In what may significantly change the political dynamic in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) may enter into a pre-poll electoral alliance with the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)]. Although the latter is a minor player in state politics with only a few pockets of strength in eastern UP, the RLD has a significant support base among Jats, who are dominant in western Uttar Pradesh.
According to top sources in the party, the SP has been in constant talks with the two parties regarding the alliance with an intention to forge a strong secular platform to take on a fledgling BJP. Sources claimed that the RLD and the JD(U) have responded positively to the prospect and the alliance may be announced soon.
“We are giving a final shape to the alliance. The idea is to gain the confidence of minorities and progressive section of population by giving them a credible option to defeat communalism in the state,” said a source close to the SP.
The idea of the pre-poll alliance was mooted by a section of SP leaders who are seen as close to chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. However, it was seriously pursued only after the party sensed that the BJP has gained significant ground in the state after the surgical strikes the Indian army carried out on ‘terror launch pads’ along the LoC. The BJP has been using the strikes in its electoral campaigns and, according to reports, has been met with a considerable degree of success.
The SP hopes to corner the BJP in western UP with the support of Jats, who had turned en masse turned towards the BJP in 2014 parliamentary elections. Following the Muzaffarnagar riots, and an aggressive campaign by the BJP in the area on issues like ‘Love Jihad’ and the so-called Muslim ‘appeasement’ by the SP, western UP had seen widespread polarisation on communal lines. The BJP has won all the 17 parliamentary constituencies in the region as a result of this division between Hindus and Muslims.
However, with dissent brewing among them against the BJP, primarily because of growing distress in sugarcane farming over the last two years, the alliance has a plausible chance to upstage the saffron party in the perception game.
The RLD, a dominant force among Jat sugarcane farmers until the last elections, had not managed to win a single seat in 2014. “The alliance will not only be beneficial for the RLD but will also prevent communal polarisation that the BJP wants. It will also help the SP, given the fact it is finding increasingly difficult to retain its core Yadav-Muslim vote bank,” said an SP leader. He added that over the last one year, many ground-level leaders from the Yadav community have drifted towards the BJP and a section of Muslim leaders including some prominent ones have joined the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)
With the family feud worsening within the SP, the negotiations between parties had stopped, with Akhilesh’s supporters insisting that the alliance should be led only by the current chief minister who enjoys a largely clean image. With party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav clearing the air on the matter by declaring that Akhilesh would lead the SP’s campaign, the dialogue has started again and is most likely to fructify.
SP also hopes that the Congress would eventually join the alliance as its campaign tactic of forging a Brahmin-Muslim alliance has clearly not taken off. “Although we have not started any dialogue with the Congress, [the] chief minister has maintained a studied silence on Rahul Gandhi’s controversial remarks,” said the SP leader. Gandhi was caught amidst a controversy when he accused prime minister Narendra Modi of ‘Khoon ki dalali’ by trying to gain political advantage out of the surgical strikes.
While the BJP has been attacking the Congress scion constantly, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati too launched a scathing attack against him recently at a public rally.However, the SP has refrained from making any comments against the party, understandably, because of the possibility of an alliance, even if a post-poll one. In fact, Akhilesh Yadav was the only leader in UP and elsewhere who supported Gandhi’s statement.
With the Sangh Parivar spearheading the militant consolidation of Hindus against Muslims in the Bisara village, Dadri after the death of Ravi Sisodia, one of the men accused of murdering Mohammad Akhlaq, in police custody, cow protection campaigns mushrooming under its patronage, the union government’s recent announcement to open a Ramayana museum at a cost of whopping Rs 225 crore, the BJP looks like it is going to fall back on its Hindutva agenda again. In such a political context, when religious polarisation could become the main mover of politics, the alliance could be seen as a force ahead of the BSP directly opposing the BJP. This may lead to a consolidation of minorities under the SP-led umbrella.
“There is no doubt that SP still enjoys a large section of Muslim support. In the last two years, Akhilesh Yadav has also done a fair amount of development work in Muslim-dominated areas. With him in the driving seat, the alliance will only add to its strength,” said a political observer based in Lucknow.
If the alliance is formalised, it may be seen as a continuation of the political experiment in Bihar where two rivals JD(U) and Rashtriya Janata Dal united to defeat the BJP and met with unprecedented success. With both the BJP and the BSP preparing to fight an ideological election in UP, SP is the only major party ready to be flexible in its tactics. If everything goes according to its plan, the alliance could disrupt the existing political equations and force the BJP and BSP to draw alternative strategies.