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SP-Cong grand alliance in UP? It could spell doom for grand old party

Govind Pant Raju | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 6:42 IST

As the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls inch closer, parties have started mounting their raths and conducting roadshows across the length and breadth of the state.

The Prashant Kishor-driven Congress jumped on this bandwagon when Rahul Gandhi led a Kisan Yatra (also known as the khaat yatra) from Deoria to New Delhi, and subsequently, the party has started organising small district-level yatras.

The BJP, on the other hand, is set to organise four rath yatras - from Saharanpur, Lalitpur, Sonbhadra and Ballia. All these will culminate in a mega rally in Lucknow. The key reason for these yatras is to connect the party to the youth of the state.

BSP supremo Mayawati, meanwhile, has started attending rallies in different regions every Sunday.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, too, has begun a high-tech rath yatra, entitled 'Vikas se vijay ki or'.

It's obvious that all these yatras are attempts to ensure their respective parties' victories in next year's elections. However, it also looks likely that no party will be able to form the government on its own, which is why attempts to forge coalitions have also begun in right earnest.

Current scenario

The BSP seems unwilling to get into any pre-poll alliance. It believes it would be more beneficial to have a post-poll tie-up - there's a lot more scope for wheeling-dealing, and for the benefit of the party, one can even take the help of an arch-rival.

The BJP is already in an alliance with Apna Dal, and this will continue into the Vidhan Sabha polls as well.

Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal, like the BSP, wants to keep its cards close to its chest, so that it can pounce at the opportune moment after the polls, as it has done in the past by becoming a partner to the BSP, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party. It has already held talks with the Congress as well as the SP about alliances.

However, the biggest rumour surrounding an alliance at present concerns the SP getting together with the Congress.

It all began during the Kisan Yatra, when Rahul Gandhi called Akhilesh Yadav a 'good boy', and the rumour gathered steam when Congress strategist Prashant Kishor met SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The SP's UP state president, Mulayam's brother Shivpal Yadav, had already begun attempts to unite Gandhians, followers of Lohia and Chaudhary Charan Singh, in the name of secularism. Inviting all such leaders to the SP's 25th anniversary celebrations is but another step in this direction.

Natural allies?

Now, like Lalu and Nitish's mahagathbandhan in Bihar, there's a lot of talk surrounding a grand alliance in UP, whose primary aim would be to stop the BJP from coming to power.

However, this proposed alliance has already thrown up a lot of questions. The SP's decision to first go along with the Bihar mahagathbandhan and then leave it midway is still a bone of contention, and that's the clear indication from Nitish Kumar's refusal to attend the SP's anniversary celebrations.

The fact is that the JD(U) and the RJD have no real vote base in UP, so barring the Congress, it doesn't make sense for the SP to try to hard for an alliance with the others.

The SP has already merged into itself a party called the Qaumi Ekta Dal, which holds sway over about 10-15 seats in the Poorvanchal region. It is also in talks with the RLD.

It would naturally be interested in an alliance with the Congress, and its relations with the national party have also been pretty cordial. The party, after all, never puts up candidates against Congress president Sonia Gandhi or vice-president Rahul in the Lok Sabha polls.

The SP was also instrumental in helping UP Congress leader Pramod Tiwari get elected to the Rajya Sabha. At the Centre, too, the party often helped the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government out of tough spots. So, in a bid to hold on to power, it would probably be interested in allying with the Congress.

However, the biggest problem for both parties will be seat sharing. The Congress would want to fight on a respectable number of seats, and the SP cannot afford to give it too many seats, or else its own party workers would get miffed.

As such, due to the internal turmoil the SP is currently facing, it's in a dilemma. Akhilesh wants to go it alone, while Mulayam and Shivpal would like to use their traditional electoral mathematics to get the victory. Till it becomes clear who has won this round of internal wrangling, the SP cannot move forward with an alliance.

Congress's U-turn

Till six months ago, the Congress was calling itself a real candidate for victory in UP. However, if the current rumours about an alliance are to be believed, the Congress has made a U-turn on its policy. It must've figured out that it has hardly any chance of a victory on its own.

Recent developments seem to have contributed to the party's self-realisation - the fact that 10 MLAs including Mohammad Muslim and Rita Bahuguna Joshi have quit the party has certainly affected the Congress. Beni Prasad Verma's return to the SP began this trend, and it has not yet ended.

Raj Babbar was named the state Congress president with much fanfare, but the party is still running on the designs implemented by Nirmal Khatri. The party's CM candidate, Sheila Dikshit, is also being viewed as a hapless face.

Whatever strategies Prashant Kishor employs are being rejected by leaders and workers alike - they see them as being too 'corporate'. As such, the Congress needs the crutch of an alliance to stand upright in UP.

The RLD could be an option, but its influence is limited to western UP. That's why an alliance with the SP makes sense for the Congress.

Lessons from the past

The Congress has already suffered the consequences of allying with a state-level political force in 2002. At that time, it had allied with the BSP, but it won only 25 seats.

Not only did BSP voters not transfer their votes to the Congress, but whatever was left of the Congress votebank in UP did get transferred the other way - to the BSP - which won 98 seats. The Dalit vote, which was once considered a lock for the Congress, went entirely to the BSP, never to return.

After the Ayodhya movement, Muslim voters also dispersed from the Congress fold. As a result of these two factors, the Congress hasn't as much as sniffed power in the state for the last 27 years. Little wonder, then, that it wants to steer clear of a pre-poll alliance with the BSP.

Most Congress strategists and local leaders feel that the best way to go is to tie up with the RLD and some other small parties. The Congress can then contest on 275-300 seats itself, and give 100-125 seats to its allies. In this manner, it can regain some strength in UP.

There is also a school of thought that more than the 2017 Assembly polls, it's actually the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that are much more important for the Congress. So, any alliance, no matter how grand, will have to be forged bearing this in mind.

What will become of SP?

On the other hand, there is the Samajwadi Party. The fact that the ruling party is even considering pre-poll alliances is being viewed as a sign that it believes it could lose the elections. Till the beginning of the year, Akhilesh was being viewed as the ideal person to lead the party, as his brand of development was looking impressive compared to the development slogans raised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.

However, halfway through the year, the party's internal squabbling became public, and now, workers as well as voters seem confused. Even the party's biggest votebank, the Muslim community, seems alienated from the party now.

In order to cover for this, Shivpal and Mulayam approved the merger of the Qaumi Ekta Dal, despite Akhilesh's protests.

Experts say that if the party does go with the Congress, it won't lose anything. But it won't gain much either.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 3 November 2016, 8:28 IST
Govind Pant Raju @Catchnews

The author is a senior journalist.