UP Election 2017: Why Akhilesh Yadav may pay a heavy price for alliance with Rahul Gandhi’s Congress

“Around seventy seats. That’s the best the Congress can achieve in Uttar Pradesh with everything going in its favour,” said a Congress old-timer at a hotel in Meerut which also served as the campaign office of the local party candidate Ramesh Dhingra. “We have to be realistic. The party’s core voters have moved away,” he added. He was responding to a question how, as a Congress member, he saw his party’s prospect in the ongoing assembly election.

“Isn’t it highly optimistic?” You ask and get this reply. “I didn’t mean in this election. A tally of 70 reflects the maximum it can reach. Around 45 seats this time would be a decent result for us.” You speak to others and they predict a Congress tally between 35 and 45 seats, a marginal rise from 28 seats it had in 2012.

File image of Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi. PTI and Reuters

File image of Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi. PTI and Reuters

That brings us to the bigger question: Why did the Samajwadi Party allow it to have 105 seats? In some seats it does not even have good candidates to offer; in some it has little presence. Seventy seats are all what Akhilesh could have offered the Congress, with the stern message to take it or leave it. He seemed in a hurry to seal the deal and left the latter with a bounty which it does not know what to do with.

If Akhilesh loses the election, he might invite criticism for entering a foolish alliance. And it will be entirely justified for several reasons. One, he had given away seats which the party could have won; two, he had displeased party workers in many seats where the Congress is seen as only a marginal player; three, there’s no guarantee that Congress votes would get automatically transferred to the SP and vice versa; and four, the arrangement left the Congress with an advantage – if it gets around 40 seats it might chose to go with the BSP if it falls marginally short of the majority mark.

The bitter reality of the alliance must have been apparent to Akhilesh thus far. In more than a dozen seats SP rebels are in contest with Congress candidates. In four out of 10 assembly segments in the Gandhi family stronghold Amethi and Raebareli, candidates of both parties are in the fray. This appears to have made Priyanka Gandhi stay off the campaign in these seats. If more than a dozen seats are lost due to such a scenario in a three-cornered contest, then it can land Akhilesh in a precarious situation.

The main idea behind the alliance was to keep the Muslim votes, which got divided between the parties, intact. However, with Mayawati’s BSP also wooing the same votes aggressively, the possibility of a reverse consolidation among the Hindus was never anticipated.

The BJP’s strategy has been to tackle polarisation of Muslim votes with polarisation of Hindu votes in its favour. To send the message across unsubtly, it has offered not a single candidate from the community. We already have star campaigners of the party - Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah – making communally aggressive statements. This strategy had worked for the party 2014.

If the alliance does not bring in the expected Muslim votes for Akhilesh then the very purpose of the tie-up is defeated. The Congress has no other caste grouping which it can claim to be exclusively its own. The upper caste votes have been going in different ways for quite some time now. Most other caste groups are aligned with some party or the other. Thus, in practical terms the Congress is of little electoral value to the Samajwadi Party.

So why did Akhilesh get into it in the first place? Perhaps it had to do with the power struggle in the family close to the elections and paucity of time. Whatever the case, he may have some explaining to do to party men after the results are out.

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Updated Date: Feb 26, 2017 13:29:34 IST

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