Should it, should it not: UP Congress in two minds on joining grand alliance
Chances of the Congress becoming a part of the proposed Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance in Uttar Pradesh ahead of this year’s Lok Sabha elections appear to have receded further — a majority of its state leaders are opposed to a tie-up with SP and BSP.
A senior Congress politician said the party had started receiving feedback on joining the ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) from its UP leaders immediately after its electoral victories in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh last month.
As part of the internal survey, suggestions were sought from senior leaders, sitting and former legislators and former members of Parliament on the proposed tie-up with the two main Uttar Pradesh parties. A majority of these leaders expressed reservations over the move and wanted the party to go it alone in the summer general elections, according to the assessment.
They argued that the Congress had regained some of its lost ground among the upper castes and a section of the middle class in UP, the country’s most populous state.
The state fills 80 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, and if the party were to join the alliance, it would help the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) more than the coalition.
Given the fact that the Congress vote is non-transferable, it could go to the BJP in protest against the grand old party joining forces with the SP-BSP combine, which draws support from the scheduled castes and tribes, other backward classes and the minorities, the respondents said .
This is in contrast to 2017 when Congress leaders, including its then 27 sitting legislators, in one voice favoured a tie-up with the SP. The tie-up didn’t help; the BJP swept to power in UP with a landslide victory in the assembly elections.
“Making the contest triangular will for sure hurt the BJP. We saw what happened in Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha by-elections last year,” a UP Congress leader said on condition of anonymity.
The SP defeated the BJP in the race for both seats while the Congress came a distant third.
The leader cited above said conversations have been under way about the alliance since March last year and at one point of time the Congress was ready to settle at 8-10 Lok Sabha seats though it had been demanding 15 from the two parties.
SP and BSP have so far shown an inclination to leave just two seats for the Congress – Amethi and Rae Bareli, represented by party chief Rahul Gandhi and his mother and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, respectively, in the Lok Sabha.
“Then a stage came when we started discussions with BSP leaders and expressed our willingness to give 50 seats to them while keeping the SP out. We were also ready to accommodate other smaller parties from our quota. But that didn’t eventually work out,” the UP Congress leader said.
Another UP Congress leader said the state unit had been clearly divided over the alliance. “While a section was completely in favour of joining the mahagathbandhan, there were some who were keen on having an alliance with the BSP only,” he said.
“There was also a section which wanted the party to go it alone so that the organisation could be rebuilt from the scratch it had reached after the decimation in the 2017 assembly polls. These leaders argued that fielding candidates on all the 80 Lok Sabha seats will help in galvanising the cadre,” the leader said.
“After the just-concluded assembly elections, Gandhi had called a state leader and sought his views on the alliance. The state leader told him that the morale of the party leaders and cadre is high after the victories in the three states despite the two parties playing the spoiler. He also advised him against approaching the leaders of the two parties and instead urged him to wait for them to make the first move,” he said.
Then a few days ago, another state leader met a close aide to Gandhi and asked him if he should start preparations to contest a particular seat in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The aide gave him the green light to do so and categorically told him that the Congress will not join the grand alliance.
Although the party has started identifying candidates for all the 80 UP Lok Sabha seats, the leaders categorically stated that the final call will be taken by the Congress president after weighing the “pros and cons” of suggestions from the state unit.
When asked about the prospects of the alliance, All India Congress Committee (AICC) secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh Prakash Joshi said, “It is imperative for all the secular parties to join hands against the fascist forces. This is the need of the hour. But if we have to fight on our own, we are ready to do that.”
The SP-BSP combine is also not in favour of taking the Congress on board given the assessment that its votes are by and large non-transferable and shift to rival parties rather than the alliance partners.The Congress is banking heavily on the upper caste and middle class votes given their perceived disenchantment with the BJP.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has already conveyed to the Congress leaders that it would be in the interest of the “secular forces” if the party contested on its own.
SP leaders cite the example of the 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh when his party allied with the Congress. The Congress votes went to the BJP and not to the alliance because a large section of its supporters were “unhappy” with both the SP and the BSP, they said.
BSP supremo Mayawati has repeatedly stated that the votes of her party are entirely transferable and the other parties benefit from an alliance.
Political analysts opine that the Congress has no option but to go alone as it cannot accept the offer of two seats and insisted that Mayawati’s hardened stand is basically centered on her prime ministerial aspirations.
“Mayawati wants to keep a space for herself to negotiate on the PMship and does not want to give a green signal to Rahul Gandhi. She too has prime ministerial ambitions and in case all the alliance parties get a few seats each, she can mobilise the others and stake her claim ton the post,” said Professor Badri Narayan of the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad.
“But if the Congress gets more than 100 seats (in the Lok Sabha) then it will become difficult for her. On the other hand, SP is compelled by the BSP as it does not have any option. SP knows that without the BSP they cannot perform well in the elections,” he added.