Compulsion, thy name is politics.
Both Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) have their own reasons for forming a potential alliance in Uttar Pradesh. While it’s important for Akhilesh Yadav to convert his positive image into votes in 2017, the Congress desperately wants to deflate the BJP’s strength in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls by not letting it win the most electorally crucial state in India.
The battle to divide or unite the Muslim vote will play a key role in how the election pans out. While dividing their votes would suit the BJP, the Congress-SP alliance will seek to check that.
However, both SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati believe sharing of vote banks could weaken the party’s hold on possible supporters. Soon after Congress governor Moti Lal Vora invited the BSP to form its maiden government with outside support from the BJP in 1995 (when Mayawati enjoyed political sympathy of both the national parties in the aftermath of the state guest house attack), SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav quipped: “The Congress is committing a political blunder. They will lose Dalit votes to Mayawati forever.”
His prediction was bang on.
Today, with Akhilesh inching towards a tie-up with the Congress, the SP patriarch may be uttering the same words in the privacy of their home.
It is another matter that Mulayam himself, along with friend Amar Singh, had initiated a dialogue with the Congress before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Though they met Sonia Gandhi in November that year, their talks failed over two contentious issues: Mulayam wanted the alliance extended to other states, but the Congress wouldn’t agree because it sensed the SP’s desperation for national status. The other issue was seat sharing. Back then, the Congress had argued that talks should be based on the national strength of a party, not regional.
The Congress’ reasons
The younger generation of Gandhis and Yadavs has taken control of their respective parties. Of the two factions in the SP, Congress knows brand Akhilesh will sell. It foresees politics gradually shifting gears in the state – from caste-communal to aspirational.
The Congress also wants to relegate the trust deficit between senior leaders of the two parties to the past. After all, their younger generations share a better chemistry. Being down in the dumps for over two decades, the Congress sees an ally in Akhilesh – if not the Samajwadi Party, which they have accused of ‘goonda raj’ in the past.
Moreover, the Congress realises now that revival in the state is possible only through the road to power. If it can’t come to power independently, why not piggyback on the SP for a while?
The third and probably the most important reason is the Congress’ desperation to prevent the Narendra Modi-led BJP from coming to power in 2019. Political experts agree that national politics will revolve around two pivots, the UPA and NDA, and the Congress needs a strong regional ally to take on a resurgent BJP.
The BSP could have been an option too, but the Congress’ past experience with Mayawati has proved to be a major deterrent. In any case, Mayawati seems determined to go it alone.
Both late Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao and BSP founder Kanshi Ram had entered into an alliance in 1996, with the Congress playing the smaller partner. The Congress contested 126 seats and won 33, while the BSP contested 296 seats and won 67.
As no party held the majority to form the government, the state went under President’s rule. However, after a few months, the BSP dumped its electoral ally and joined hands with the BJP to form the government on a six-month rotational basis.
The SP’s reasons
While the senior Yadav has earned the ‘Maulana Mulayam’ sobriquet, the junior talks only of development. He inaugurated the Ala Hazrat Haj house in Ghaziabad while laying the foundation stone for an international museum in Ayodhya. He visited temples, and openly took the blessings of both sadhus and imams.
The chief minister knows that besides anti-incumbency, the Mulayam factor will also harm his prospects in the upcoming elections. Senior voters in many villages across Uttar Pradesh – especially in their home districts of Etawah, Mainpuri and Kannauj – are upset with Akhilesh for rebelling against his father.
So, if Akhilesh cannot count on Mulayam for support, he will need another ally to supplement his faction’s loss. Ailing as the Congress may be, every village has dormant supporters of the grand old party who will be galvanised by an alliance.
Akhilesh, at the age of 43, also wants the party to grow at the national level – an ambition his father always harboured. Way back in 2009, this is what a senior Congress leader said about his party’s attempts to tie up with the SP: “It would be an alliance driven by mutual interest. If we need the Samajwadi Party to improve our tally in the Lok Sabha, the Samajwadi Party needs us to play a significant role in central politics. Of the two national parties, it is Mulayam with his secular flag who can’t walk up to the BJP.”
Swap Mulayam with Akhilesh, and his words stand true even today.