It appears that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) have reached a ‘final’ seat-sharing deal in Uttar Pradesh. By its terms, the former will contest 38 seats and the latter 37. Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal gets three seats in the Jat-dominated western part of the state. The Congress has not been admitted to the high table, though the alliance will not field candidates in Amethi and Rae Bareli seats, traditionally contested by Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
Shutting out the Congress from the deal is a monstrously bad and immature idea, authored, if the scuttlebutt is to be taken seriously, by BSP boss Mayawati, who has had more than one occasion to excoriate the ‘grand old party’, likening it to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BSP may have its own compulsions, relating mainly to protecting its Dalit social and electoral base. But as the 2004 election results showed six of the Congress does not equal half a dozen of the BJP.
Before getting into substantive arguments, let’s take a look at what happened in Uttar Pradesh in 2014. The BSP got 19.6 percent of the vote, which translated into zero seats. The Dalit (Scheduled Caste) percentage of the population of the state is around 20 percent, of which the party’s core social constituency, the Jatavs, comprise 9 percent. The Congress got 7.5 percent of the vote; on the basis of collateral evidence, it can be conjectured that these votes came from the upper castes and Muslims.
Further, the BSP, RLD and SP together polled just under 33 percent of the votes. The Congress’ vote would raise that to just over 40 percent, in comparison to the BJP and Apna Dal’s 43.3 percent, though the latter got only 1 percent, which translated into two seats. The Congress’ participation in the alliance could be crucial. Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav’s refusal to recognise that is unfortunate and could critically affect outcomes in a number of constituencies. But the logic of including the Congress goes beyond the existing numbers.
First, it is obvious that a united front, including the Congress, was successful in wresting three Lok Sabha seats from the BJP – first Gorakhpur and Phulpur, then Kairana – in by-elections last year, despite the fact that the first-mentioned constituency was Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s pocket borough, won by him five times. Homespun wisdom has it that if it isn’t broken, don’t mend it. The consequences of the alliance’s gratuitous repair job could be chastening.
BSP and SP leaders could argue that the Congress was less than accommodative in the run-up to and the aftermath of the Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. That might be true to an extent, but, clearly, Mayawati didn’t take the negotiations particularly seriously either. In any case, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has since shown a much more flexible, accommodative and realistic approach, which the Uttar Pradesh alliance should have taken cognisance of. Rahul’s decision to let state units negotiate local alliances betokens the new approach.
Then there is the Priyanka Gandhi Vadra factor. There is no real need to celebrate her formal entry into Uttar Pradesh politics as some kind of new dawn for the Congress, because the state organisation is in shambles and, the truth be told, she has little experience in managing the nitty-gritty of campaigning and all the appurtenances that need to be fixed in connection with running an electoral project. There is not just enough evidence to pronounce any kind of judgement. Comparisons with Indira Gandhi are hardly anything to go by. That having been said, there is enough evidence that Priyanka’s appointment as general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh has enthused both party cadres and voters, in a general sense. And, it is precisely the fact that Priyanka is an unknown quantity that could play in her favour.
Clearly, it has been criminally unwise of the alliance to summarily jettison the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, while, Akhilesh, at least, is willing to play footsie with it at the national level. In this connection, it would perhaps be relevant to mention that though the Dalit vote has remained with Mayawati, if any party can at all splinter it, it will be the BJP. The BSP boss needs all the help she can get, she only needs to junk her overly suspicious frames of reference. If the Congress is in any position to claim a share of any vote bloc, it will be the Muslim vote, which at 19+ percent, will be critical. Mayawati and Akhilesh may reckon that they have it sewn up, but that may not be the case given the likelihood that the Muslims will vote for whichever party they think will be able to defeat the BJP. On that count, too, having the Congress onside would be useful.
Finally, we come to the Pulwama attack. The fact is that the BJP’s conduct before and after the attack was first incompetent, then cynical. There was an intelligence failure and the surreal decision to send out a mammoth convoy, which was a sitting duck. After the event, unlike the Opposition, the ruling party kept up with its election campaign, while urging others to refrain from ‘politicizing’ the issue. But the question is whether all that will cut any ice with the voters. The BJP is way and away more adept at manipulation than any other party. And it will spare no effort to milk the human tragedy and project itself as the only formation that can address security concerns with a strong prime minister at the helm – especially if it gets a single-party mandate as opposed to a mandate for a ‘disparate’ Opposition. With the elections almost upon us, not many will ponder the statistics that show infiltration, attacks and fatalities have all risen under the current dispensation, never mind the government’s much-hyped ‘surgical strikes’.
It is thus absolutely vital for all parties seeking to consign the BJP to the margins to speak in one voice. Will that purpose be served if the members of a still putative national alliance behave as the BSP and SP have done? There is still time for the Uttar Pradesh heavyweights to ponder this question.
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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2019 18:34:20 IST