The alliance could be a formidable challenge for the BJP which is on the back foot. Going alone is likely to benefit the Congress.
With so much political developments in Uttar Pradesh for the ensuing general elections, it was a busy weekend for political parties in India. On Saturday, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) leaders announced their alliance, in which each party would contest 38 seats (76 of the 80 seats) in the upcoming national polls. BSP chief and former UP Chief Minister Mayawati said that of the four remaining seats, two were left to the allies, probably Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), and the seats of Amethi and Rae Bareli were left for the Congress.
Excluding the Congress from the BSP-SP alliance is a politically wise move by the two regional parties, a blessing in disguise for the grand old party and could give the BJP cause for concern.
The SP’s reluctance to join hands with the Congress is quite understandable especially after the drubbing it received in the 2017 assembly results after joining hands with the Congress. Of the 403 assembly seats, the SP won 47 — 177 less than what it won the previous election. Mayawati, at the best of times, has had a tense relationship with the Congress and her reluctance to accommodate the Congress is a clear sign of her attempts to revive the fortunes of the BSP in UP — in 2014, the party won none of the 80 seats it contested and in 2017 it won 19 of the 403 assembly seats contested.
Rather than taking the exclusion as an insult or so, the Congress could benefit from this alliance. If the Muslim and lower caste votes are likely to consolidate with the SP and BSP respectively, the Congress could work towards taking the upper caste Hindu votes away from the BJP. The Congress’ ‘soft Hindutva’ campaign strategy used in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan could see a repeat in this case. This would be a multi-pronged electoral attack on the BJP’s vote base. In a different outcome, the discrepancies in the BSP-SP alliance and the dissent towards the BJP government could benefit the Congress. Either way, if it plays its cards wisely, the Congress stands to gain.
Moreover, rather than being a muffled voice in a grand alliance in a state where it is not the senior party, it is better for the Congress to fight the polls on its own — this will help the party in the long run and could also work to its benefit. In 2009, to the surprise of many, when it contested alone the Congress won 21 of the 80 seats — it won 11 more seats than the BJP, one more than the BSP and two less than the SP. Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s statement that his party “will fight with our full capacity”, and the party’s state in-charge Gulam Nabi Azad’s words that the party will “contest on all the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh” should be seen from this context.
It is too early in the day to say how this exclusion will work, but for both the BSP-SP alliance and the Congress the goal is clear — to defeat the BJP. With a view on this, there could be a tacit understanding between the three anti-BJP parties (where the Congress would field a weak candidate where the BSP-SP candidate is strong and vice versa). If the Congress manages to win around 10 seats, and provided its performance in other states are better than 2014, it could be a major player in the opposition space.
Either way the alliance is bad news for the BJP. After winning 71 of the 80 seats in the state, it’s an uphill task for the BJP to repeat or better its tally. The tailwinds of the Modi wave have receded and the headwinds of demonetisation, GST, lynching and joblessness could work against the BJP.
The last time the BSP and the SP came together was for the 1993 assembly polls, in the wake of the Ayodhya movement. The alliance then pitted the electoral battle as a Mandal vs Kamandal one. A revival of that sentiment could work against the BJP. Today’s BJP, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership is projecting a more inclusive face with a focus on development (Sabha Saath, Sabka Vikas). If the BJP decides to go back to focusing on temple politics, it would be a referendum on the past five years of its government.
The BJP has dismissed the alliance as an opportunistic one — if that’s the case, why did its senior leaders spend considerable time on this topic at its national executive in Delhi?
If the incoherence in governance and bitter falling apart of the BSP-SP alliance 26 years ago is still fresh in voters’ mind, it is safe to assume that the same voters will remember the failure of the BJP to deliver on many of its promises over the past five years. This could work to the benefit of the Congress, which was taught a lesson in the 2014 electoral drubbing it received and has since then showed signs of revival under Gandhi.For more Opinion pieces, click here.