In the wake of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-Samajwadi Party (SP) combine Mahagathbandhan poll debacle in Uttar Pradesh, the allies seem to be turning on each other. Ending growing speculation BSP chief Mayawati confirmed that the SP-BSP alliance is on hold for the moment. This announcement follows a slew of unofficial reports indicating Mayawati was preparing for a break-up with Akhilesh Yadav-led SP.
Unconfirmed reports also said that Mayawati has decided to contest the upcoming assembly bypolls in the 11 seats that have been vacated by newly-elected MPs. The SP-BSP alliance had contested 75 of the 80 seats in UP, but could win only 15. The BSP fared better than the SP by winning 10 seats; the SP could garner only five.
Since the results came out, both camps have been rife with mutual suspicion and rumours that lay the blame for their defeat on the other. Several SP leaders believe that as SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav had predicted, it is the BSP that has benefitted more from the Mahagathbandhan. The common wisdom floating among SP supporters is that while Yadavs and Muslims voted for BSP candidates, Jatavs, who form the bulk of BSP’s base, did not vote for SP candidates. BSP leaders believe this is specious reasoning and cite the fact that SP lost three seats in their bastions of Kannauj, Badaun, and Firozabad.
The BSP camp is abuzz with similar theories. BSP supporters believe that while Jatavs voted en masse for SP candidates, Yadavs and a sizeable section of SP’s Muslim supporters did not vote for the BSP. Yadavs are considered a more affluent and powerful social group that is often resented by Jatavs and other scheduled castes in Uttar Pradesh. If reports are to be believed Mayawati has dissolved several organisational committees and has also instructed that BSP’s Bhaicahara Committees be revived in preparation for the 2022 assembly polls.
Given the drubbing the Mahagathbandhan received there is bound to be some mutual mistrust among allies as unlikely as the SP and the BSP. However, whether or not the parties will pull out of the alliance remains to be seen.
Mayawati, considered a shrewd politician who likes to stay one step ahead of others, has once again surprised everyone by her inclination to contest the bypolls. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has so far maintained a studied silence on the speculation around the future of Mahagathbandhan.
Amidst the prevailing confusion in the Mahagathbandhan, SP rebel and Akhilesh’s uncle Shivpal Yadav has emerged stronger. Shivpal who was edged out from the party after a power tussle with Akhilesh, has proven to be a vote-katwa for the SP and Mahagathbandhan candidates. He put up candidates in several seats across UP and this benefitted the BJP.
For the BJP, which retained 61 of the 71 seats it won in 2014, the chaos in the SP-BSP alliance is a welcome development. In rally-after-rally, the BJP had dismissed the Mahagathbandhan as a ‘highly adulterated’ alliance that was nothing but an opportunistic coming together of mortal enemies. The results vindicated their claims, and now if the alliance breaks up, the BJP would certainly have the last laugh as the assembly polls would become a triangular contest in which BJP with its combination of upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits would remain a formidable force. In the event that the alliance holds, then too, the BJP will be in a position to dismiss the alliance as a failure given its poor showing in Lok Sabha elections.
However, Mayawati likes a hard bargain and her latest moves could be a pressure tactic on Akhilesh to sort out internal family feuds as well as to contest the bypolls together and assert her dominance over the Mahagathbandhan.
Since the breaking up of the alliance is likely to benefit the BJP more than it will benefit the BSP and the SP, both the regional parties need to do honest introspection and apportion at least some of the blame to their own respective local leaders. In several seats lost by the alliance, it was infighting and local rivalry that alienated their own supporters who then voted for the BJP.
The SP-BSP combine would do well to quell infighting and send a clear signal to their rank and file: their best chance to take on the BJP is to fight unitedly. Disunity in defeat is only going to strengthen the BJP and not the Mahagathbandhan or the larger opposition.Valay Singh is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.