Politics

Why the Congress is Betting Big on Alliances in MP, Chhattisgarh

Out of power for close to three terms in both the states, the party is trying hard to gain back its foothold in central India and is viewing the Assembly elections as a 'gateway' to the 2019 general elections.

To win back two major states in central India – Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – the Congress appears to have decided to throw all its weight behind forming alliances with ‘like-minded’ political parties. In both the states, the party has a direct face-off with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Congress is aiming to win back its central foothold ahead of the critical Assembly elections in the two states, slated to take place in October-November this year, and is viewing it as a ‘gateway to the 2019 general elections’.

In MP and Chhattisgarh, the party has been out of power for the past 14 years and 15 years, respectively.

Chhattisgarh

The Chhattisgarh assembly has 90 assembly seats, of which 29 are reserved for tribals and 10 for Scheduled Castes. In another 40 seats, the population of SCs is more than 10%. The other backward classes constitute about 48% of the state’s population.

In the 2013 elections in Chhattisgarh, the BJP lifted 49 seats while the Congress secured 39 seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and others got one seat, completing the 90-seat tally. The Congress improved its share by 1.66% to 40.29%,  compared with its vote percentage at 38.63% and 36.71% in 2008 and 2003, respectively.

The BSP got 4.27% of the total votes cast in 2013, down by 1.84% from 6.11% in 2008. Its share in the 2003 elections stood at 4.45%.

In the 2008 Assembly elections, the BJP bagged 50 seats, Congress won 38 and BSP got two seats. However, the vote share difference between the Congress and the BJP was 1%, even though the saffron party won 10 seats more.

No wonder, a few days after the Congress in Madhya Pradesh indicated at an alliance with like-minded parties, its Chhattisgarh unit also announced that it was open to a seat-sharing alliance ahead of the Assembly elections.

“We are open for an alliance with like-minded parties for the Assembly elections. We are already in talks with leaders of several political parties,” Charandas Mahant, chief of the party’s Chhattisgarh Election Campaign Committee said.

However, despite anticipation of a cakewalk in forming an alliance with like-minded parties, the road ahead for the Congress looks bumpy in Chhattisgarh.

The party has decided to maintain a distance from former Congressman and state chief minister Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress, which is the only party so far to have already announced candidates for 30 seats. In the last two years, the Janata Congress has managed to register its presence in more than a dozen constituencies, where it enjoys a following among Dalits, Muslims and Christians. Jogi had quit the Congress after his legislator son, Amit, was suspended in 2016 for anti-party activities.

Hira Singh Markam of the Gondwana Gantantra Party met Rahul Gandhi in Delhi recently. Credit: Facebook

“We have declared candidates for 30 constituencies till now and we will contest all 90 seats,” announced Amit Jogi.

Political analysts feel that Jogi’s party has the potential to damage the poll results in favour or against the two key parties – BJP and Congress, in over a dozen seats.

In a related development, state Congress working president Ramdayal Uikey is against of forming an alliance with the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP), which has been demanding a separate state of Gondwana, to “protect the rights the Gondi people”.

“They don’t have a single seat in the Assembly, so why should we form an alliance with them,” said Uikey, who has defeated GGP chief Hira Singh Markam thrice from the Pali Tanakhar seat.

Ahead of the elections, the GGP has already announced candidates from the 11 seats.

“We have announced names of 11 candidates who will be contesting in the elections where GGP has a strong presence. These are Bharatpur, Baikanthpur, Lailunga, Kunkuri, Kota and several others,” Markam, national president of GGP, said.

In the last elections, GGP contested 42 seats, but failed to win any. However, it garnered 2.5%  of the total votes polled.

Recently, GGP leaders met Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi to iron out issues coming in the way of forming an alliance.

Madhya Pradesh

In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress is ready to form a grand alliance to challenge BJP in the upcoming Assembly elections.

“We’ll go for alliances with like-minded parties in 2018, keeping the broader picture of the Lok Sabha polls in mind. Abhi hamne charcha kisi se shuroo nahi ki hai, abhi mai sabki rai le raha hoon, ki kiske saath kis tarah ka samjhauta kiya jaye. (We’re yet to begin formal discussions with any other party for possible alliance in MP. I’m still consulting everyone about what kind of alliance need to be struck with whom),” MP Congress Committee president Kamal Nath told mediapersons.

In the last elections, the ruling BJP had won 165 of the 230 seats in the state. The Congress stood second with 58 seats and Mayawati’s BSP won four seats. Though, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and the GGP didn’t win a single seat in the last assembly elections, they ended up helping the BJP grab at least 53 seats because of the division in opposition votes.

Mayawati. Credit: PTI

For the past 20 years, Mayawati’s BSP has had a steady 7% vote share across Madhya Pradesh. Credit: PTI

The BSP has never been a deciding factor in the state as it always fought elections under a tacit understanding with the Congress.

For the past 20 years, the BSP has had a steady 7% vote share across Madhya Pradesh. So, if  the Congress vote share in the last elections– 37% – is added, then the alliance is likely to give the BJP a jolt. The BJP polled 45% votes last time and is facing huge anti-incumbency after being in power for three terms.

BSP bagged its highest number of 11 seats in the 1998 MP Assembly elections. In 2008,  its tally came to seven with a rise in its vote percentage.

The MP ‘grand alliance’, sources say, is a precursor to a wider alliance with BSP in Chhattisgarh, where the party has similar vote share.

Amid all the talk of alliance, the SP is not far behind. Last Wednesday, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav confirmed that he was open to alliances with like-minded parties in Madhya Pradesh to ensure BJP’s defeat.

“We are open to a tie-up in Madhya Pradesh. If we can cobble up an alliance, it will be good and the foundation of a bigger alliance ahead of 2019 will get stronger. Else, we will go it alone,” he told mediapersons in Lucknow on Wednesday.

Clearly, the Congress has decided to adopt a fresh electoral strategy after the May 15 Karnataka verdict that witnessed the party’s tally dipping to 78 from 122 in 2013, despite the fact that party’s vote share increasing marginally.

In the 2017 Gujarat elections, the SP had contested five of the 182 assembly seats, while in the recently held Karnataka polls the party had fielded 24 candidates. Similarly, the Congress and the SP had struck an alliance in Uttar Pradesh for the Assembly elections in 2017.

As of now. keeping alliances with “like-minded parties” in mind, the Congress party is collecting information about specific  seats where an alliance will work in both MP and Chhattisgarh.

The Congress knows that in the 2014 general elections, the BJP had secured 31%, while 69% votes were polled against the saffron party, but was fragmented. After securing 31% votes, the BJP claimed that public mandate was with them. This time round, the Congress clearly doesn’t want to he opposition vote to be split.

Anup Dutta is a freelance journalist who has previously worked with Mail Today and Deccan Herald.

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