Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal have decided to come together for the forthcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. The announcement of the alliance, which also includes BS4, a smaller outfit, was made in Lucknow on 21 November.
Talks of a grand alliance along the lines of the one in Bihar, which won a spectacular victory last year, had 'officially' come to nought after Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's U-Turn. Mulayam states that the ruling SP would not ally with any other party, and that political outfits looking for an alliance could instead merge into the SP.
This was a message to the RLD, headed by former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh's son Ajit, which has a sizeable influence among sections in Western UP, especially the Jat community.
However, the JD(U)-RLD alliance, or Mulayam's statement, need not be taken as the final word on possibilities of alliances, according to senior political functionaries. The elections, they say, are still a few months away, and this announcement could be just a desperate signal to the ruling SP to take a decision soon.
Smaller parties like the RLD, and even the Congress, are still desperate for an alliance to salvage their fortunes in India's most electorally important state. There are enough indications of a realisation within the SP, especially after its family feud came out in the open, that alliances would be important to fight a resurgent BJP, which is riding on its massive success in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Sources in the Congress say that at a meeting on Friday, the party decided push for an alliance with a respectable share of seats. This was on a recommendation from its poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who is pushing for an alliance.
Likewise, the RLD too is keen, for it faces the chances of losing whatever little is left after it was routed in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
All the parties including the Congress, the RLD, and the rest of the 'Janata Parivar', could settle for 150 seats out of 403.
"People will only vote for us if they think we are still in the game," a senior RLD functionary points out, explaining why the party needs to be in an alliance after all of its vote bank was subsumed by the BJP in a heavily-polarised 2014 election.
The Jats, who form the primary vote bank of the party, had moved en masse to the BJP after the riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, breaking the Jat-Muslim alliance carefully crafted by Charan Singh.
Post the riots, the RLD was caught in a Catch-22 situation, for it could not openly come out in support of its Jat vote base, lest it annoy the Muslims. The BJP had aggressively taken on the mantle of raising the issue of Jats being harassed by the police, in the backdrop of an aggressive campaign to paint the ruling SP as an outfit only sympathetic to Muslims.
The fact that RLD leaders did not reach out to their main constituency then continues to be an issue among a section of the Jats, who see it as a betrayal. "Nobody came when Ajit Singh was pushed out of the government bungalow. Had he not betrayed us, tractor trollies full of villagers would have come and not let it happen," a Jat taxi driver had told this reporter.
The RLD functionary also explains why the party cannot think of an alliance with the BJP, for the latter is not keen, as it is keen to retain the Jat vote bank and not give any leeway for the RLD to get back up on its feet. The RLD doesn't have a chance of an alliance with the BSP as well, for the latter's Dalit vote bank is not comfortable allying with the Jats.
Similarly, the BSP has also refused the Congress's offer of an alliance. Senior BSP leader Munqad Ali had earlier told Catch how the BSP will not ally with anyone and go to the polls on its own.
This came after rounds of reaching out by senior Congress leaders, starting with Madhusudan Mistry, the former party in-charge of UP. Mayawati, meanwhile, has embarked on the tough task of cobbling together a Dalit-Muslim alliance.
Congress insiders say the party looks incoherent when it comes to UP. "First, they announced a CM candidate. Then Rahul Gandhi did a yatra, attacking both the SP and the BJP. How do you now push for an alliance?" the Congress leader asks.
Similarly, RLD's Ajit Singh, pundits say, has built its fortunes by attacking the SP and its Chief Mulayam, even as it has gone about forging alliances with all sections of the political spectrum in the past.
Silence from the SP
The RLD functionary says the Samajwadi Party has not sent any feelers since 6 November, when senior leaders like Sharad Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ajit Singh had shared the stage with the Yadav clan for the 25th anniversary celebration of the SP in Lucknow.
Shivpal Yadav, who was in touch with the outfits, has hit a roadblock in CM Akhilesh Yadav, who according to sources, is keeping mum on the issue.
Mulayam's statement follows several rounds of discussion with pollster Kishor, someone who is also close to JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar, who has been holding talks with Shivpal, Mulayam and even Akhilesh, who had an hour-long meeting on 6 November at his Kalidas Marg residence in Lucknow. Mulayam and Shivpal have held held discussions with other parties, including the RLD and the JD(U), as well.
Earlier this year, the RLD and the JD(U) were exploring a merger, after talks of a larger merger of the entire Janta Parivar fell apart once Mulayam pulled out of the grand alliance, and decided to contest the Bihar elections alone.
This, experts point out, was not just a result of the pressure on the SP chief due to several pending cases, but also a reluctance to accept Nitish Kumar as the leader and bring his own stature down in the process, something 'Netaji' was not comfortable with.
Akhilesh, an aide says, was not initially keen on any alliance. "The recent pre-poll surveys had shown that SP remains a popular choice," the aide says.
A CSDS pre-poll survey in August had shown that SP remained the most popular choice of the UP voters, followed by the BJP and the BSP. Around 60% of the people surveyed in the state were satisfied with Akhilesh's tenure.
The survey also showed that around 62% of Muslims and 68% of Yadav voters in the state were still inclined to vote for the SP.
But this equation may have changed, especially after the family feud came out in the open, confusing the cadres.
Indeed, after his meeting with Kishor, Akhilesh had said "we can contest alone, but in alliance, we can win 300 seats", signalling that he was not averse to the idea. However, at the same time he had made it clear that cobbling together a coalition was not easy.
The family feud and its impact
Party insiders say cadres may get upset if a lot of seats are given to coalition partners. "The party already has around 220 MLAs. If you give 150 seats to others, what would be left for the party cadres who have been working hoping for a ticket?" an SP leader asks.
The aide says it is surprising how Mulayam has given up the idea of an alliance after CM Akhilesh's statement. But he points out that this may not be his last word, since he has been going back on his decisions lately. The statement may also be a result of the internal feud in the party.
Akhilesh, meanwhile, is learnt to be more keen to settle that feud first, and retain his place as face of the party, before deciding on the alliance. "He wants to be in the driving seat when it comes to the distribution of tickets," aides say.
Akhilesh was also annoyed with the way Amar Singh, who is said to be the key protagonist of the feud, and uncle Shivpal, also part of the anti-Akhilesh faction in the party, had been unilaterally talking of alliances. It was, in fact, Amar Singh who was part of the first meeting between Kishor and Mulayam Singh..
This, according to those close to the Chief Minister, was done to showcase that it was the Shivpal-Amar Singh faction which had Mulayam's ear when it came to deciding on important matters like prospective alliances.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma