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Is a BSP-Congress-RLD Grand Alliance emerging in UP?

Panini Anand | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 9:06 IST

The speculation

  • After the Grand Alliance\'s success in Bihar, there are rumours of a similar coalition in UP
  • Even though SP has asked for an alliance, it is the BSP and Congress which are negotiating

The prospects

  • A BSP-Congress-RLD alliance can decimate SP and give BJP a run for its money
  • It might lead to consolidation of Dalits and Muslims

More in the story

  • Who are the interlocutors? What could be the seat distribution?
  • Why are Mayawati and Congress considering an alliance?

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav recently suggested that there could be a Bihar style Grand Alliance to take on the BJP in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections.

It is strange that Yadav should make such a suggestion considering his party deserted the anti-BJP Grand Alliance in Bihar after joining it initially. But that is beside the point.

The important news is that a Grand Alliance might be emerging in UP, but it doesn't have the Samajwadi Party. The key players are Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress and Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal. If the alliance materialises, it could give the BJP a run for its money.

READ: Why has Uttar Pradesh become a communal tinderbox?

According to sources, BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra and Congress strategist Ahmed Patel met just before Diwali, to discuss the possibilities of an alliance in Uttar Pradesh. Apparently, the BSP is unwilling to contest on less than 300 seats. Congress wants Mayawati's party to settle for 250. They might have to settle for about 270-280 seats for the BSP, with the rest going to the Congress and the RLD.

Mayawati wants to contest a large number of seats so that her party can be in a position to secure a majority on its own in the 403 member Assembly.

Ajit Singh has denied any such alliance. "There is no plan to ally with the BSP in the Assembly elections," he had said recently. But sources indicate that the Congress will be able to bring him on board.

It appears that both the Congress and the BSP want to keep this matter under wraps until they reach a concrete agreement.

A senior leader in the BSP says, "wait for the right time. I am neither denying nor accepting what you've said about the alliance".

Political compulsions

Despite the Bihar debacle, the BJP is still the party to beat in UP. It's performance in the Lok Sabha elections was phenomenal as it won 73 out of 80 seats and got 43% of the votes. BSP was reduced to zero and the Congress and SP could win only in their family bastions.

With the communal polarisation being far more successful in UP than in Bihar, the BJP still has the upper hand in the state.

Like Lalu Prasad in Bihar, the Assembly elections in UP are a matter of survival for Mayawati. The BSP's vote share has been on a decline nationally and she needs to win UP at all costs. With the BJP threatening to emerge as the main opposition to the SP as well as a claimant for the Dalit vote, Mayawati will have do something different.

Congress and BSP want to keep this matter under wraps until they reach a concrete agreement

Even though it has been the BSP's policy to not go for a pre-poll alliance, desperation might drive the party to align with the Congress.

As far as the Congress is concerned, it lost its best chance to stage a comeback in UP in 2012. The party was in power at the Centre and its leader Rahul Gandhi had devoted considerable time and energy in UP. Yet the party could win only 28 seats.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it's performance was dismal to say the least as it won only in the 2 Gandhi family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli. In most of the other seats, the party failed to even win more than 10% of the total votes. The party would realise sooner rather than later that it will reach nowhere by going it alone

For Ajit Singh, it's a question of staying relevant. The communal polarisation following the Muzaffarnagar riots destroyed the Jat-Muslim combination that helped him hold sway in Western UP. The RLD was decimated in the Lok Sabha elections and both Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary lost by huge margins.

Vote shares

The UP assembly has 403 seats. In the 2012 Assembly elections, SP got 29.15 % votes and won a clear majority with 224 seats. The BSP got only 4% less votes than the SP but landed up with less than half the number of seats.

The Congress alone got 11.6 % of the votes and won 28 seats. If the BSP and the Congress retain their 2012 vote shares and transfer votes effectively, it would be a smooth victory

The parties didn't fare as well in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which UP witnessed a Modi wave. The BSP won 19.77% of the vote and the Congress got 7.53%. The RLD got 0.86% of the votes but the party contested only 8 seats.

ALSO READ: 5 reasons why the Congress is in a shambles in Uttar Pradesh

The combined vote share of the 3 parties comes out to be 28%, which is much less than the BJP's vote share of 43%. However, it is comfortably ahead of the SP's vote share of 22.35%.

Despite the Modi wave, there are 4 Lok Sabha seats in which the combined vote share of the BSP and the Congress exceeded that of the BJP: Saharanpur, Kheri, Dhaurahra and Kushi Nagar. With the wave receding, the impact of such an alliance would be much greater.

Caste arithmetic

The alliance would work particularly well in Western UP because the RLD votes would also get added to the alliance. Of course, the RLD's Jat votebank has partly shifted to the BJP. But that might change if the alliance is able to present itself as a winnable alternative.

However, just as strength of the Grand Alliance in Bihar stemmed from Muslims, Yadavs and Kurmis, the backbone of the proposed alliance in UP would be two communities: Dalits and Muslims.

Despite the BJP's efforts to wean Dalits away from the BSP, Mayawati's party still remains a force to reckon with, a fact that she effectively established during the recent Panchayat elections in the state.

The most important result of a BSP-Congress-RLD alliance would be a consolidation of Muslim votes

Dalits account for 22% of UP's population. Even if the BJP was able to make inroads into the BSP's votebank during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Vidhan Sabha elections would be a very different ball game. Mayawati is still the tallest Dalit leader in the country. BSP strategists believe that the prospect of her return as the CM will make the community rally behind her.

Besides Dalits, the BSP has consistently won support from non-Yadav OBC castes like Maurya, Shakya, Kushwaha, Shaini and Rajbhar. The party also garners a few votes from Patels, Vermas and Gangwars.

Among the Upper Castes, Brahmins have rallied behind the Congress and the BSP at different points of time. They account for 8% of the electorate and are seen as a BJP votebank. Since the voting behaviour of the Brahmin community has often been dependent on the winnability of a candidate rather than party loyalty, a BSP-Congress-RLD alliance might win some support from the community.

The state also has more than 6% Kurmi and Koeri votes. If Bihar chief minister and Kurmi leader Nitish Kumar campaigns for this alliance, it may win a chunk of these votes as well.

Muslim consolidation

The most important consequence of a BSP-Congress-RLD alliance would be a consolidation of Muslim votes. Muslims account for 18.5% of the population in UP.

This might not be as comprehensive as the consolidation that took place behind the Grand Alliance in Bihar as the SP might still retain some Muslim votes.

But there seems to be a sense among sections of the community that the SP needs to be taught a lesson, especially given how it failed to contain the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and prevent attacks on Muslims such as the Dadri lynching.

It is clear that Mulayam Singh Yadav has lost the credibility among Muslims that he had won when he took strict action against karsewaks in 1990.

And given the general anti-incumbency against the Akhilesh government, Muslims would see a Congress-BSP-RLD alliance as the best way to keep the BJP away.

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First published: 17 November 2015, 9:11 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.