The winds of change are blowing, but will they be enough to tame the Modi wave?
When Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati faced a humiliating defeat in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections earlier this year, her initial reaction was to blame electronic voting machines for the development. But now, in order to protect what’s left of her vote bank and put an end to the saffron party’s advance through her strongholds, the Dalit leader has decided to adopt a time-honoured strategy that has brought down many a giant in the annals of history.
She has called for unity among secular parties, which currently lie splintered across the country, and indicated that she is willing to be part of a larger anti-BJP front.
Mayawati made the announcement while addressing BSP cadre during BR Ambedkar’s birth anniversary function at Lucknow’s Ambedkar Memorial on Friday. “To keep democracy alive, I am ready to be part of anti-BJP front. We have to cut poison with poison. Due to tampering of EVMs, the voters won’t be able to elect their favourite leaders. The anti-BJP front is necessary to make sure that popular candidates, who enjoy mass support, win the elections,” she said, amid a deafening applause from party workers.
This development assumed significance because it indicated that the formation of a larger front to stop the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was very much in the offing.
Mayawati, incidentally, is no stranger to alliances. Though her mentor, Kanshi Ram, often described the BJP as ‘saanpnath’, Mayawati had no qualms in allying with the saffron party on three occasions to grab power. In 1993, she had joined hands with the Samajwadi Party, but the experiment failed primarily due to the social and political incompatibility of the Yadav and Jatav castes they represent. The result was the infamous guesthouse incident in 1995, when Mayawati was allegedly attacked by Mulayam loyalists.
The BSP supremo, however, is now willing to let bygones be bygones for the sake of political survival. The Samajwadi Party and the Congress were quick to respond to her call for unity.
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, who had already visited Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee a few days ago to discuss the formation of an anti-BJP front, spoke in favour of Mayawati’s proposal. “We will play an important role in the formation of such an alliance. I have met all the party nominees who contested the UP assembly elections. My assessment is that the BJP managed to polarise voters on religious and caste lines and won the election by making false promises,” he said.
India’s grand old party also expressed delight over Mayawati’s proposal for a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) of anti-BJP parties for the 2019 general elections. “I am delighted that Mayawati has agreed to join this alliance on her own accord. I think that even without the Congress, it is strong enough to take on the BJP. But if the Congress comes into it – and I hope it will – there will be no hope for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, except to see him consigned to history books,” Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar told ANI.
While reactions from other regional parties – including the JD(U) and the RJD – are yet to emerge, they are mostly expected to be in favour of the alliance. Efforts would also be taken up to tie-up with hitherto unfettered regional parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
The BJP, however, seemed unperturbed by the new challenge thrown up by its political rivals. Union home minister Rajnath Singh told HT in an interview that even a united opposition wouldn’t be able to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Opposition parties have been left with nothing. Their coming together won’t make any difference. It is also because of the fact that the credibility of opposition leaders is low. As long as Modi’s credibility is intact, the BJP has no reason to worry. It will keep winning elections,” he added.
The minister said the rival parties’ calculations in terms of social equations were flawed because India has moved beyond them. “Mayawati won with a majority in 2007, but see where she stands today? Today, the BSP has just 19 MLAs in the state assembly. What value does she add to any alliance against Modi? The same goes with many opposition parties,” he added.
Party spokesperson Nalin Kohli told ANI that it was still too early in the day to start worrying about the upcoming polls.
“2019 is still far away,” he said. “We will keep working on the Prime Minister’s agenda of ‘sab ka saath, sab kaa vikas’. We are working to achieve development for all... that’s our agenda. Whether the political parties get together or not, it is for them to decide.”