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Assembly elections 2018: This round of polls will shape Opposition grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh

Assembly elections 2018: The two dominant parties of UP, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), are said to be upset with the Congress for its refusal to enter into an alliance in the three “bipolar” states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2018 09:16 IST
Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Assembly elections 2018,Opposition,grand alliance
With limited pockets of influence in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, SP and BSP have, in the past, cherry-picked a few seats, usually in the bordering areas.

The outcome of the ongoing elections in three northern states — the counting is scheduled on December 11 — will not only give an indication of the public mood ahead of the 2019 general elections, but will also have a bearing on the fate of much-hyped grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh, a state with the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats (80) which holds the key to government formation at the Centre.

The two dominant parties of UP, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), are said to be upset with the Congress for its refusal to enter into an alliance in three “bipolar” states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where the grand old party is locked in a direct contest with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

With limited pockets of influence in these three states, SP and BSP have, in the past, cherry-picked a few seats, usually in the bordering areas.

The game, however, is reverse in Uttar Pradesh, where the two regional parties are stronger than the Congress, which was decimated in the last assembly polls in 2017. The camaraderie which the Congress and the regional parties of the state were displaying ahead of these ongoing polls has gone missing now. In fact, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav are not sparing the Congress from attack.

State Congress president Raj Babbar downplays the barbs by the regional parties while claiming a clear victory in Chhattisgarh where he was campaigning. “Let’s not mix up assembly and Lok Sabha elections as Congress has rarely entered into electoral alliances in the state elections, barring Maharashtra. All of us have only one aim as of now, which is to defeat the BJP. People of Chhattisgarh want change, and not alliance,” he said.

While both Mayawati and Akhilesh have amply displayed their unhappiness against the Congress for failing to accommodate their demands in the three states, the latter has accused them of demanding more seats than they deserve.

As the Congress and the SP-BSP fight each other outside the state, local Congress leaders in UP are watching them with consternation as they know the party is not even in the race in a majority of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

A young party leader said: “We will be doomed without an alliance, but then, how would the Congress form the government at the Centre without winning UP?”

Hoping that the bitterness of the three state polls would not spill into UP, he said, “Even SP and BSP, which have bigger stakes in the state than at the national level, must realise it will be an end to their imperious politics if the BJP returned to power here.”

Aradhana Mishra , Congress MLA from Rampur Khas in Pratapgarh, said the three parties together could represent a cross-section of the society — upper castes, lower castes and Muslims. “The considerations for general elections would be different as the urge to defeat the BJP will bring the opponents together,” she said.

What could also affect the Congress’s prospects of a deal with the SP-BJP combine is its performance in the three states. The grand old party has been lagging behind in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for 15 years, while in UP, its fortunes have been on a decline since 1989 when the Ram temple movement picked up. Since then, Congress has not tasted power in the state.

What could be the possible scenarios?

Going by the track record of the BSP, it has avoided alliances with the Congress in states. Even in Karnataka, Mayawati went with the Janata Dal (Secular) instead of Congress.

Again in Chhattisgarh, she preferred Ajit Jogi’s party to the Congress, which had refused to concede her demands for seat-sharing. Generally, her preference for a pre-poll alliance has been smaller regional parties, other than the BJP and the Congress.

Similarly, the SP under Mulayam Singh Yadav had avoided an alliance with the Congress, though he was not averse to giving or taking support in the formation of government.

His son Akhilesh Yadav did experiment with an alliance with the Congress in the 2017 assembly polls, but it did not pay dividends.

Generally, both Mayawati and Akhilesh would not want a Congress revival at their cost. The reason: the SP took away Muslims and the BSP Dalits from the grand old party.

Thus, it is quite possible that the grand alliance remains limited to the SP-BSP,, leaving space for a second group of non-BJP parties, which may include the splinter group of SP led by Akhilesh’s uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav, Rashtriya Lok Dal and smaller parties.

Mayawati is not friends with Chaudhary Ajit Singh and the Jats and Dalits are political foes in West UP. What about the Congress?

The BJP would want a multi-cornered contest on all the seats and as Shivpal Singh Yadav says, “The fear of the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) will prevent the opposition parties from coming together.”

However, according to socialist leader Vinod Singh from Allahabad, Shivpal would be decimated if SP-BSP came together.

As for the BSP, a senior party leader said, “Mayawati will not ally with (Narendra) Modi-led BJP as she knows she will lose Muslim support forever.”

Political observer Badri Narayan recalled how BSP founder Kanshi Ram, when his name was proposed for presidentship, had quipped, “Why President, why not Prime Minister?”

“She also harbours ambition for the PM’s post,” Narayan said.

In other words, as a leader of any third alternative, Mayawati will have better prospects of testing her luck for the top executive post than as an ally of the Congress, whose prime ministerial candidate will be Rahul Gandhi.

For full coverage on assembly elections, click here.

First Published: Nov 30, 2018 08:12 IST