Uttar Pradesh may decide fate of Lok Sabha 2019. Will Congress get a part?
With General elections a little over a year away a gamut of parties have started assessing their positions, especially vis-a-vis the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In this respect, the political situation in Uttar Pradesh has become particularly interesting, what with the state sending the most number of members to Parliament.
The coming together of Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in recent bye-polls have opened up new possibilities and stakeholders are closely assessing the situation. A transfer of votes between the two parties can potentially be a blow to the BJP.
Needless to say, when battle lines are drawn, BJP's bete noire Congress would want to be in the game. But how accommodating would others be to the Grand Old Party, especially since creases to a prospective alliance remain unironed.
Already, BSP supremo Mayawati sprang a surprise Tuesday, a day after claiming the alliance with the SP would not be hampered by the defeat of BSP's Bhim Rao Ambedkar in the recent Rajya Sabha elections.
Now the BSP will no more activate its cadres in any upcoming bye-election the way it did in Gorakhpur and Phulpur bye-polls, the Dalit leader said Tuesday. This has come as a major setback for the SP, which will now have to contest bye-polls for Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur assembly seats on its own.
Mayawati had asked her cadres to support SP candidates in the two earlier bye-polls, which helped Akhilesh Yadav's party clinch massive victories in the seats earlier represented by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya. In return, it was decided that the SP would vote Ambedkar for Rajya Sabha.
Ambedkar's loss led to political pundits writing obituaries of a potentially formidable social coalition. Amid speculations, Mayawati reiterated support for the alliance Sunday and Monday, saying it would be good for the country. According to her, any effort by ruling BJP to create a divide between the two parties would only backfire. She urged other parties to join hands too.
Her flip-flop can leave the SP unnerved. Meanwhile, BSP sources downplayed her comments, claiming the alliance was here to stay. By not activating her cadres, particularly in Kairana, she wanted to send a strong signal to Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which was planning to field party chief Ajit Singh's son Jayant Chaudhary.
The party had pledged support for Ambedkar for the upper house of Parliament, but the vote by its legislator was declared void. Mayawati thinks this was on purpose, to help the BJP, and said she would rethink about any understanding with RLD.
A BSP source said the invalid vote could have triggered Mayawati's strong reaction: “She doesn't contest bye-polls, but this does send a strong signal to possible allies.”
UP Capital Lucknow has been abuzz ever since Mayawati publicly supported an alliance with SP. Senior politicians have been meeting respective party leaderships to secure election tickets.
Speculations are rife that the BSP has already started preparations for 2019 General Elections, identifying seats it would like to contest.
Hindustan Times recently claimed the BSP chief might fight from Ambedkarnagar – a clear departure from her earlier stand of not contesting election.
While the two parties seem to be close to sealing a deal, others – particularly Congress – will have to bargain hard. Numbers are not stacked in favour of the Grand Old Party for it to have a say in seat-sharing and it will have to give up its ego if it wants to enter the alliance.
Senior Congress leadership may hope to be treated on a par with the two allies, but both the SP and the BSP dismisses that. Congress's decision to contested Phulpur and Gorakhpur irked their leaderships who are not averse to fighting without the Congress in case it demands “more than what they deserve”.
A senior Congress leader recently dismissed the idea of the party being a junior partner in an alliance and said the demand would be for an equal share of seats to contest. “Should we down shutters? We are the oldest party and deserve some respect,” he said. When asked whether contesting the bye-polls was a mistake, he denied and said the party should have been given one seat to contest by the alliance.
The party did push for a seat – a demand that was categorically turned down by the SP. “They remain oblivious to the harsh realities on the ground. Had we given them a seat, we would have lost. Strategically, an alliance with Congress is not even in our favour and we can very well do without it,” a senior SP leader said.
When asked how many seats would the Congress be allotted if it enters into alliance, he promptly said: “Two – we want their top leadership to win but that is it. They do not have winnable candidates and even if we rally behind them, it could still be a lost cause.”
In fact, even the Congress is divided over the number of seats it deserves to contest.
A Congress leader from the state claimed there were not more than five out of UP's 80 Lok Sabha seats the party could win next year.
For the SP leader, even five was a tall number. “We gave them enough in the past. Look at the results – out of the 105 seats it contested in 2017, it won only seven – a proof of its popularity in the state,” he said.
Negotiating with Congress was hard work, according to him. “One leader would want some seats, another some others – there's too much confusion. Also, they scheme against each other. Congress is like Kalidas who cut the branch on which it sits,” he said.
According to him, Congress should focus on other states where it is powerful if it wanted to see Narendra Modi defeated. “We have to work together at different levels if we have to fight the common enemy. Inflated egos won't win elections, but ensure defeat,” he said.
Mayawati too wasn't pleased with Congress, sources said. Especially, the induction of Nasimuddin Siddiqui, a former BSP man, into Congress hasn't gone down well with her. She was also upset with the party fighting bye-polls.
A BSP source said others like RLD, NISHAD, Peace Party, Apna Dal might have to be accommodated in a broader alliance, something that would make it increasingly difficult for Congress to jostle for more seats.
In 2014, the BSP came second on 34 seats. Mayawati would like to fight those as well as a few more. The SP too would prefer a similar number. That leaves less than 10 seats for other allies.
“Realistically, Congress should not be given more than five seats but it depends on future negotiations,” a BSP source said. Meanwhile, top Congress leaders have already started approaching the state leadership for seats.
“It also depends on how many of them can win,” said Ramesh Dixit, state president of Nationalist Congress Party. It was too premature to discuss seat sharing, considering Congress was not yet in the alliance, he said.
“Other parties also are yet to join the alliance. Every effort should be made to build a grand alliance to defeat the BJP, but every party should be reasonable with its demand,” Dixit said. He claimed the Karnataka Assembly elections on 12 May could be a turning point as could be the polls in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. However, he said, it would still be tough for the Congress.
“Look at their recent performances in the state. No party or alliance that has the potential to defeat the BJP would want to lose seats to satiate the ego of an alliance partner. That's not how politics works.
“Congress will have to be realistic, else it will end up damaging the chances of those who have better chances of defeating the BJP,” he said.
Nationally, several parties have already started discussions. West Bengal Chief Minister Tuesday met NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut while her Telangana counterpart K Chandrasekhara Rao recently called on her. Such trends could eventually lead to regional satraps coming together to form a non-BJP, non-Congress front.
Congress thus needs to think seriously. It would have to cut dow on ego if it seriously wants to give the BJP a tough fight.