A day after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) emphatic win in Tripura, India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, felt its ripples. Within hours, literally, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) – the two arch rivals of the BJP in the Hindi belt – announced they were coming together, at least for the moment. The BSP declared its support for the SP’s candidates in the upcoming bypolls for the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seats vacated by deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya and chief minister Adityanath, respectively.
But this association came with terms and conditions – that the support is restricted to only these bypolls, in return for which the SP will have to support the BSP’s candidate in the upcoming Rajya Sabha election. It was also said that there will be no joint meeting of top leaders from both the parties, and that alliance plans for the 2019 general elections will be subject to review.
Within hours of the development, a slogan started doing the rounds – ‘Behanji aur Akhilesh Judey, Modi-Yogi ke hosh udey (Mayawati and Akhilesh have come together, Modi-Yogi have now lost their nerve)’. The slogan was on the lines of a similar catch phrase nearly 25 years ago in 1993 when the SP and BSP had forged an alliance to contest the assembly polls. The slogan then was ‘Miley Mulayam-Kanshiram, Hawa mein udh gaye ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (When Mulayam and Kanshiram come together, the slogan of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ vanished in thin air)’. ‘Jai Shri Ram’ was the slogan the BJP used during its Ramjanmabhoomi movement. The possibility of a similar alliance now had people sharing an old picture of Mulayam and Kanshi Ram embracing each other on social media.
The BSP’s support to SP in the bypolls may act as a booster dose for Akhilesh Yadav but only time will tell whether this bonhomie will extend beyond that. In the 2017 assembly polls, the BJP got 39.67% if the votes while the SP and BSP’s share was 22.35% and 19.77%, respectively. If these figures are kept in mind, the combined opposition will have an upper hand. However, much has changed over the last one year. Every party has to now revise its strategy. If it is a question of survival for the SP and BSP, the BJP has to maintain its image of invincibility. A weakened Congress can only depend on SP-BSP to find space in the larger coalition.
Nonetheless, the bypolls will definitely be treated as a curtain-raiser for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The results will also dictate the future of the opposition alliance, which at the moment is bound by the terms and conditions put forward by the BSP.
How is BJP placed?
At present, enjoying its golden period, the saffron party will face one of its most difficult situations. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, it was the Ram Janmabhoomi movement’s wave in 1993 which catapulted it to the centrestage. It managed to win 177 seats in 1993 but a combination of parties, representing OBC, Dalit and Muslims, eventually defeated the BJP.
Now, the BJP needs to ensure that the Modi wave is stronger than in 2014 – and demonstrate, if it can, that even the combined weight of the SP-BSP alliance is no match for it. An adverse result will not only halt the winning spree but also dent the saffron party’s ‘invincibility’.
However, the situation at present is more conducive for the BJP. It is now a revamped party and is not confined to only the upper castes. Since 2014, the BJP has broken many of the caste barriers that limited its reach in UP. It has extended its support to OBCs and even Dalits. With the triple talaq and Haj subsidy issues, it is nursing hopes of getting some Muslim support, at least from women if not men.
The BJP today is different from that of 1993 and Narendra Modi’s leadership has the potential to outshine any opposition. As political developments over the last four years show, no other party can match it in terms of strategy, resources and poll management. With Adityanath as chief minister, the party’s Hindutva agenda is now out in the open, but it has not dropped its ‘development’ card. Soon after the BSP declared its support to SP’s candidates, state energy minister Shrikant Sharma told reporters, “People are not interested in bua (Aunt Mayawati) and bhatija (nephew Akhilesh Yadav) but the development work of PM Modi and CM Yogi.”
Can Akhilesh revive the SP?
The coming together of the BSP and SP is more a necessity than a choice. After being routed in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the 2017 assembly polls, Akhilesh is fighting with his back against the wall. Problems are aplenty. For Akhilesh, the fight starts from his family as the tussle with his uncle Shivpal Yadav is far from over. The SP’s core vote bank, the Yadavs, have been regularly showing their inclination towards the BJP. Muslims are in a dilemma and in the absence of any alliance, are leaning toward different non-BJP parties.
With reduced strength in parliament and the state assembly, Akhilesh has only a little political heft. In the ongoing elections, any drubbing will further sideline the SP. Akhilesh has to ensure that it remains at least the main opposition party in UP. His decision to ally with the BSP was inevitable amidst dissenting voices within the party and a constantly growing BJP. With primarily Yadavs and Muslim remaining with the SP, there is no other way to increase its vote share except to extend its association with other political parties.
With the party in total disarray, Akhilesh has to maintain the morale of his party workers and leaders. The BJP is already firmly rooted in the state and Akhilesh now has to shift the focus from BJP’s stronghold Hindutva to caste-based politics. In other words, he has to increase his party foothold among other caste groups. The SP, in the last five years, has lost the advantage which its founder Mulayam Singh Yadav had painstakingly stitched – inclusion of most backward classes (MBC) such as Nishad, Kushwaha, Saini, Maurya, Patel etc. in the party’s fold. Now, most of these groups are with the BJP, leaving the SP in a situation where it is struggling to remain relevant.
For Mayawati, a question of survival
On her part, BSP president Mayawati has lost the sheen of being a Dalit icon. With no representative in the Lok Sabha, her decision to resign from Rajya Sabha in protest led to a churning in her party. The continuous exodus of leaders from the BSP is a major reason for concern. Most importantly, the BJP has very smartly alienated her from non-Jatav Dalit voters. The emergence of the Bhim Army in Western UP has also challenged her monopoly over Dalit politics in the state. Several commonalities with SP, like a reduced vote share and shrinking support base, have forced the reticent Mayawati to change tack and declare her support to that party.
The BSP can take shelter in the fact that it does not contest bypolls. But if its own core vote base swings towards some other party in the by-poll, their return to BSP’s fold will be a challenge in 2019. The BJP has been aggressively pursuing the Dalits by organising various events and including them as position holders in the party.
Will the BSP-SP let the Congress bargain?
The grand old party is nearly redundant in UP’s politics. It is often referred to as a party with only leaders but no workers. With hardly any vote base in the state, the party is now totally dependent on others. Akhilesh aligning with the BSP has again left Congress in jeopardy. With a failed alliance in the 2017 assembly polls, the Congress barely has any say in the state’s politics. The only option left with the party is to persuade the SP or BSP to include it in the alliance.
Ten Rajya Sabha seats are going to polls on March 23. Going by the assembly’s strength, 37 MLAs are necessary for electing one Rajya Sabha MP. The opposition has a total of 74 MLAs, which includes the SP’s 47, the BSP’s 19, the Congress’s seven and Rashtriya Lok Dal’s one.
The SP can easily get one of its own candidates elected to the Rajya Sabha and be left with ten extra votes. The BSP plans to get one of its candidates elected with the support of the opposition. And this triggered the alliance. According to sources, both Mayawati and her brother Anand Gautam are rumoured to be the BSP’s candidates. The BJP can easily get eight candidates elected to the Rajya Sabha but if it makes a play for the tenth seat, which is most likely, the stage will be open for cross-voting.
Mohammad Faisal is a freelance journalist.