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Will arch-rivals unite to return Mayawati to the Rajya Sabha?

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 5 June 2017, 20:50 IST
(PTI photo)

Opposition parties seem to be heading towards something incredibly unusual and unexpected – an alliance to stop the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) juggernaut.

The latest signal in this direction is the support being expressed for Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati's bid to get re-elected to the Rajya Sabha when her term expires in April 2018.

According to reports, during the recently held luncheon meeting of Opposition parties hosted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav expressed the idea that the Opposition parties must come together to ensure this. And even BSP's arch-rival Samajwadi Party could end up supporting this bid.

Responding to these reports, senior RJD leader Jai Prakash Yadav said: “Laluji has been saying this for long, and it comes as no surprise, because he understands that to defeat the BJP and ensure social justice, all groups should be one. Mayawati, too, believes in that, and has therefore agreed to share the platform with all Opposition leaders on 27 August in a rally organised by the RJD.”

He added that all these talks are happening to ensure a coalition is formed to fight “communal forces which are gaining ground across the country”.

The mathematics

Mayawati has no chances of retaining her seat if she doesn't get the support of other political outfits. The BSP's embarrassing rout in the recently-held UP Assembly elections is to be blamed for this.

The party, despite a 22% vote share in the elections, managed to win only 19 seats, 17 less than the total number of votes required for a lone Rajya Sabha seat from UP. In these circumstances, she would need the support of SP, which has 47 – 11 of them surplus. The Congress also has seven seats. Thus, if all three parties get together, Mayawati would get re-elected to the Upper House.

However. a SP leader, on the condition of anonymity, claimed such talks were “too premature”, and said elections were still far away, and it would be foolish for the media to speculate at this stage.

“The Rajya Sabha elections are almost a year away and no one can predict what the political situation would be at that point of time. It is therefore too premature to say anything on this matter,” he said.

However, the leader said that out of all the candidates, Mayawati remains the strongest, and there is a strong chance of Opposition unity helping her secure a seat next year.

“No claimant is as strong as her, and there is a possibility of her winning the seat without any opposition. We have 11 extra votes, and it is certain that the party would never back a BJP candidate. In these circumstances, if Congress agrees to send Mayawati to Rajya Sabha, other parties opposed to the saffron party may follow suit.”

Congress's view

UP Congress leader Imran Masood also agreed that every effort should be made by other parties to ensure Mayawati's return to the Rajya Sabha.

“She is one of the senior-most leaders in this country, and every effort should be made to send her to the Upper House,” he said.

Welcoming any efforts to ensure her return to the Rajya Sabha, Masood said the Congress should support any decision by the Opposition parties to let her get one more term as Rajya Sabha member. “Opposition unity is the need of the hour, and such an initiative will only strengthen this unity to ensure BJP's defeat in 2019. Mayawatiji joining such a platform would further strengthen us, and help in ensuring the BJP does not return to power in 2019,” the Congress leader said.

Earlier, in an interview to Catch, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh made a strong pitch for Mayawati's return to Rajya Sabha and said: “Out of all the MPs retiring from the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh, if there is anyone who must come (back) to the Rajya Sabha, it is Mayawatiji.”

Even BSP leader Sudhindra Bhadoria had welcomed such an initiative, and told Catch that it is important for the Opposition to come together before 2019. “If they are thinking on these lines, it is good for Parliament and democracy. However, it is too early to comment on this, and we will have to wait before the final decision is made,” Bhadoria said.

Yechury's case

It's not only Mayawati who stands to extend her membership of the Rajya Sabha. The Congress is also mulling extending support to CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, whose term expires in August this year.

In fact, West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury made a strong pitch for extending support to Yechury, and said the state unit has no objections to support Yechury and giving up its claim on the seat. The two parties are allies in the West Bengal Opposition.

However, the CPI(M) follows a two-term policy for its Rajya Sabha MPs, and it would be unprecedented if the party general secretary is given yet another term.

While Yechury said he would not seek re-election after a two-consecutive term, the West Bengal unit of the party is insisting on giving him yet another term, even if it means bringing in an amendment to the party constitution.

A section of the leadership believes that a Yechury re-election would equal flouting the norms, while the other section believes that in case he is not re-elected, it could further bring down the number of party leaders in the Upper House.

The CPI(M) does not have the required numbers to get its candidate elected to the Rajya Sabha, and would need support of the Congress. It is unlikely that the Congress would support any other candidate but Yechury, and it is for this very reason that the party's politburo meeting, held on 2 & 3 June, held great significance.

Larger significance

This bonhomie amongst the Opposition could set the precedent for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which could see bitter enemies joining hands to stop the BJP from returning to power.

This should make the BJP jittery, considering it has managed to benefit from the division of votes along caste and religious lines, especially in UP, which holds the key to Delhi.

First published: 5 June 2017, 20:50 IST