Mamata Banerjee has all but abandoned the UPA and moved on to a political orbit of her own. It is difficult at this point to decipher whether there’s a method to her unusual political moves but it is certain that the Congress can no longer take her for granted as a coalition partner. It should be no surprise that the party contemplating hard on life without her and the Trinamool Congress, the party she heads.
The Congress-led UPA is precariously poised without Trinamool’s 19 MPs. With Mamata taking an unambiguously adversarial and inflexible position on many key issues, the government has little chance of moving ahead with its reformist agenda. She has turned more Left than the Left in policy matters and a leader given to defensive politics and populist instincts. It was evident when she torpedoed the Congress’ effort to push through the bill for FDI in multi-brand retail and blocked the Lokpal Bill in Rajya Sabha.
If the government has to fight the widespread perception of policy freeze and governance paralysis it has to find new allies to move ahead. It has to find the numbers to offset the loss due to the virtual desertion of the Trinamool. It has already roped in Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal which has five members in Lok Sabha. The Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh is the next best choice ally. It has 22 MPs.
The Uttar Pradesh assembly polls provide the perfect setting for a quid pro quo arrangement. RLD has a strong presence in western UP and the Congress sees no problem in sacrificing the region for safety of the UPA. In case of the SP, the equation works in a similar way. If the party—the strongest alternative to the ruling BSP—comes close to the halfway mark, it will need the support of the Congress—which is expected to bag around 70 seats this time—to form the government. In return, it will join the UPA at the Centre and help it tide over the crisis of numbers.
Akhilesh Yadav, son of the SP chief, has already hinted at a post-poll tie-up with the Congress. While the Congress has strongly denied any possibility of such an alliance, the fact is it needs the SP more than the other way round.
“We have presented ourselves as an alternative to the political forces which are ruling UP or have ruled UP in the past. We are our own A team whether in UP or any other state. If anybody is creating any confusion that we are their B team or C team, let me dispel it once and for all,” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said responding to questions from reporters on Akhilesh’s statement.
This could be dismissed as plain bravado. With the gap with the Trinamool getting wider—the differences have intensified at the state level and there are signs that their alliance at the state is at break point—it has no options left. BSP leader Mayawati, who is as difficult a customer as Mamata, is not a safe choice. Thus it has to be Mulayam’s SP. Both parties have had a turbulent relationship in the past. But in UP politics past differences hardly matter. If there’s a SP-RLD-Congress alliance in power it serves everyone well.
If the Congress performs poorly despite Rahul Gandhi’s intense campaign, its position at the Centre becomes precarious. If the SP is not in a position to form the government on its own it suits the Congress well. The balance at the Centre and in the state becomes perfect.