Lucknow: After successful electoral outings in three states, even as the Congress is on the upswing as it braces to take down the Narenda Modi government at the centre in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the two other key players - the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) - are busy rethinking their prospective grand alliance with the Grand Old Party, at least in UP.
In May, flash bulbs popped with maddening frenzy as opposition leaders converged at Bengaluru at H.D. Kumarswamy's swearing-in as the Karnataka Chief Minister. However, the buzz was missing at the oath-taking cerremonies in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh earlier this week as both the regional satraps from Uttar Pradesh - Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati skipped the events.
This, despite the fact that both BSP and SP extended their support in government formation in MP. What is both interesting and intriguing is that the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) also skipped the ceremonies despite Ajit Singh's sole legislator helping the Congress get a majority in Rajasthan.
While many reasons are being floated for their absence, from sprain in the leg to delayed flights, insiders here say there is more than meets the eye in the absence. Sources in the opposition camp say that with a "common minority vote bank at stake", the SP and BSP both are "uncomfortable with the prospect of coming together with the Congress, which might eat into the Muslim votes".
A senior BSP leader told IANS that while the rivalry with the SP was a "thing of the past" and that both parties had "almost arrived at a seat-sharing formula for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the chances of Congress being on board were almost negligible. The problem, he pointed, out was the possibility of UP's Muslims changing track to the erstwhile weak and lost Congress in Muslim-majority parliamentary constituencies as they feel it is a better option in national elections.
A reliable source said that 'Behen ji' (Mayawati) had offered 40 seats to SP and would contest an equal number of UP's 80 Lok Sabha seats. The Dalit powerhouse had made it clear to SP chief Akhilesh Yadav that if he thought Congress should be on board, he would have to cede seats from his quota to both the Congress and the RLD.
With the Congress now making a string comeback in the Hindi heartland, the SP-BSP leaders are jittery about a vote transfer of Muslims to the Grand Old Party, a development that could cost them dearly in the general elections.
The BJP had won 73 seats along with its ally Apna Dal in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. With the support of the backward classes and the Jats, it had swept western UP. A Similar voting trend was seen in the 2017 state assembly polls. It has been an accepted norm for some years now that the RLD and the BJP have the Jat vote bank, Mayawati draws the Dalit votes and the Muslims go to the Congress, the BSP and the SP.
There are 35 seats in Uttar Pradesh where Muslims, who constitute 19 per cent of the state's 22 crore-plus population, play a crucial role. The Muslim voter population is more than 30 per cent in 13 Lok Sabha constituencies. It is more than 40 per cent In constituencies like Moradabad, Bijnore, Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur and between 30-40 per cent in Kairana, Baghpat, Meerut. Ghaziabad has 25 per cent Muslim voters, while Nagina and Bareilly also have sizeable Muslim voters as do Sambhal and Rampur.
This vote could in 2019 till in favour of the Congress, the original preference of the Muslims, but the party had, in the past 10 years, lost out to the BSP and the SP.
A senior leader pointed out that RLD, which fought the election with Congress in Rajasthan and even won a seat from Bharatpur, is leaning towards the BSP-SP combine, which it feels, could not only prevent a split votes in western UP, its pocket borough, but will also get its vote bank transferred to it where the RLD contests.
While Congress leaders in the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) were initially clamouring for a space in the proposed 'Maha Gathbandhan' in the state, it now appears to be on a trip of its own. The recent wins in the state assembly elections has pumped in enough adrenalin in the Congress camp for its leaders to say it was "not dying to be in the grand alliance".
"We want a respectable seat share or else we, under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi will fight on our own," a veteran Congress leader said while pointing out that in the 2009 general elections, the Congress beat doomsday sayers and won 20 plus seats.
Whatever be the case, the prospects of the grand alliance seem to be getting bleaker with every passing day.