Why today’s Chhattisgarh election can shape Mayawati’s 2019 game plan
As millions of Chhattisgarh voters turn up at polling stations across 72 assembly seats on Tuesday, they will decide Chief Minister Raman Singh’s fate who has put up a spirited fight to win a fourth straight term. But the outcome will decide a lot more than who rules the tribal state for the next five years. The outcome will also shape Dalit powerhouse Mayawati’s plan for 2019 elections.
The Bahujan Samaj Party boss had sprung asurprise on the Congress back in September when she sealed an alliance with Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh. She also named Jogi as the alliance’s presumptive chief minister if it wins a majority.
A majority, senior leaders in Ajit Jogi’s party indicate, was indeed a bit of a stretch by their standards too. But they stress the alliance, which is relying on support from the weaker sections such as the scheduled castes, was within striking distance to play the kingmaker in case of a hung assembly, and depending on the number of seats it gets, may be, even the king.
They point out how the Congress, the party that had expelled Jogi not so long ago, rushed to support rival Janata Dal (Secular) HD Kumaraswamy’s government in Karnataka even if it meant ceding the chief minister’s post. Live Updates
Mayawati’s party was also a beneficiary of this deal between the Congress and JD (S). Her lone party legislator did get a ministerial berth by virtue of being part of this alliance. It was the first time that a regional party such as the BSP was being part of the government outside its territory.
By some accounts, Jogi is expected to eat into Congress’s votes than the Bharatiya Janata Party’s; particularly since the 55 of the 90 seats where his party is contesting, saw a better performance by the Congress in 2008 and 2013.
Mayawati, many believe, is looking at the repeat of Karnataka-type situation in Chhattisgarh, where government formation is decided by a wafer-thin margin. The vote share difference between the Congress and the BJP was less than one percent in the previous election.
Already, the BSP polled 4.4% votes in the 2013 assembly elections and the tie-up with Ajit Jogi’s party is expected to help increase the chances of converting this support into seats.
If the Mayawati-Jogi alliance does pay off in Chhattisgarh, it would considerably boost her ability to negotiate a better deal from her allies back home in India’s most-populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and beyond in 2019.
Mayawati is already in talks with Samajwadi Party, once a bitter rival, for the Lok Sabha elections and has made her reluctance to cede seats to the Congress rather well known. Not after the Congress declined to offer her what she would consider a “respectable” share of seats in the ongoing round of assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
It would also give her more manoeuvring space to negotiate an alliance with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and outside. The Congress will be more than compelled to accommodate Mayawati and her demands, which many in the Congress felt were unreasonable in the ongoing round of assembly elections.
An improvement in her party’s performance over the 2013 elections when the BSP won one seat in Chhattisgarh will, for one, firmly establish her potential to damage the Congress in states where it has a reasonable chance.
It would also convince the BSP that the party should go full steam scouting for alliance partners in states and regions beyond Uttar Pradesh. Already, it is a strategy that has driven her to sign off pacts with state parties in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and even Haryana, where she has entered into a pact with Indian National Lok Dal.
For complete coverage on Chhattisgarh elections, read here.