Few have the political prescience of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.
In a conversation with colleagues in Patna, he is learnt to have said when asked about the possibility of a grand coalition (Mahagatbandhan) in Uttar Pradesh on the lines of Bihar, “That’s possible only if the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) come together.”
Nitish chooses his words carefully. He seems to have summarised the situation in this one sentence. Even those with scant knowledge of Uttar Pradesh politics can vouchsafe without the slightest fear of being repudiated, that the coming together of the SP and BSP is almost impossible. BSP chief Mayawati is far too ambitious with her national aspirations to let others share her political space. And Akhilesh’s Samajwadi Party sans Mulayam Singh Yadav is a novice in electoral politics.
Read the signals emanating from the ground in the context of Nitish’s remark. All indications are that the three-way alliance between SP, Congress and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) will come a cropper. Akhilesh has somehow salvaged a bilateral tie-up with the Congress.
Too much is being read into this political marriage. The inherent contradictions of the SP-Congress alliance are bound to strain any tie-up at every stage of the polls. Historically, the SP has grown by substantially eating into the Congress’ minority support base. In the post-Babri mosque demolition phase, Muslims deserted the Congress lock stock and barrel and joined the SP in 1993. The hard-boiled politician that he is, Mulayam could see the writing on the wall and had the sagacity to have an alliance with Kanshi Ram’s BSP. That was a formidable social combination of OBC-Dalit and Muslims that literally overwhelmed the Hindutva wave in 1993.
It goes to the credit of Mulayam that he successfully confined the Congress to the margins till 2004 when the SP emerged as the biggest party by bagging 36 seats in the Lok Sabha. Following this stunning success, the 2004-2009 period saw a bonhomie between the SP and the Congress. Mulayam even bailed out the Manmohan Singh government against the CPM’s attempt to pull the rug out from under the UPA government’s feet. The immediate electoral impact was that in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections the Congress won 21 (from nine in the previous House) seats. The SP was reduced to 22 from 36. That is, the Congress grew by eroding the SP’s core base of minority and a section of OBCs.
The realisation that bolstering a dormant Congress to revival is inimical to the SP’s political interests must have dawned on Akhilesh of late. That is the precise reason why he has been desperately making all moves not to let the Congress emerge from the fringe role it has been playing all along.
Herein lies the problem with those who see elections through the prism of an agglomeration of arithmetic. Politics is more chemistry than a sheer game of numbers. Take for instance the manner in which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has scored a goal against its political wing, the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be squirming with unease after hearing what RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya said about the deleterious impact of the reservations in government jobs. Vaidya’s statement is a throwback to the out-of-the-blue statement of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat before the Bihar polls just ahead of the election. Bhagwat’s unprovoked, carelessly-timed statement made the coming together of Nitish and Lalu Prasad Yadav possible and pretty much turned the election on this head. Although the BJP and the RSS subsequently tried to retrieve the situation, the damage was done.
We can draw a parallel between Bhagwat’s statement on reservations then and Vaidya’s now. But the parallel between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is tenuous. The last-minute alliance stitched up by Akhilesh with the Congress is nothing like the Nitish-Lalu alliance. Also, the caste dynamics of Bihar are different from those of Uttar Pradesh. After Bhagwat’s statement in Bihar, a shrewd combination of hard-boiled Mandal politicians Nitish and Lalu turned the tide in their favour by successfully projecting the BJP as anti-reservation. As a result, smaller castes of backward classes and scheduled castes gravitated towards the political formation that represents social justice.
But Akhilesh’s politics have consistently moved away from the mooring of social justice and assumed the mantle of mainstream of national parties like the Congress and the BJP. Unlike Mulayam, who stuck to social justice slogans in spite of resistance, Akhilesh’s attempt for an image makeover has alienated him from smaller non-Yadav OBCs that moved towards the Hindutva fold in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Akhilesh and the Congress are hardly in a position to gain from the faux pas committed by the RSS. In place of Akhilesh, Mulayam would have used the situation to his advantage far more astutely than any other leaders.
On the other hand, Mayawati is better placed than any other political formation to gain from the RSS’ indiscretion. Soon after Vaidya’s statement, Mayawati launched a full-blooded attack on the RSS-BJP combine and questioned their commitment to the Constitution and Dalit welfare. Nobody knows better than Mayawati that with solid backing of 22 percent Dalits, she would sail through if she can engineer a shift of the Muslim votes and the most backward classes (MBCs) in BSP’s favour. Mayawati is leaving nothing to chance to stitch up a formidable social coalition of Dalit-Muslim and MBCs in the state.
As of now, it looks like a three-way contest in Uttar Pradesh where political coalitions have lost their relevance. Unlike Bihar where the Nitish-Lalu political coalition reshaped the social coalition in the state, regional satraps of Uttar Pradesh lack the political sagacity and perspicacity to milk the situation in their favour. Nitish had diagnosed the coalition problems of Uttar Pradesh aptly much before election fever even caught up.
Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 16:07 PM