Politics of alliances may be a reality in UP now, but winning elections has always been as huge a challenge as also running the government.
And who else would know it better than the two parties – Congress and SP – who both have bitter-sweet experiences of alliance politics albeit with different partners.
Leaving aside the three major alliances that were formed in 1967 (Bhartiya Kranti Dal), 1977 (Janata Party) and 1989 (Janata Dal) on a single mission to stop the Congress from coming to power, two more experiments tested the choppy waters in 1993 (BSP-SP) and 1996 (BSP-Congress).
Then the ambition of fledgling political parties was different. Both SP and BSP were new regional forces desperate to carve their niche in the state’s political space while the grand old party was struggling to arrest its steady decline.
Both the alliances had failed to win a majority though post-poll they manipulated their way to power on a single slogan of stopping communal forces (BJP). This was the time when BJP had become a political untouchable after the demolition of the disputed shrine at Ayodhya.
In 1993, the BSP-SP combine, with 176 MLAs in a house of 425 (then undivided UP) had formed a coalition government with outside support of the Congress. But it barely lasted two years. The government had a violent collapse after 546 days.
The BSP and Congress together won about 100 seats in 1996. BSP, a larger partner, later ditched its pre-poll ally to form a government with the BJP. Since then, Mayawati has avoided any pre-poll alliance as, according to her, it helps the partner more than her party (While dalits votes are transferable, other votes are not).
Now, after two decades, another alliance has taken shape – the first ever between SP and Congress. And it is not going to be easy, for the simple reason that the SP was founded on Lohia’s anti-Congress principles and also because of trust deficit.
But the new leadership of the two parties has decided to take the risk as there are visible gains for both. First, it checks division of anti-BJP votes; second, it helps consolidate Muslim votes; and third, it weakens a potent rival, the BSP. They can together check BJP from winning UP, the state crucial to their 2019 dreams of romping back to power via the state. Obviously BJP has a reason to worry.
But there are major challenges too.
Political expert Rajesh Singh from Gorakhpur says, “The alliance has brought the two parties back in the race, they have won the battle of perception. But its success would depend on coordination at the ground level. Their cadres are used to opposing each other and suddenly they will be expected to cooperate.”
Their respective vote banks are also a problem. Muslims, who dumped the Congress after Babri masjid demolition in 1992, have softened their stance since then, but the Yadavs have never supported the Congress, preferring instead the BJP.
Prof Manoj Dixit of Lucknow says, “Going by 2012 figures, numerically they are in a win-win situation. The two together had polled about 40% votes. But at ground level, it will be advantage Congress. The SP may not gain much.”
According to him, the RLD could have been an unpredictable baggage as Ajit Singh has dumped pre-poll allies in the past. So far, RLD is not a part of their alliance.
Sources indicate that a campaign plan, on the lines of Bihar, is ready with the two parties keen to win the battle against the BJP.
Ironically, the BJP is as much a threat today as it was in the early 1990s.