Mayawati, Akhilesh's alliance eclipsed by bitter past, but SP-BSP combine threatened more by intrinsic differences

  • BJP's growing might has once again brought together two arch rivals, who had a bitter falling-out with each other the last time they united to stop the saffron juggernaut

  • But a lot has changed since then. Both SP and BSP have aged politically since then and have learnt the art of realpolitik.

  • Incidents like the guest house attack will come back to haunt the alliance partners, but it may not do any lasting damage

  • What they really battle against is a more powerful BJP, possible ego clashes between two regional satraps, and inherent differences in ideology

BJP's growing might has once again brought together two arch rivals, who had a bitter fallout the last time they united to stop the saffron juggernaut. Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav Saturday formally announced that Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election together, repeating an electoral experiment they successfully conducted in 1993 with windfall returns. However, while the alliance perfectly aligns the caste matrix in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh, it also puts in sharp focus the ugly spat the two parties had back in 1995 when BSP pulled the plug on the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led government.

Mayawati too, when she announced the alliance, brought up the infamous guest house incident obliquely hinting that the embers of the past still remain but she is consciously choosing to bury the hatchet for a better political future. With Akhilesh at her side, Mayawati briskly referred to the 1995 incident — when she was harassed and held hostage by SP workers at a guest house — stating that she was ready to forgive and forget the past. There are some stray notes of discord from within the SP too. For example, Samajwadi Party MLA Hariom Yadav created controversy by stating that the SP-BSP alliance would survive only as long as SP president Akhilesh bowed to the wishes of Mayawati. Then, the question remains whether the cadres of the two parties, who have spent decades nursing the animosity, will be able to adopt this new tone of bonhomie and work together.

 Mayawati, Akhileshs alliance eclipsed by bitter past, but SP-BSP combine threatened more by intrinsic differences

File photo of Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav with Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati. PTI

An answer in the affirmative to the aforementioned question is not only necessary for the alliance to make a significant impact, but its also key to ensure that the two parties stick together for future electoral battles.

However, any speculations or analysis as to whether the alliance will succeed this time is incomplete without understanding what led the fall-out of the two parties 26 years ago.

The infamous guest house incident 

The incident still remembered as one of the ugliest episodes in the political history of Uttar Pradesh, unfolded on 2 June, 1995 when Mayawati, then the general secretary of BSP had withdrawn support from the Mulayam-led government. She made the announcement public at a rally in Lucknow and proceeded to the UP State Guest House at Mirabai Marg, where she was holding a meeting with her party's MLAs. However, as per various accounts, scores of SP workers, with no explicit objection from the party's top leadership, surrounded the guest house and started ransacking the building. As per various accounts chronicled at the time, the situation turned so bizarre that the SP workers, egged on by party MLAs, beat up BSP MLAs with lathis and stones, and snapped the electric and water supply of the government guest house while hurling casteist and sexist abuses at Mayawati. She was forced to lock herself up in a room at the guest house as SP workers continued the rampage and the local police remained a mute spectator.

Mayawati was finally rescued by BJP lawmaker Brahmdutt Dwivedi. It is said that out of respect for Dwivedi, Mayawati never fielded a candidate against his widow even as she fought BJP tooth and nail.

The beginning of the falling out

Although the larger blame for sealing the animosity between the two parties is pinned on the guest house incident, signs that the two parties are barely getting along were visible for a long time. If anything substantiates this best, it is the manner in which BSP unilaterally ended the alliance. All Mulayam got was barely a note sent through PL Punia, the Congress leader who was then an influential IAS officer in the UP Secretariat.

If the account as recounted in The Indian Express is to be believed, the fall of Mulayam's government can be counted among one of the most uncourteous withdrawals of support from an alliance government. The report states that Mulayam was left red-faced in a meeting of SP leaders from across the state, when Punia, walked in uninvited and simply handed him a note. Those present at the meeting recall that Mulayam’s manner changed as he read the note. He simply announced that the party workers should prepare for elections and abruptly ended the meeting. It was later revealed that Punia had come in to inform Mulayam that the BSP was about to pull the plug on his coalition government.

However, the problems for the alliance had been increasing at a more fundamental level since months as both partners represented the interests of widely different groups and both parties were political greenhorns. While Mulayam favoured the cause of OBC's and his Yadav community, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati rose to prominence following a different political trajectory, representing Scheduled Castes and staunchly opposing the upper caste hegemony.

And the interests of these two groups were antagonistic in several parts of Uttar Pradesh. As accounted in Ajoy Bose's biography of Mayawati, Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati, conflicts about agricultural labourer's wages and land rights became more pronounced after 1993 elections as both Dalit and OBC communities had become politically assertive with their respective caste messiah's in power. There was a sharp rise in cases of atrocities against Dalits under the Mulayam-led government, which steadily built the perception that would have been difficult for BSP to shake off. Caste riots and clashes became so common in the state that within the first four months of SP-BSP government, as many as 60 incidents of violence were reported, and the victims predominantly constituted Dalits.

The book narrates a specific incident that best explained this dilemma for the ruling coalition partners. Trouble erupted in Meerut in 1994 when Dalits were increasingly arrested by the idea of installing Ambedkar statues in upper caste thickets. However, some members of the upper caste chose to oppose this, leading to angry demonstrations by the Dalits. The predominantly Yadav constabulary cracked down on the Dalits and opened fire to disperse protesters, killing at least two Dalits.

Then there was the natural ego clash of two towering leaders, both regional satraps, trying to control the government.

Hindustan Times report recalls the atmosphere within the alliance in these words: "While Mulayam was the CM, Mayawati was the ‘super CM’. Both she and Kanshi Ram used to call the shots holding fortnightly monitoring of the government’s performance that culminated with the public humiliation of Mulayam."

Bose's book quotes the excerpt of Mayawati's interview to a Hindi political magazine Maya where she unflinchingly talks about disquiet within the alliance even in the early days. She also speaks forthrightly about the 'super CM' tag. She states that the alliance was forged on the promise that Mulayam would takes care of Dalit interests and makea adjustments to include the Bahujan Samaj in the bureaucracy. However, Mayawati alleged that Mulayam instead replaced the few Dalit bureaucrats that were present with his own favourites from the Yadav community. "That is when Kanshi Ram ji ordered me to go to Lucknow from time to time and check on the Mulayam Singh government. After all if we are partners in the government, it is our responsibility to ensure that the government is functioning properly... What can I do if people think I am the super chief minister."

Both parties have aged politically since then and have learnt the art of realpolitik. SP embraced its long-time enemy Congress in the last Assembly elections, while Mayawati has faced more than a few humbling defeats to appreciate the necessity of the alliance for  political survivor. The change in guard within SP too had remarkably favoured the genesis of a fresh alliance; Mayawati would have found it much more difficult to make peace with Mulayam and share a stage with him. Therefore, the long-standing animosity between the cadres and the indelible guest house incidents may make matters tough but are not lasting impediments in the path of a successful alliance. But the intrinsic differences between their voter base is a much harder difference to overcome when running a government together, or even asking for votes.

If the past must come back to haunt the alliance, it would be in the way the two parties failed to align their priorities and interests, and not the past feuds. The BJP, in contrast, is willing to combine the voter base under a much larger umbrella of religion and nationalistic fervour; then there's the agenda of development for those who still credit the prime minister with bringing about acche din.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jan 17, 2019 18:20:43 IST