How the Congress played spoilsport for the Gathbandhan in UP

Written by Deborah Grey | Published on: May 28, 2019
Uttar Pradesh with 80 parliamentary constituencies accounts for the largest number of Members of Parliament. All eyes were on this state during the 2019 elections in wake of a historic alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). This mega alliance dubbed ‘Gathbandhan’ was seen as a united front against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is widely seen as not only pandering to, but also led by, right wing extremists. But then the unthinkable happened. The alliance won a measly 15 seats.

he BSP won Ambedkar Nagar, Amroha, Bijnor, Ghazipur, Ghosi, Jaunpur, Lalganj, Nagina, Saharanpur and Shrawasti. The SP won Azamgarh, Mainpuri, Moradabad, Rampur and Sambhal. While the BJP ally Apna Dal picked up Mirzapur and Robertsganj, the rest were all won by the BJP.
Some of the most shocking upsets were too close to call. Such as Machhlishahr where the margin of victory was 181 seats! Even in the case of Muzaffarnagar the constituency of RLD chief Ajit Singh. Here Singh won 5,67,254 votes, while BJP’s Sanjeev Kumar Balyan secured 5,73,780 votes. The margin of victory was just 6,526 votes!
A point of concern and debate around the elections in India’s largest state, UP inevitably revolved around the fact that while the ‘Gathbandhan’ was indeed a formidable force, the fact that the Congress was contesting all seats independently could cause confusions and create fissures. The belated entry of the high profile Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, especially with her being given special charge of the state, had also generated concern.
Many commentators from the old guard blamed ‘Behenji’ Mayawati for keeping the Congress out while others were clear that it was ‘the grand old party’ –with its harping on 2022 that was keen on going it alone. The results from the politically significant state reveal how disastrous this failure to include the Congress in the ‘Gathbandhan’ really was.
If we look at data from the Election Commission website, there are at least about 13 seats where it was the INC that stole defeat from the jaws of victory for the Gathbandhan. This is because here the margin of victory was less than or equal to the votes that went to the Congress candidate. Had the Congress made the smart move and stayed away from these constituencies, (or been part of the alliance) the Gathbandhan had a strong chance of winning. These include constituencies like:
Badaun: Here, the margin of victory was wafer thin. BJP’s Dr Sanghamitra Maurya won 5,11,352 or 47.3 percent of the vote, while SP Dharmendra Yadav trailed with 4,92,898 or 45.59 percent of the vote. Congress’s Salem Iqbal Shervani got 51,947 or 4.8 percent of the vote. Had the Congress not contested, their voteshare would have been enough for the Mahagathbandhan to turn the tide.
Banda: BJP’s RK Singh Patel won 4,77,926 or 46.2 percent of the vote. However, SP’s Shyam Charan Gupta was not far behind winning 4,18,988 or 40.5 percent of the vote. The INC candidate took away 75,438 or 7.29 percent of the vote which would have made all the difference. Thus the Gathbandhan was deprived of yet another constituency because of the INC.
Barabanki: Here, the winner Upendra Singh Rawat of the BJP got 5,35,917 or 46.39 percent of the vote while SP’s Ram Sagar Rawat trailed with 4,25,777 or 36.85 percent of the vote. Congress clearly played spoilsport here as its candidate Tanuj Punia secured 1,59,611 or 13.82 percent of the vote which in all likelihood would have been transferred to the SP candidate had Congress chosen not to contest from here.
Basti: In this constituency the INC’s Raj Kishore Singh swept away 86,920 or 8.24 percent of the vote. BSP’s Ram Prasad Chaudhary won 4,40,808 or 41.8 percent of the vote, while the winner Harish Chandra Dwivedi of the BJP performed only marginally better with 4,71,162 or 44.68 percent of the vote. Once again the INC cost the Gathbandhan a sweet victory.
Bhadohi: In this constituency it was two candidates whose combined votes could have propelled the BSP candidate to victory. The BJP candidate Ramesh Chand got 5,100,29 or 49.07 percent of the vote, while BSP’s Rangnath Mishra came in second with 4,66,414 or 44.87 percent of the vote. Now, if we look at the votes won by the INC and the NCP candidates, it becomes clear how they played spoilsport. INC’s Ramakant won 25,604 or 2.46 percent of the vote, while NCPs’ Akhilesh amassed 4,570 votes that could have gone to the Gathbandhan candidate.
Dhaurahra: Here it would have been too close to call had the INC chosen to stay away and even some of the smaller local parties secured small chunks of the vote share. BJP’s Rekha Verma won 5,12,905 or 48.21 percent of the vote, while the BSP’s Arshad Ilyas Siddiqui got 3,52,294 or 33.12 percent of the votes. The INC again took away 15.31 percent of the votes with their candidate Kunwar Jitin Prasada winning 1,62,856 of the votes. Parties like Bahujan Awam Party (9,288) and Pragatisheel SP (4,288) also nibbled away the Gathbandhan’s votes.
Meerut: This was also another huge upset, given yet another wafer thin margin. BJP’s Rajendra Agarwal won 5,86,184 or 48.19 percent of the vote. BSP’s Haji Mohammed Yaqoob was close at his heels with 5,81,455 or 47.8 percent of the votes. The difference was just 4,729 votes. But the INC again cut the vote, with Harendra Agrawal amassing 34,479 or 2.83 percent of the votes, that would have otherwise led the Gathbandhan secure a very comfortable victory here.
Sant Kabir Nagar: This constituency would have been a cakewalk for the Gathbandhan but for the INC! Here the BJP’s Praveen Kumar Nishad won 4,67,543 or 43.97 percent of the votes, while BSP’s Bheeshma Shankar got 4,31,794 or 40.61 percent of the votes. It was the INC that walked away with 12.08 percent of the votes with Bhal Chandra Yadav winning 1,28,506 votes.
Sultanpur: Maneka Gandhi of the BJP could have lost in Sultanpur, had the INC not cut into the Gathbandhan’s votes. Gandhi won 45.91 percent or 4,59,196 votes with BSP’s Chandra Bhadra Singh close at her heels with 4,44,670 or 44.45 percent of the votes. But the INC’s Dr. Sanjay Singh took away 4.17 percent or 41,681 votes that could have made all the difference.
In some constituencies the contest would have been way tighter had the INC stayed away. These are:
Faizabad: The contest would have been tighter in Faizabad, but for the INC taking away a chink of the votes. While BJP’s Lallu Singh won 5,20,021 or 48.66 percent of the vote, SP’s Anand Sen wasn’t far behind with 4,63,544 or 42.64 percent of the vote. But INC’s Nirmal Khatri took away 53,386 or 4.91 percent of the vote.
Kairana: This was a huge upset as SP’s Tabassum Begum was a frontrunner. But she only managed to get 4,74,801 or 42.24 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, INC’s Harendra Singh Malik swept away 69,355 or 6.17 percent of the vote. This could have considerably bridged the gap as the BJP candidate Pradeep Kumar ended up winning 5,66,961 or 50.44 percent of the votes.
Mohanlalganj: Even here the Gathbandhan would have had a fighting shot but for the INC. bjp’S Kaushal Kishore got 6,29,748 or 49.62 percent of the vote, while BSP’s CL Verma wasn’t far behind with 5,39,519 or 42.51 percent of the vote. INC’s RK Chaudhry however, took away 60,061 or 4.73 percent of the votes which would have made this a much tighter race.
Sitapur: The race would have ended in a photo-finish here had it not been for the INC. While the BJP’s Rajesh Verma won 5,14,528 or 48.33 percent of the votes, BSP’s Nakul Dubey won 38.86 percent or 4,13,695 votes. INC’s Qaisar Jahan ended up sweeping away a decisive 9.02 percent or 96,018 votes.
Even Kaushambhi, Domariyaganj and Etawah could have fared differently had the INC stayed away. Lessons to be learned?
Lessons from the past:
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In March 2017, when the BJP swept Uttar Pradesh in the then recently concluded state elections, Sabrangindia had offered this exclusive analysis.
We had, after detailed analysis commented then:
“While there is no denying at all that the ‘Modi phenomenon’ needs serious, focused and more rigorous political tackling, there is no gainsaying the fact either that the BJP’s saffron chariot may have been convincingly halted in Uttar Pradesh just as dramatically as it was in Bihar just a year and a quarter back in November 2015, had the ‘secular’ opponents to what we in India dub as a proto-fascist force like the RSS, tied up in a grand alliance.
“What then prevented from the political opponents of saffron-hued majoritarianism from coming together ‘to defeat the common enemy?’
“Narendra Modi's party finally ended up with an impressive 312 seats in a House of 403, polling 39.7 per cent of the state's votes, while the Samajwadi-Congress alliance won just 54 seats. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party finished third with 19 seats. The BJP's two allies, the Apna Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, together won 13 seats, with the Apna Dal's 9 seats outdoing the Congress's 7.

