Will Mayawati ally with SP if Uttar Pradesh voters return a hung assembly?
On the eve of the results to the five assembly elections, all political parties are confident of victory. Not that one would expect them to claim otherwise.
“We will get around 188 seats in the worst case scenario,” a spokesperson for the Samajwadi Party claims. Another party strategist claims the SP-Congress alliance will get a over 34% of the vote compared to the BJP's 31.5%.
“There is no question of an alliance as of now. We are looking forward to form the government,” says a BSP leader.
The BJP, too, is “looking forward to getting a majority”, the first time since 1991, when Kalyan Singh led the saffron party past the majority mark in the turbulent, polarised background of the Ram Mandir movement.
The exit poll predictions that the BJP would be the single largest party in Uttar Pradesh has thrown open the possibility of arch rivals SP and BSP joining hands. All through the campaign, Akhilesh Yadav called Mayawati ‘bua’ but constantly attacked her ‘Pathar ki Sarkar’. Mayawati, on her part, referred to the chief minister as ‘Babua’. “Just as Mulayam Singh Yadav (a former defence minister of India) speaks of China at any given opportunity, his babua has nothing to tell people except for Patharwali sarkar,” she told the media recently, chiding Akhilesh.
Although the SP-Congress-BSP alliance is still in the realm of speculation – the result is still to come, after all – Akhilesh has indicated his openness to the idea. He is well aware, of course, that if it can't win on its own, the BJP would seek to impose President’s Rule in order to govern the state by proxy, and then take another shot at power in a fresh election. “If need be, no one wants President's Rule in the state, or that the BJP should run the state with a remote control,” Akhilesh is reported to have told the BBC.
This is not the first time the SP has reached out to the BSP. In the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary election, Mulayam Singh had made overtures to its rival.
The last, and only time, the SP and the BSP came together was in 1993, when they stitched a pre-poll alliance. Then, too, it was to stall the rise of the BJP, in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. The Hindutva party had emerged as a serious contender in UP, winning 221 seats in the assembly election of 1991 and 177 in 1993.
The SP-BSP government did not last long, however, ending with a horrific episode of SP members attacking Mayawati at a guest house the day after she announced the withdraw of support. The 1993 election, though, was the start of the BJP’s decline in the country’s largest state, and electorally most significant. The party struggled to get anywhere near the majority mark in any subsequent assembly election.
That seemed to change in 2014, when the BJP won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state. As much as the victory was spectacular for the BJP, it was shocking for the Congress, SP, BSP as well as smaller outfits like the RLD.
Faced with a resurgent BJP, this election was essentially a matter of survival for the SP and the BSP. If the result doesn't go either of their way, would they be forced into an alliance? “Yes, if the SP decides to cede ground and say it is ready to make Mayawati the chief minister,” says a politician who has closely worked with the BSP chief in the past.
The exit polls predict fewer than 100 seats for the BSP. If that is indeed the case, Mayawati will have a tough time keeping her flock together. Not least because a section of her support base, especially among the Dalits, had gone with the BJP in 2014. They appeared to have thrown their lot back with her, as a Jatav voter in Chitrakoot told this reporter, “We want the BSP to come back to power. It is been five years of the Yadav government”. If it doesn't, then what? Will her legislators desert her in search of power?
“She is indeed in trickier situation than the SP, which just completed a full term,” says an political analyst who did not want to be named. “She will be out of power for ten years if she is not a part of the next government.”
The BSP could suffer defections, especially if it comes a poor third and the SP-Congress combine or the BJP require only a few MLAs to cross the 203 mark. The BJP has already poached, in the run-up to the election, one big name BSP leader, Swami Prasad Maurya. The saffron party had formed a government in the state in the 1990s by engineering defections in the BSP and the Congress.
Now to another important question: if the BSP emerges as the kingmaker in a hung assembly which party would it ally with, if any at all?
As things stand, it would be reluctant to go with the BJP, for fear that the Hindutva party could use the alliance to wean away its core support base of the Dalits as it the managed in 2014. In fact, it was for precisely this reason that the RLD, which enjoys loyal support among the Jats of western UP, did not ally with the BJP.
Moreover, Mayawati fielded over 100 Muslim candidates in this election. “Most of them are young. Being a part of a coalition government with the BJP doesn’t bode well for their careers,” an analyst explains. Indeed, a survey of 2,600 Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, conducted recently by Crowdnewsing, showed that 92% of them would prefer the BSP to ally with the SP-Congress combine. Going against this sentiment would be detrimental to the party's project of stitching up a Muslim-Dalit alliance.
That, of course, leaves only the SP-Congress combine to go with. “SP and BSP are natural allies,” an SP MP says. But won't that lead to tension given that the Yadavs and the Dalits, the core constituencies of the SP and the BSP, respectively, are competing communities? “This division has been created by the leadership. If the leadership decides to come together, these equations will also change rapidly on the ground,” the MP claims.
The analysts says, “The prospect of losing their support bases would only weigh on their minds closer to the next election. For now, it will be just for immediate political compulsions.”
The biggest hurdle in this prospective alliance, it appears, is that Mayawati hasn't forgiven the SP for the 1995 attack on her. She said as much in 2014, when RJD chief Lalu Yadav proposed that the BSP and the SP come together. The SP camp, though, insists otherwise. “The guest house episode is in the past,” one SP leader claims, adding by way of an explanation. “Mayawati has had people like Ambika Chaudhary, Atiq Ahmed in her party. They were also involved in that episode. And the chief minister hasn’t done anything which would make her feel that she is being targeted. It has been a very cordial relationship.”
So, could the SP and BSP really become allies? “After all, it's politics,” says the analyst. “Who thought RJD and JD(U) would come together in Bihar, or the Congress and the Left in Bengal?”