SP-BSP alliance: The battle for the heartland
The Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) arrived at a specific deal on seat-sharing on Thursday. This alliance has, of course, been in the works for more than a year. It began with the BSP’s support to the SP in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls; it was reinforced with the BSP and the SP’s joint support to the RLD in Kairana. It involved quiet work on the ground to ensure that the cadres of the two big regional parties put aside their past acrimony. And it was formalised with Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav publicly sharing the stage and announcing a pact in January. With a decision on which party will contest from which constituency, the alliance is now sealed.
The logic of the mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) is simple. All three parties faced a rout in both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. They recognised that while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was able to construct a wide social coalition, the votes of non-BJP parties fragmented. If the SP and the BSP combined forces, it would symbolically herald the coming together of two distinct political traditions inspired by Ram Manohar Lohia and BR Ambedkar. But more crucially, it would bring together Yadavs, Jatavs (a Dalit sub-caste), Muslims, and potentially other OBC and Dalit sub groups. A social coalition of this nature can help the alliance win a majority of the 80 seats in the state. Arithmetic favours this alliance.
But there are challenges too. There is already rumbling within the SP — epitomised by patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav’s expressions of discontent — that the party has given way too much space to the BSP. If this feeling percolates, SP workers may not actively work for BSP candidates. On the other side, remember that BSP workers — mostly Dalits — have been locked in a confrontational relationship with the SP’s base of Yadavs. Mayawati’s vote base is loyal but her ability to transfer votes will be put to the test. Priyanka Gandhi’s entry and the buzz around the Congress also complicates the theatre for the alliance, especially if the party is able to take away Muslim and Dalit votes. And finally, as the last two elections have shown, it would be a mistake to underestimate Narendra Modi’s popularity, the BJP’s organisational might and its ability to fuse Hindutva and nationalism, especially after Pulwama. The grand alliance now has to ensure that the partnership at the top percolates down to the ground; that they have a common and coherent message; and that their voters remain united.