Wednesday, February 15, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Jury is out on UP, but the likely loser is clearer: Mayawati

Jury is out on UP, but the likely loser is clearer: Mayawati

Feb 16, 2012

by Jai Mrug

The core team of IAC (India Against Corruption) that was campaigning
in Barabanki in January had attracted a crowd of almost 7,000 people.
To put the numbers in perspective, this was perhaps far better than
the crowd that the movement attracted at Anna Hazare's sit-in fast in
Mumbai in December.

The substantially high turnout in the Uttar Pradesh polls so far
should, therefore, surprise none. It was clearly a maturing and
younger democracy trying to assert itself. The key question is how
will this higher turnout impact the electoral outcome over and above
the caste calculus and the first-past-the-post Westminster model.
Importantly, one should debate suitable models for sustainable voter
engagement that can survive the complex caste calculus of a vast

In a high turnout, irrespective of party affiliations, the ones to be
hit first will be incumbent MLAs as a higher turnout is a sign of
voter assertion. A high turnout fuelled by revolutionary fervour is
invariably against the incumbent MLAs and, in many ways, against the
incumbent government as well.

Since a majority of MLAs belong to the BSP, the party could be the
worst hit on this count. Importantly, the BSP won one seat for
approximately every 78,000 votes it polled, making it the biggest
beneficiary of the first-past-the-post system. If the same turnout
persists, to maintain its seat tally the party would have to
accumulate anywhere upwards of one lakh votes per winning seat and
retain a vote share upwards of 26 percent.

Secondly, such a high turnout would mean a windfall for parties that
do not have an organisation or a dedicated cadre to help them mobilise
floating voters. It is usually the floating or undecided voter who
chooses to abstain. Parties that have a brand name but do not have a
substantial machinery benefit first. In the case of UP, it means that
these parties could be the Congress and the BJP, in that order.

With the BJP having just wriggled out of the Kushwaha episode and with
porngate still fresh in people's minds, the party to benefit more
could well be the Congress.

With a relatively higher turnout across castes this time, the BSP's
core strength relative to others threatens to shrink. Reuters

However, another nuance one must closely examine is the caste calculus
surrounding the expulsion of ministers by the BSP. While most view
their expulsion as good riddance, members of the native castes of
those expelled see them as victims of her hubris and scapegoats in the
cause of retaining her image at their cost just before the elections.

If reports from the field are to be believed this is creating some
goodwill for their new sponsors on the ground. Thus parties like the
BJP may well pick up in some pockets such as Bundelkhand because of a
new social alignment.

The impact of a high turnout would be substantial on parties that have
depended excessively on caste-based turnout to enhance their seat
tally. These are the BSP and the Samajwadi Party (SP), in that order.
The BSP has always depended on a relatively higher and well mobilised
turnout among the scheduled castes (SCs) to help it gather a golden
core in most constituencies. It augmented this core with the addition
of various other castes to form its core-and-petals rainbow

With a relatively higher turnout across castes this time, the BSP's
core strength relative to others threatens to shrink. In addition to
that, over the years the BSP focused on consolidating its base amongst
SCs, with a number of schemes pertaining to housing, scholarships and
awarding land to small agriculturalists. However, in view of the
not-so-pleasant law and order situation, and disillusionment amongst
other castes, the petals, consisting of other castes outside the core
SC vote, seem to be disappearing.

This leaves the BSP in an unrewarding situation with a consolidated
but isolated core base. That would severely impede its ability to
convert its votes into seats.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation: Assuming that the heightened
turnout does not have BSP voters in the same proportion as in the
previous election, that itself would drop the BSP's vote share to
somewhere in the range of 25 – 27 percent even without the incumbency

Add to that the onset of anti-incumbency and withering away of other
castes, the party could well be whittled to 23-and- odd percent or
even lower. The last time the party had a vote share of this magnitude
it ended up with 98 seats (2002) – 23 percent of the votes. At 20
percent of the votes, the party mopped up 67 seats (1996). The BSP
could well end up as the biggest loser in this election, bigger than
most of us could imagine.

Most politicians in UP might need to take a path that is substantially
different in the days to come. A blend of development and the ability
to break entrenched caste equations and reorganising them deftly based
on economic pursuits, much like the way Nitish Kumar did in Bihar,
would hold the key to the next phase of political stability in UP.

Mayawati's core-and-petals model seems to have outlived its utility.
We require not just social engineering, but its blend with innovation
and engineering in governance to deliver stable political formations
and thus governments.


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