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The SP, BSP Conundrum

Tushar Pandit

The poll season has been well and truly announced along with the forecasts of the pollsters and pundits. ‘Trouble’ in the Opposition camp is currently a news staple while the BJP with Narendra Modi as its flag bearer is being presented as even more invincible than before. The supremos of the two key parties in UP, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party have created quite a political storm by their statements which hint at rejecting alliance with the Congress during the state assembly polls due in a few months’ time. Pollsters have little difficulty in declaring that their statements will tantamount to a walkover to the BJP in the assembly polls and then in the all-important Lok Sabha polls early next year.
Since forecasts do have a tendency to go awry, it will be better to look back to solve the Akhilesh-Mayawati conundrum. Let there be no question about the fact that UP is the fiefdom of both these leaders and both would like to see the end of the BJP takeover of the country’s largest populated state. Neither of them wants the Congress sniff any sense of victory in UP.
For Akhilesh Yadav there may be some anxiety because his family of a very large number of politicians seems divided between him and his uncle, Shiv Pal, who has severed his relations with him.
Mulayam Singh Yadav, father of Akhilesh, is an imponderable factor. But going by the previous elections in the state, which the SP lost, he does seem to have lost much of his political clout. He was opposed to any alliance with the Congress though his son did not share his views last year.
The assembly polls in 2017 dealt a big blow to the two key UP parties with their vote share dropping and an even sharper decline in the number of seats they held in the 403-member US assembly: 54 SP and 19 BSP, against BJP’s 325. The Congress has hardly been in contention in UP for years.
The SP and the BSP saw the possibility of their comeback by joining hands. It was demonstrated in recent by-elections which saw the BJP receiving a humiliating drubbing. The Congress was a token partner in the anti-BJP alliance in UP.
The SP and the BSP assumed that their alliance which encompasses sizeable sections of the OBC and Dalit votes alone is sufficient to humble the BJP at the hustings anywhere in the Hindi heartland, not just UP. They think they can talk ‘tough’ on forging alliance with the Congress in states outside UP too. The two parties believe that they can bargain for a better share of seats in any alliance that includes the Congress in three poll bound states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.
Results of past polls do not indicate that the SP or the BSP is strong in any of these three states. Their expectation that the Congress should concede half or at least a third of seats for the two parties looks above their potential.
The Congress in Rajasthan, headed by a youthful Sachin Pilot, has worked hard over the last four years or so. Perhaps his task was made easier by the highhandedness of the BJP chief minister, Vasundhara Raje which has created a rift within the ruling party in the state. The chief minister’s popularity, never very strong in the first place, has been plummeting.
Rajasthan has always been a ‘two-party’ state in which power keeps shuttling between the Congress and the BJP. The two parties have well-oiled organizational machinery and ‘winnable’ leaders.
The SP has hardly any base in Rajasthan and the picture about the BSP is no different. There may be pockets where the two parties can claim some support and spring electoral surprises. But that does not translate into a state-wide dominance. The Congress will not like to yield much ground to any ‘regional’ party in Rajasthan. The Congress in Rajasthan will harm itself by being generous beyond a point towards any ‘regional’ party.
In Madhya Pradesh too, the SP and the BSP have yet to establish strong roots because, like Rajasthan, it has been a ‘two-party’ state. Where Madhya Pradesh differs significantly from Rajasthan is that the rift in the MP Congress leadership is too visible. In Rajasthan, the differences between Ashok Gehlot, former chief minister, and Sachin Pilot are not considered so acute as to damage the party prospects.
Ajit Jogi, a controversial figure, quit the Congress and formed his own outfit in his native Chattisgarh two years ago. His hold over some tribal votes has not helped him attain a position where he can single handedly challenge the BJP or the Congress. For him it was an obvious option to join hands with Mayawati for contesting the state elections.
Some observers have said that Jogi’s alliance with the BSP will help the BJP retain power. It is supposed to deal a ‘blow’ to the Congress hope of wresting power from the BJP which faces the anti-incumbency factor. But the outcome of the Jogi-Mayawati alliance will not be easy to predict because, again, Mayawati has a weak base in the state and Jogi’s state-wide popularity remains to be tested.
Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati may well shun alliance with the Congress in the state assembly polls but that will not be the end of the efforts to form a ‘grand alliance’. For all the major political parties the Lok Sabha polls later in 2019 hold much more significance. The stated objective of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ is to dislodge the BJP from power at the centre, although the non-BJP parties would also like to defeat the BJP in as many states as possible.

The shape or the fate of the ‘grand alliance’ will emerge more clearly only after the assembly polls. The winners in the state polls will have a stronger case for a bigger share of seats for the Lok Sabha polls. What Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati say at this stage may not have any bearing on the alliance to be forged for parliamentary polls in 2019. Syndicate Features

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