While the Uttar Pradesh results shocked the BJP, they also took the INDIA bloc by surprise, which could not have imagined finishing ahead of the BJP in a state that had been swept by the BJP the past two times. Post-Ram Temple consecration, the BJP was seen as invincible. However, in the final count, the Samajwadi Party (SP) on its own finished with 37 constituencies in the state, four seats ahead of the BJP, with the INDIA coalition also getting more than the NDA.

One crucial factor, party leaders say, was the effective alliance coordination between the SP and Congress from top to bottom, attracting votes from across the caste spectrum. Not only did INDIA get the votes of OBCs, who have so far favored the BJP, but it was also able to consolidate its Dalit and minority votes, which had shown signs of fraying.

INDIA’s consistent campaign around the message of “Saving the Constitution” also worked on the ground, with the Dalits especially apprehensive that reservations for them would be a casualty of any such changes. With the BSP non-present on the ground, Dalits saw INDIA as their most viable option.

Even in 2019, when the SP and BSP had tied up in UP, SP candidates had not managed to get the support of a majority of the Dalit votes. In fact, the BJP had won 15 of the 17 SC-reserved constituencies in UP, with two going to the BSP. Three of the winners from these seats had been made Union ministers.

This time, indicating the Dalit vote shift, the SP won seven of these 17 seats, the Congress another, while the BJP got eight. One reserved seat, Nagina, won by the BSP in 2019, went to Chandra Shekhar Azad of the Aazad Samaj Party this time.

Festive offer

The seats the BJP lost included two from which Union ministers were in the fray – Kaushal Kishore from Mohanlalganj and Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma from Jalaun. Only SP Singh Baghel won from Agra.

“Without a doubt, we were able to consolidate the OBC and Dalit votes in our favour. The smooth working of the alliance smoothly and our message regarding the need to save the Constitution helped with these two communities,” Congress leader Anil Yadav said.

INDIA leaders talked of the Ayodhya constituency as the biggest example of the shift in Dalit votes, where even the SP’s gambit of fielding a Scheduled Caste leader from a general seat, Awadhesh Prasad, paid off. A senior SP leader, Prasad was the only such winner in the entire UP.

Similarly, in Sitapur, the Congress’s Rakesh Rathor, a former BSP leader, won by nearly 90,000 votes against two-term sitting BJP MP Rajesh Verma. The BSP’s Mahendra Singh Yadav got 1 lakh votes in this seat, a steep fall from the party’s share of 4 lakh-odd here generally.

Incidentally, after Rahul Gandhi could not address a meeting in favor of Tanuj Punia in Barabanki, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav had stepped in. A Congress leader said: “While the SP gave grassroot-level support to the Congress, the Congress helped the SP gain the Dalit votes which may have otherwise gone to the BJP. It is clear that if the SP and Congress had contested separately or superficially in alliance, the results would not have been the same.”

INDIA’s narrative of unemployment was another factor that worked in its favor, especially in the eastern, more backward, parts of UP, where voters consistently complained about the changed Agnipath scheme and the frequent paper leaks closing employment options for them.

During his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, Rahul made it a point to pick out youths from the crowd to get onto his vehicle and narrate their issues. In Allahabad, he asked the crowd if there were any youths affected by “paper leaks”, and invited them to recount their story on the mic.

In Allahabad, which is seen as the coaching hub of UP, the Congress won by 58,000 votes. In Jaunpur, a similar constituency in east UP, the SP winning margin was nearly a lakh, while in Phulpur, the BJP scraped through by just over 4,000 votes.

Akhilesh addressed 14 joint rallies with Rahul, apart from others with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and some on his own for Congress candidates. This was over and above the meetings he held for the SP across, amounting to 70 in the past one month.

While Akhilesh ensured coordination meetings at the SP office between SP and Congress leaders to work out any differences, AICC general secretary Avinash Pandey held about 80 such meetings at the grassroots, covering every Lok Sabha constituency.

The result was that the Congress, that had won only the one seat of Rae Bareli in UP last time, won six of the 17 it contested this time – including Amethi, Rae Bareli, Sitapur, Barabanki reserved constituency, Saharanpur in the west, and Allahabad in the east. Among those who won was Imran Masood from Saharanpur, after successive losses from the seat.

The SP contested 62 seats and won 37, with one of its surprise winners being former BSP leader Lalji Verma in Ambedkarnagar, against BSP-turned-BJP leader and sitting MP Ritesh Pandey.

In Sultanpur, the SP’s little-known Rambhual Nishad defeated sitting BJP MP Maneka Gandhi, whereas in Sharavasti, another Kurmi candidate of the SP, Ram Shiromani Verma, defeated Saket Misha of the BJP, the son of Prime Minister’s former aide and the head of the Ayodhya Ram Temple construction committee, Nripendra Misra.

An SP leader said: “We hope to retain this OBC, Muslim and Dalit backing till the next Assembly elections in UP, and want to retain the relationship with the Congress.”

Overall, the SP got 33.59% votes, the Congress 9.46%, and the BSP 9.39%. The BJP, despite the steep decline in its seats, was far ahead in terms of vote share at 41.37%.