BSP supremo Mayawati and Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav during a joint press conference, in Lucknow. (Image: News18)
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra while campaigning in Uttar Pradesh said her party has carefully chosen candidates to cut into the BJP vote base.
“We have carefully chosen candidates so that either Congress wins or they cut into BJP’s votes. Congress is not at all cutting into votes of the ‘UP gathbandhan’,” she told reporters in Amethi.
Her statement evoked sharp responses from both Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Akhilesh Yadav called it an ‘excuse’ by the Congress in the face of an imminent defeat.
Mayawati went a step further and alleged ‘collusion’ between BJP and Congress, making Priyanka Gandhi say she would “rather die than help the BJP.”
There is a reason why the gathbandhan parties want to dispel notions on having any truck with the Congress.
To begin with, there was strong political logic per se in SP-BSP seeking to keep Congress out of the UP alliance.
The lessons from 2017 general elections show that Congress votes – though in small numbers in each constituency – do not get transferred to Mandal parties that have pursued strong identity politics.
Instead, in absence of the Congress candidate, this voter is more likely to shift to the BJP. So if Congress were to be accommodated in the alliance with 10 seats, in the remaining the Congress voter was more likely to shift the BJP.
On the other hand, if Congress were to contest separately, and fields upper castes candidates it was more likely to impinge on BJP’s support base.
Caste profile of the candidates selected by the Congress for UP indicates SP has got the better deal of the two gathbandhan parties.
Congress fielding Imran Masood from Saharanpur is obvious considering their candidate got more than 4 lakh votes in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and stood second.
But in eastern and central UP, Congress has inducted some strong Yadav leaders who could not get a ticket from the alliance. For instance Ramakant and Bhalchandra Yadav from Bhadohi and Sant Kabirnagar are pitted against BSP’s Brahmin candidates. This will hamper the SP’s ability in these seats to transfer votes to BSP candidates.
On the other hand, in constituencies like Rampur, Congress chose to field a former MLA Sanjiv Kapoor in the direct contest between Azam Khan and Jaya Prada. Former MP Noor Bano on Congress symbol would have damaged Azam Khan more than Prada.
It is unclear whether Priyanka Gandhi’s assertion on candidates fielded tactically to undercut BJP was deliberate or inadvertent. But the statement has the potential to stem division of anti-ganthbandhan votes between the BJP and Congress.
Political parties seek to optimize electoral outcome by maximizing mobilization of their support groups. Concomitantly, they work to divide the opposition votes to emerge victorious in a multi-party first past the post system.
Congress is the third player in UP elections and both BJP and gathbandhan would want that the grand old party field candidates that suit them.
Priyanka Gandhi’s statement has the potential to make BJP as the primary repository of anti-gathbandhan votes. If a voter is voting solely with the intent and purpose of defeating gathbandhan, then this statement narrows down his choice to just one party.
Which is why Mayawati and Akhilesh lost no time in coming out and rebutting any allusions of tacit tie-up with Congress.