SP-BSP alliance leaves 2019 prospects bleak for Congress in Uttar Pradesh; division of votes may deal blow to BJP
Going by the vote shares of the most recent elections, a BJP defeat in Uttar Pradesh can be possible only if the Congress puts aside its hurt for being excluded from the SP-BSP alliance and extends its support.
Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav announced the BSP-SP alliance on Saturday.
Rahul Gandhi said the news was not a setback for the Congress.
The Congress has maintained that ensuring the BJP's defeat was its prime focus.
Anti-BJP political spectators were hopeful of a grand alliance between the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh after the Grand Old Party wrested power from the saffron front in two Hindi heartland states — Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — with the support of the Akhilesh Yadav- and Mayawati-led outfits. They remained optimistic about a possible Samajwadi Party-BSP-Congress alliance in Uttar Pradesh even though Mayawati had snubbed the Congress in Chhattisgarh and joined hands with Ajit Jogi's Janta Congress Chhattisgarh.
But both Akhilesh and Mayawati dashed these hopes on Saturday, when they formally announced their 50:50 partnership — each party will contest from 38 seats — for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, they decided to not contest in Amethi and Raebareli, represented by Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, in a move that one could even say was compensation for leaving the Congress out of the alliance.
The Congress has appeared surprisingly nonchalant since the development, with party president Rahul Gandhi saying soon after the announcement on Saturday that being left of the alliance in Uttar Pradesh was not a "setback" for the Congress, exuding confidence that the results of the elections "would surprise people".
"I have tremendous respect for the leaders of the BSP and Samajwadi Party and recognise that they have the right to do what they want. It's on us to strengthen the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, and we will fight to our full capacity," Rahul said at a press conference in Dubai.
The move forced the Grand Old Party to announce that it will contest all 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh solo and it was open to allying with "like-minded" parties, but it has few options left. Former Samajwadi Party leader and Akhilesh's uncle Shivpal Yadav's newly-launched party, Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party-Lohia, could hardly be considered a threat.
Although Rahul might seem confident for the Congress — if the anti-incumbency sentiments against the BJP are anything to go by — the reality on ground might be far from what he sees. With support from the Samajwadi Party and BSP now out of question, the party's prospects in Uttar Pradesh seem bleak, as does its goal to bring together an anti-BJP front for the Lok Sabha elections.
Being sidelined by the Samajwadi Party and BSP means losing out on a significant chunk of the vote share in Uttar Pradesh, a state considered crucial in deciding who assumes power at the Centre. The Congress has only followed a downhill path in Uttar Pradesh in terms of vote share since the 2012 Assembly elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. From 11.6 percent in 2012, its vote share dropped to 7.5 percent in 2014 and further to around 6 percent in the 2017 Assembly elections.
In contrast, the BSP's vote share rose to 22 percent in 2017 from 19.8 percent in 2014, though it dropped from the nearly 26 percent of the vote share it had secured in 2012. The Samajwadi Party, too, has a similar graph, securing around 22 percent of the votes in 2017 and 22.3 percent in 2014.
Collectively, the vote share of the BSP and Samajwadi Party in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls came to 42.1 percent, marginally below the BJP's 42.6 percent, indicating that the two parties joining hands could make a dent in the saffron front's voter base and also eat into another chunk of anti-BJP votes (which could be considered the secular votes usually reserved for the Congress).
Looking at these figures, it is clear that the BSP-Samajwadi Party alliance can deal a blow to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. The results of the 2017 bypolls to the Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana Lok Sabha seats also indicate that the BSP and Samajwadi Party could, indeed, have a chance of wresting a significant number of seats from the BJP.
Earlier, it was believed that support from Mayawati and Akhilesh for the Congress could have had an immediate impact in Uttar Pradesh in 2019. But going by the vote shares of the most recent elections and the apparent understanding the parties have with the Congress, a BJP defeat in Uttar Pradesh can be possible only if the Congress puts aside its hurt for being excluded from the partnership and extends support to the alliance.
While former finance minister P Chidambaram said he hopes the Samajwadi Party-BSP alliance without the Congress was not the "final word", there are Samajwadi Party and BSP members who are hopeful that the the Congress contesting the polls on its own could eat into the BJP's upper-caste vote base and benefit them.
After Akhilesh and Mayawati's press conference, Rahul had said he "won't be disappointed about the BSP-Samajwadi Party alliance as long as the BJP does not come to power", adding that contesting the elections solo would have the same end result — "the BJP won't get their seats".
So if the Congress really stands by its statement that its prime focus is to ensure the BJP's dethroning at both the Centre and in states, and if the Grand Old Party is willing to accept its likely defeat in Uttar Pradesh, this is how the politics in the state could play out in 2019.
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