Unlike the early 90s, the BSP-SP alliance has not been forged on the basis of any common social goal or vision. It is a result of an aggressive BJP pushing both the parties towards an existential crisis.
Abhinav Prakash Singh
Nineteenth century German leader Otto von Bismarck once said that “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best” and Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav and Bhaujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati are on their way to prove just the same. After forging the unlikely BSP-SP alliance for the 2018 bypolls, the long-time rivals pulled the unimaginable feat when Mayawati shared stage with her ally-turned-bitter rival Mulayam Singh Yadav on April 19. This historic scene was witnessed at the election rally in the Mainpuri district from where Mulayam Singh is seeking another term in the Lok Sabha.
Without doubt this is a major development and shows that the leadership of both the parties have been able to bury the hatchet. After all, Mayawati striking a bargain with Akhilesh is one thing but few would have imagined that she would share the stage with the Samajwadi Party patriarch after the infamous Lucknow guest house incident which, she has always claimed was an attempt on her life. This on-stage bonhomie raises two important questions: what will be the implications for the politics of the Uttar Pradesh, and, second, how durable is this alliance?
The show of unity at the Mainpuri rally was targeted at energising the cadre base of both the parties and dispelling doubts and confusion in the minds of party workers and voters. Both the parties recognise that there is no other option to stop the Modi-Shah juggernaut than to band together in the Lok Sabha polls.
However, if this alliance continues beyond these elections, then UP is up for major political change. The coming together of the major OBC- and Dalit-based parties will dramatically reduce their reliance on the upper-caste voters and the need to incorporate the local strongmen from those castes. This will lead to a renewed challenge to the upper-caste hegemony of the power structures, especially at the institutional level that has strengthened even more under the Yogi Adityanath government. In fact, as argued in an earlier article, this is a major reason why the BSP-SP alliance has found legitimacy among the people. If the alliance is successful then there is little doubt that there will be a more aggressive demand for greater social representation in the various fields, including the private sector. In fact, Mayawati has openly championed the case for reservations in the private sector.
The alliance has already made the road tough for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) due to the sheer arithmetic coupled with the lack of statecraft of the UP BJP in balancing competing caste concerns. That said, all is not well within the BSP-SP alliance.
Unlike the early 90s, this alliance has not been forged on the basis of any common social goal or vision. It is a result of an aggressive BJP pushing both the parties towards an existential crisis. Both the parties are still hedging their bets against each other. Mayawati was categorical in praising Mulayam Singh as a leader of “backward castes” only. She made it clear that she doesn’t see him or Samajwadi Party as representing the interests of the Dalits or the wider populace. She also made it clear that the alliance is the outcome of the hard decisions forced on her in the “interest of the people, the nation and the party’s movement” under the “present circumstances”.
Here, Mayawati was addressing the concerns of her supporters from the Dalit castes who have often been at the receiving end of the social violence unleashed by the social base of the SP — Yadavas, Thakurs and upper-caste Muslims. For them, their security comes before the lofty goals of fighting ‘fascism’ and ‘protecting the constitution’. For decades they have looked towards the BSP for safety and support. Now they might turn towards the BJP as the net security provider and vote for a government which will keep their immediate social rivals at bay.
Similarly, the average BSP cadre has been trained for years to see the SP as the main rival and suffered heavily due to the free-run of its cadre whenever the party was in power. It cannot be taken for granted that they will be able to reorient themselves to the new reality and treat their former ‘enemies’ as the new comrades.
The scene is not too different in the SP camp. The Yadavs hold enduring grudges against the Dalits, especially the Jatavs for the frequent use of the SC/ST act against them. Also, the old caste hierarchy also plays its role in preventing them from treating their new allies as equals, which could lead to frictions on the ground. The heavy-handedness of the administration targeted at them during the Mayawati rule and the alleged harassment of the officials from the Yadav caste has not faded from the public memory.
When given the option of choosing between a BSP candidate from the alliance and a BJP candidate, they could vote for the latter. It’s difficult to predict the election results but there is little doubt that the BSP-SP alliance is not underpinned by any socio-political movement. It is driven from the top and built on the leadership’s fear and common hatred for an expansionist BJP. As they say, to be united by hatred is a fragile alliance at best.
Abhinav Prakash Singh is assistant professor, Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi, Delhi. Views are personal.
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