Why the SP-BSP alliance is key to 2019
The Samajwadi Party(SP)-Bhaujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance in Uttar Pradesh (UP) could alter the nature of the 2019 election. It is not hard to see why. The road to Delhi, as the cliché goes, lies though Lucknow. By winning 71 of the 80 seats on its own, and 73 with allies, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) sweep in 2014 has a lot to do with its success in the state. A substantial dip here will diminish the BJP’s prospects and alter the arithmetic of the next Lok Sabha.
But what has driven the alliance, what are its possibilities, what are the challenges ahead for both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, and where does the Congress fit in? Once again, it is easy to grasp that the sheer logic of political survival has brought the erstwhile rivals in UP together. Ms Mayawati has now lost three consecutive elections — two in the state (2012 and 2017) and the last Lok Sabha polls (2014). Mr Yadav suffered a tremendous blow in both 2014 and 2017. Both recognised that the anti-BJP votes were getting fragmented between them and the continuous squabble with each other could lead to political extinction. By tentatively allying together in the bypolls of 2017, the SP-BSP smelled blood and recognised the potential of their partnership. The pressure from below also pushed them together. Mr Yadav’s decision to be respectful of Ms Mayawati’s seniority and stature has helped too.
The alliance could unite three powerful social groups — Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims — on one side. Many were sceptical if SP votes will get transferred to the BSP and vice versa. The Phulpur and Gorakhpur wins show that Dalit votes are indeed getting transferred to the SP; anecdotal evidence suggests that the Yadavs may be willing to shed their old bitterness and disdain and vote for the BSP too. The alliance vote share will spike if this holds true, and the BJP will need to consolidate all other Hindu social groups behind it to be in the reckoning. That is a tall order.
The Congress was seen as a possible partner in this alliance. But its weak presence in the state meant that neither the BSP nor the SP was willing to concede to the grand old party more than a few seats. The alliance also seems to have calculated that the Congress, by contesting alone, could well split the BJP’s upper caste votes. But the risk here for the alliance is if Muslims end up fragmenting between the two non-BJP formations. More importantly, politics is not just arithmetic. To offset Narendra Modi’s presidential style campaign, the SP-BSP alliance will need to tell UP’s electorate a better story of why voting for it will lead to a better government in Delhi. But they begin with a numerical edge.