presidential election later this year.)

Party Lok Sabha (Lower House)
(as on August 29, 2011)
Rajya Sabha (Upper House)
(as on December 31, 2011)
UP India UP India
Total Retiring on 02.04.12
BJP 10 116 4 2 51
BSP 20 20 18 5 18
Congress 22 206 1 0 71
RLD 5 5 1 1 1
SP 22 22 5 2 5
Trinamool NA 19 NA NA 6
Total 80 542 31 10 245

Source: Journal of Parliamentary Information (September 2011), Vol. LVII, No. 3, pp. 321-325 and http://rajyasabha.nic.in/

At this stage Congress potentially faces four scenarios:

Post-election Scenarios BSP SP
Largest party Majority party Largest party Majority party

Under Scenarios II and IV, Congress cannot extend support to BSP/SP in Lucknow and credibly seek support in New Delhi as a return favour. I have argued on an earlier occasion that Scenario IV is least likely. Scenario II is also unlikely because of anti-incumbency factor, weakening of Mayawati’s rainbow coalition, and SP’s recovery during the last few weeks.

Under Scenario I, BSP will prefer seeking support of pliable independents and local parties rather than Congress. There are three reasons for this. First, Congress is a competitor for Dalit, Upper caste, and Muslim votes. Second, BSP’s ambition to emerge as a truly national party discourages it from joining UPA. Third, unlike SP, BSP can also seek support from BJP and RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal). BSP would like to join UPA only if it loses the election. But in that case Congress does not have sufficient incentive to ally with BSP.

Scenario III is best for Congress. There are three reasons for this. First, SP cannot ally with BJP and, to a lesser extent, RLD. So, if BSP wins then SP will be the only prospective partner, whereas if SP wins then both SP and BSP would be prospective partners of Congress. So, under this scenario Congress’ bargaining power is highest. Second, Congress will marginally improve its support base in Rajya Sabha with the help of SP/BSP. Third, Congress will be able to exchange Trinamool for a durable partner, which more than makes up for the potential loss of support of Trinamool’s 25 parliamentarians. The mutually beneficial arrangement – Congress-supported SP government in UP and SP-supported Congress government in New Delhi – will ensure that neither side behaves recklessly.

On earlier occasions, I have argued that the forthcoming assembly election will influence the choice of prime ministerial candidates and the strategies of political parties for the 2014 General Election, will help UP return to national politics as an active player after a decade long exile, and could prove to be SP‘s Waterloo. I would now like to add that irrespective of the outcome of the assembly election UP will become critical to the survival of UPA-II.


1. v2p - January 24, 2012

Vote Percentage (translating into proportional number of Seats- assuming all other factors get evened out because of large approximation)

BSP= 40% = 160 seats
SP = 25 % = 100 seats
BJP = 22.5% = 90 seats
INC = 12.5% = 50 seats

Possible Governments:

• BSP+ breakaways (with proxy-help of INC to avoid a BJP in government)