“But what about the vote share? While there is no disputing that the defeat of all ‘secular’ forces in the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has been ignominious and the victory of the BJP under Modi decisive, yet again, the disparity between vote share and seats won, by themselves tell a story. Have a look at what is already up on the Election Commission of India Website.

“A whopper of 312 seats won by the saffron BJP was a result achieved with a decisive 39.7 voter share, not an insignificant feat. What is not so explicable however, until one dissects both India’s first past the post system, voter distribution and share over vast regions and constituencies is the fact that second in vote share is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that even in the state assembly seats of 2017 got the second highest vote share at 22.9 per cent. The Samajwadi Party (SP) at a close number 3 with 21.8 per cent of the vote share won 47 seats and the Congreess with barely 6.2 per cent of the vote share got 7 seats!!
“Number crunching takes us further: the BJP's votes in 183 of the seats it has won are less than the combined votes of the Samajwadi-Congress alliance and Mayawati's party, whom outgoing chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had tried courting on the eve of the results. Only The Telegraph, published from Kolkatta dealt with this at some length. Had the leaders of the three parties that opposed the RSS-BJP ensured that it was not a triangular contest (Akhilesh Yadav of the SP, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress and Mayawati of the BSP) and struck a successfully functioning pre-poll alliance, the BJP would have, arguably, won just 129 seats. The BJP's allies too would have lost seven of the seats they won, and the coalition would have logged in a tally of 263, a clear majority (this is after the adding the seats won anyway by the alliance and the BSP). Not as dramatic as what the BJP clocked in, but a clear majority nevertheless. And UP would have been saved the current brand of rabid majoritarianism, made worse by the choice of Adityanath by the Modi-Shah combine as chief minister.

“In November 2015, another politically significant state of Bihar had ensured just such a loss for the BJP (under Modi)—the second state defeating the ‘charismatic prime minister’ after Delhi state in January 2015.  In that election too the BJP had received more votes than any other party - 24.4 per cent of those polled in the state overall. But the "grand alliance" of the JDU (16.85 per cent of the vote), RJD (18.35 per cent) and the Congress (6.66 per cent) swept the election with a combined vote share of 41.86 per cent, winning 178 seats in a House of 243. The BJP won just 53 seats. The dye has however now been metamorphically cast and the run up to 2019 already gives a handicap to Modi and the BJP.
Will the Opposition even now admit to the disastrous consequences of this absence of cohesion and unity?