Regional parties form anti-BJP tie-up in Uttar Pradesh
The alliance of two former rival parties, Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj, ahead of the general election could give the PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah sleepless nights
The events around India’s fast approaching election took an interesting turn on Saturday when arch-rivals and major outfits of national stature – Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) – announced an alliance. They resolved to dethrone the Narendra Modi-led ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in the upcoming poll.
The SP-BSP alliance does not, as of now, include Congress, which is India’s main opposition party. This effectively means that Uttar Pradesh is headed for an electrifying triangular contest in which Congress and SP-BSP will combine to fight the Modi government’s effort to secure a second term.
Both parties said they will contest 38 parliamentary seats each out of a total 80 in Uttar Pradesh. Four seats have been left aside: Two for Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) – a potential ally – and two in Rai Bareli and Amethi currently held by Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and party president Rahul Gandhi so they are “not tied-up in two constituencies and can focus on the pan-India scene.”
The much-hyped alliance, which was long mooted, has kickstarted the consolidation of opposition parties, each of which want to defeat the ruling BJP.
Congress is now likely to announce its regional alliances in the southern states soon to firm up the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which ruled India from 2004-2014. Moreover, a non-BJP and non-Congress alliance may also take shape under the umbrella of Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) in the south.
Sleepless nights for BJP
BSP chief Mayawati in a joint press conference in Lucknow, alongside SP president Akhilesh Yadav said: “It is a historic press conference which will give sleepless nights to the Guru-Chela (teacher and pupil).”
Her sarcasm was directed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.
The tie-up of two arch-rivals ahead of the election could indeed give the PM and Shah sleepless nights. The consolidation of two big opponents has come at a time when BJP is anxious to stop the gradual dismantling of their National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Many allies, such as Telugu Desam Party (TDP) have left the alliance, while a few like the Shiv Sena have long been threatening to quit.
Secondly, the SP-BSP alliance will ensure a triangular contest in Uttar Pradesh that will restrict the division of votes among regional outfits.
This is likely to upset the BJP’s vote arithmetic in India’s most politically significant state, which holds the most electoral seats in the parliament. The quadrangular fight in the 2014 ballots helped the NDA win 73 seats in Uttar Pradesh, about a quarter of its total tally.
Thirdly, the SP and BSP have limited influence in Uttar Pradesh’s neighboring states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. But the BJP was ousted from power in these areas when state polls were held in December.
Fourthly, Mayawati, who has held power in Uttar Pradesh four times including three short stints, nurtures a dream of becoming prime minister.
If her alliance wins a considerable number of seats, say 40, she could be in a position to bargain for the top post. With a few opposition parties not fully comfortable with Gandhi as a candidate to be PM, this could give Mayawati a shot at the top job.
Win for SP-BSP alliance?
Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj together wield considerable influence among Other Backward Classes, Dalits and Muslims, which constitute about 85% of Uttar Pradesh’s population.
These parties won more than 42% of the vote in previous general elections while running alone, close to the BJP’s 43.6% in 2014. But although they had a strong support-base then and in the 2017 state polls, they bagged only five and zero seats respectively, against the NDA’s 73 seats.
However, a micro-analysis from 2014 reveals that the SP and BSP got more votes than the BJP in 41 constituencies. If Rashtriya Lok Dal is included in this alliance, the number of seats where they got more votes rises to 42. If Congress is also taken into account their share would jump to 57 seats. But the Congress bagged just two constituencies with a 6.4% share of the vote.
BJP will battle anti-incumbency and while Congress has previously had a dismal presence in the state, SP-BSP hope to poll well. The alliance between the two arch-rivals comes after 25 years. The parties teamed up for the first the time and won the 1993 Assembly elections when Akhilesh’s father Mulayam Singh Yadav was the chief of Samajwadi.
But their association ended abruptly in 1995 when Mayawati was allegedly attacked by SP members after she withdrew support from the coalition government. That led to prolonged rivalry between the parties.
“I have set aside the June 2, 1995 incident to forge this alliance for the larger benefit of people and to oust the communal BJP,” Mayawati said. This also stemmed from Samajwadi facing tougher results at state level over the last few years.
Akhilesh has had similar compulsions after losing power in UP two years ago when his experiment to ally with the Congress was rejected by the voters.
Congress a soft-rival?
Congress appears to be a “soft-rival” of the alliance.
On Saturday, Mayawati criticized the Congress and BJP in equal measure, for their tainted defense deals and imposition of a national state of “emergency”, officially by Congress in 1975 and unofficially by the current BJP regime.
However, Akhilesh offered no comments against the Congress, with whom he allied in the 2017 Assembly elections.
Mulayam Singh Yadav said: “Mayawati’s criticism of Congress is symbolic and aims to keep her Dalit and Muslim base intact, whose considerable population still supports the Congress. Mayawati also admitted in the conference that Congress’ votes are non-transferable to other parties, while BSP votes can benefit the Congress.”
Alliance or no alliance, the Congress is unlikely to win more than nine seats in UP due to its lack of workers, big leaders and strong candidates in the state, analyst Hemant Tiwari says.
He said: “Contesting just 8-10 seats in the speculated grand-alliance would have damaged the Congress forever, which is already facing a survival challenge on the traditional turf (Rai Bareli and Amethi) of the Gandhi family. Hence, it has decided to contest alone in UP to put up a brave face before the BJP and prove its national caliber. The SP might [even] field weak candidates on some seats to help the Congress further.”
The Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj alliance appears to be open-ended. Sources in both the parties say the current seat-sharing can be revised to accommodate more allies and support extra candidates from the Congress party.
But Congress leader Virendra Madan denied suggestions of backdoor support from the alliance. “Since the SP-BSP have closed the doors for us, we are preparing to contest all 80 seats now. Our leadership will announce the modalities soon.”