Soon after his party was routed in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, a worried Nitish Kumar drove down to the residence of his arch-rival – RJD leader Lalu Yadav – and told him: “We will be finished if we don’t take immediate steps to check the BJP in Bihar.”
This move by the JD(U) leader gave rise to the grand alliance, which turned the tables on the BJP in the 2015 Vidhan Sabha polls. Nitish and Lalu sank their age-old animosity to remain politically relevant in Bihar. Their alliance also brought together two politically incompatible castes – the Yadavs and the Kurmis.
A similar grand alliance was conceived for Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2017 crucial polls, but it found no takers despite the decimation of the secular forces in 2014. Mayawati rode high in the assumption that she was the single claimant of the anti-incumbency vote while Akhilesh Yadav was confident of triumphing on the basis of his development projects. The bottomline was: Neither the SP nor the BSP wanted to compromise on the issue of chief ministership.
The grand alliance plan was shelved because it would have required both the SP and the BSP to come aboard. The resultant alliance stitched between the SP and the Congress was too weak to counter a resurgent BJP.
However, the winds of change are blowing now. Rattled by her humiliating defeat in the 2017 elections, Mayawati has indicated her willingness to join an anti-BJP front for the first time, even if it’s only on the issue of EVM hacking. This could, however, expand to the presidential elections as well as the 2019 Lok Sabha election in the days to come.
Neither the SP nor the BSP will be a claimant to the Prime Minister’s chair in the general elections and thus no clash of interest. However, an improved performance can perk up their political fortunes by 2022, when the state goes to the polls again. “The opposition cannot remain in limbo, waiting for Yogi Adityanath to trip on some front. They have to mobilise and consolidate anti-BJP votes,” says political analyst Dr Badri Narayan.
So, what are the options before the BSP, which has now plunged to its early 1990 position? Just as Kanshi Ram had weakened the BJP to gain power in the state, Amit Shah broke into the BSP’s vote bank of marginalised castes to win the 2017 elections. She now needs to reconsolidate her vote bank.
Though Kanshi Ram often described the BJP as ‘saanpnath’, Mayawati had no qualms in allying with the saffron party on three occasions to grab power. However, in the current scenario, any association with the BJP will be detrimental to the BSP’s health. Mayawati has no option but to come to an understanding with the SP and the Congress.
This is not the first time the SP and the BSP will be coming together (if it happens). They had tried it in 1993, but the experiment failed primarily due to the social and political incompatibility of the Yadav and Jatav castes they represent.
They have two clash points: Firstly, Yadavs – the new elite in rural areas – are accused of forcibly acquiring the land of Dalits, and secondly, both are politically rising communities that have tasted power at one point of time or another. “Yadavs and Jatavs are becoming aware of their declining political clout. However, much would depend on the leadership of the two parties to bring them together on one political platform. Maybe the ‘bhaichara committees’ can help,” says Dr Narain.
Incidentally, as Mayawati’s enmity is primarily with SP founder-president Mulayam Singh Yadav, she may be able to get along with Akhilesh. The former chief minister, who has always addressed Mayawati as buaji, may be open to treading a different political path from that of his father. At present, Mayawati will have to either contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election or seek re-entry into the Rajya Sabha to remain visible on the national scene. She will require the support of an ally in such a scenario too.
Lastly, the Congress may have to be the one playing a crucial role in bringing the SP and the BSP together for the 2019 elections. But one doesn’t know if it is up to the challenge, considering how the grand old party is hibernating at a time when both the presidential elections and Lok Sabha polls are a stone’s throw away.