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Congress needs grand masonry skills for anti-BJP alliance

The BSP’s Mayawati and the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav are incommunicado. There’s no communication or exchange of views between them and other potential allies, especially the Congress.

india Updated: Dec 30, 2018 08:55 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
New Delhi
Congress,BJP,anti-bjp alliance
Congress president Rahul Gandhi with mother Sonia Gandhi.(Hindustan Times file photo)

If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is unsettled by discordant voices from within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Congress’s worries are about the moat of silence the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) have dug around their seat-sharing talks for the Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh.

The BSP’s Mayawati and the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav are incommunicado. There’s no communication or exchange of views between them and other potential allies, especially the Congress. The SP chief is more forthcoming among the two but has kept his distance from the Congress ostensibly to keep his secretive BSP counterpart in good humour. His no-show at the swearing-in ceremonies of three Congress chief ministers wasn’t as much of his own volition as out of solidarity with Mayawati.

When Akhilesh broke his silence — after the assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh — it was to protest against the Congress’s failure to accommodate his sole elected legislator in the council of ministers in MP. On the face of it, the SP’s grievance is reasonable, the party having offered unconditional support to the Congress regime that was tantalisingly short of a majority.

The BSP chief, two of whose MLAs are also backing the Kamal Nath government in Bhopal, has kept her counsel. But Akhilesh perhaps was speaking for both while maintaining that the Congress’s lack of reciprocation “cleared the way” for his party to draw up its 2019 poll strategy. It’s difficult to gauge whether the option underscored by him of joining the Federal Front— promoted by Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao— was seriously thought through or was an act of brinkmanship. If it indeed comes about, the Front partners could collectively offset the Congress’s projected single largest party-ranking on the Opposition spectrum.

The federal idea was given a try but couldn’t be taken to fruition in 2009 by the then Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat, who moved in tandem with the BSP.

But this time around, it could have as its constituents, big regional players such as the Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee, Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik and KCR of Telangana Rashtra Samithi. If at all, the BSP-SP entry in its fold could alter radically the scenario, its strength on paper as formidable as that of the Opposition bloc anchored by the Congress.

Barring Banerjee, who has a cordial equation with United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the possibility of the Congress entering into pacts with other prospective Federal Front allies is remote. But the party’s state unit in West Bengal isn’t keen on an understanding with the Trinamool.

In Karnataka too, senior leaders such as Mallikarjun Kharge are apprehensive of the Congress’s junior partner, the Janata Dal (Secular) seeking more Lok Sabha seats than its actual ground presence. The call eventually will be of the central leadership that doesn’t want to disturb the coalition it has with the JD (S) in Bangaluru. For their part, the Congress’s political managers are hopeful of a deal with the BSP-SP combine. They reportedly expect a respectable double-digit share of seats in UP.

A Left leader in the know of the thinking of the UP biggies said the Congress could be offered, if all goes well, eight seats including two where it won and six where it stood second in 2014. The party’s share could be enhanced to double digit through quid pro quos in states where the Congress is the lead actor. The SP has one MLA in MP and the BSP two each in MP and Chattisgarh in addition to six in Rajasthan.

The Congress can make up for the false start by offering them a share in power in accordance with their legislative presence in the three states. That’ll build a climate for state-level tie ups and the broader alliance it’s eyeing after the 2019 polls. For that to happen, the BSP-SP will have to lift the iron curtain—and respond to the Congress’s outreach. After all, it takes two to record a duet.

First Published: Dec 30, 2018 06:52 IST