NCP’s Sharad Pawar, TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu to convince SP, BSP for grand alliance
Opposition veterans Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and N Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are trying to convince Mayawati of the BSP and Akhilesh Yadav of the SP to get on board the proposed grand alliance of non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) parties that they are attempting to stitch up for the 2019 parliamentary elections, leaders familiar with the matter said.
Mayawati and Yadav met in Delhi on January 4 and entered into a broad agreement about seat sharing for Uttar Pradesh that, until now, excludes the Congress, but keeps the door open for smaller parties, such as the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Jat leader Ajit Singh. Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 representatives to the Lok Sabha, holds the key to New Delhi. In 2014, the BJP won 72 of these seats.
An NCP leader in Mumbai said Pawar is in touch with Mayawati and that former Union minister Praful Patel had reached out to Yadav to convince them about the need to join the grand-alliance-in-the-making.
On Tuesday, Naidu was in Delhi and met with Congress president Rahul Gandhi. He also met Pawar later in the evening. As many as 21 opposition parties came together on the eve of Parliament’s winter session, and resolved to work together to defeat the BJP, but the two UP stalwarts skipped the event. They also did not show up at the swearing-in of Congress chief ministers in three states, which many senior opposition leaders attended. The Congress has wrested three key Hindi heartland states, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, from the BJP.
The NCP leader cited above said Pawar was also keen on getting the BSP to be part of the Congress-NCP led coalition in Maharashtra since two prominent Dalit leaders, Ramdas Athawale and Prakash Ambedkar, are not with it. While Athawale of the Republican Party of India has decided to stick to the NDA, Ambedkar of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh has tied up with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen .
Naidu, a leader close to him said, also believes that a three-cornered contest in Uttar Pradesh – when Congress contests independently of the SP and BSP – could be detrimental to opposition unity and ultimately benefit the BJP. HT had reported that the Congress is considering all options, including going it alone in the state.
“I am going to Delhi tomorrow to meet important regional party leaders as part of my efforts to build an anti-BJP platform,” Naidu said on Monday. The SP and the BSP both consider the Congress’ intention to contest about 18 seats in Uttar Pradesh as ‘unrealistic’ and much beyond its actual strength on the ground. The Congress fielded candidates in 67 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, polled 6 million votes and won just two seats. It got more than 200,000 votes in just seven seats, including Rae Bareli and Amethi, which are represented by United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, respectively.
An SP leader said Yadav believes his party did not benefit from an alliance with the Congress during the 2017 assembly elections and that the Congress treated him ‘unfairly’ after the election was over.
Mayawati, a BSP leader said, is of the view that Congress’ strength is limited to only half-a-dozen parliamentary constituencies in Uttar Pradesh and any extra seat will be a ‘waste’.
She is, however, conscious of the damage that a split in minority votes, particularly in Western UP, can do. Gilles Verniers, an assistant professor of political science at Ashoka University, said both the SP and the BSP are crucial for any opposition alliance.
“An SP-BSP alliance is the crux of the coming election. It is also because Uttar Pradesh is the only Hindi belt state where regional parties can bring the BJP down by several notches.”
Gilles Verniers, an assistant professor of political science at Ashoka University, said both the SP and the BSP are crucial for any opposition alliance. “An SP-BSP alliance is the crux of the coming election. It is also because Uttar Pradesh is the only Hindi belt state where regional parties can bring the BJP down by several notches.”