By Ratan Mani Lal
Lucknow: The coming together of Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party and the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party has the potential of emerging as the biggest game-changer in Uttar Pradesh politics.
The two parties have been at loggerheads ever since their acrimonious break-up in June 1995, when at the end of their coalition government in the state, the BSP chief was allegedly attacked by SP workers in what is known as the State Guest House incident.
However, the two parties have not only put the past behind, especially with Akhilesh Yadav being at the helm in SP, and Mayawati, too, has apparently agreed to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha election together with SP and even campaign for SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, for whom she never used a kind word in the past two decades.
That the alliance of these two largely-caste-based parties had the combined strength to demolish Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was apparent in the results of by-elections in UP in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana – the alliance candidates snatched all these three seats won by BJP in the 2014 general election.
With a seat-sharing formula that also includes Rashtriya Lok Dal led by Ajit Singh, this alliance is all set to take on the BJP juggernaut.
But there is just one problem. The Congress, reduced to two seats in 2014, has been in revival mode for the last few months.
The revival efforts had although started in 2017 when it joined the SP in an alliance for the Assembly election, but the results were disastrous. Now, the Congress has decided to go it alone and to helm its campaign, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has taken command for the state.
Officially she is the general secretary for eastern UP but for all practical purposes she is calling the shots in the state with the UP Congress Committee being as irrelevant as it was earlier.
Not only the Congress has started a campaign in eastern UP covering Varanasi, Prayagraj (Allahabad), Mirzapur and Ayodhya, it is also tying up with many smaller parties to expand its reach to marginalised groups.
As a result, it may emerge as a serious player in many constituencies whereas the BJP and SP-BSP would otherwise had been in direct contest. Places where such three-cornered contests are likely include Kushinagar, Saharanpur, Farrukhabad, Fatehpur Sikri, Barabanki and Ghaziabad.
With a probable division of anti-BJP votes between the Congress and the SP-BSP candidate, it could be advantage-BJP in some cases.
To add another angle to the complicated electoral equation, Shivpal Yadav, the SP rebel having formed his own party, is fast consolidating his position with quick alliances with smaller parties.
Already, his Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) or PSPL has tied up with Peace Party and Apna Dal (Krishna Patel). He has promised to give the SP a run for its money in many constituencies and if it happens in even a few places, the contest could turn four-cornered. The advantage, in such a situation, could go to BJP as well.
The intention of the SP-BSP coalition, thus, to avoid division of anti-BJP votes and present a formidable and unified challenge to the BJP may well be defeated in many places in UP.
While the SP leaders allege that Shivpal is a creation of the BJP to thwart opposition unity, there are reports that Shivpal may eventually ally with the Congress. This would go along with Mayawati’s assertion that it is the Congress which wants to strengthen itself first rather than seek opposition unity.
Both SP and BSP had earlier announced that would not put up candidates in Rae Bareli and Amethi as a goodwill gesture towards Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, and the Congress retorted by saying that it would not put up candidates in seven places where Mulayam Singh yadav and members of his family, and top BSP leaders, were contesting. This had led to a fresh war of words between the two sides, and the tension still continues.
As the first phase of polling on April is just two weeks away, all parties have embarked upon their campaign, pushing reconciliation talks to the background. Factors of caste, personal ego and regional influence have apparently dominated over any urge to put up a joint opposition fight, much to the satisfaction of the BJP.
Now it remains to be seen to what extent this benefits BJP which is trying hard to combat anti-incumbency with a strong dose of nationalism.
Also Read: Mayawati Steps Out Of Lok Sabha Race