The SP-BSP alliance sans Congress puts pressure on the BJP

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 16, 2019 11:37 hrs
Mayawati and Akhilesh

As preparations are underway for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the political manoeuvring has begun. This time, prior foes have come together to form an alliance that they hope will help in defeating the BJP. Mayawati’s BSP and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) have formed an alliance without the Congress.

A nearly 25-year-old bitter rivalry seemingly came to an end as the two parties announced they are joining forces. Mayawati, in announcing the tie-up referenced the time period and said she was read to rise above. The rising above was in reference to the 1995 guest house scandal. Two years after the UP government under the BSP-SP alliance took over in 1993, it collapsed. Mayawati withdrew her support and joined hands with the BJP. In June of 1995, SP workers attacked Mayawati at a guest house where she was conducting a meeting with party workers.

The BSP had secured a majority in the Uttar Pradesh assembly in 2007 and Mayawati became the Chief Minister. In 2012, it was the SP’s turn and Akhilesh Yadav was elected the Chief Minister. Last year, the BJP, after a 15-year wait secured a majority and Adityanath now at the helm.

It was less than a year ago that Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi shared a stage with Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav at the swearing in of Karnataka Chief Minister Kumarswamy. This looked at the time like the face of what Modi and the BJP would be up against in 2019. Things didn’t exactly turn out as they seem given the newly formed alliance sans Congress.

In 2017, Yadav allied with the Congress and the BJP secured a victory. Senior journalist B.R.P Bhaskar, in a column for The Wire, writes on why this alliance between the BSP and SP is a game changer for the upcoming elections –

Apart from some symbolic acts, there has so far been no concrete step to forge opposition unity ahead of the 2019 elections. Both BSP and SP are parties which have been trying to make a mark in other states. As parties which grew in opposition to the Congress, SP and BSP have a long anti-Congress tradition.

As far as the Congress is concerned, they will go at it alone in the state. Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi didn’t seem to bothered by the developments. At an event in Dubai, he said in part, “I have tremendous respect for the leaders of the BSP and Samajwadi Party and recognise that they have the right to do what they want.” The party will contest all 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. If they did want to form an alliance, it could be too little to late. The newly formed Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party-Lohia by Akhilesh’s uncle and former SP leader Shivpal Yadav isn’t considered a threat.

Electorally, the Congress hasn’t been faring well in the state. The SP – BSP alliance minus the Congress means the latter will lose out on a significant chunk of the vote share. In the 2012 assembly elections, it got 11.6% of the vote while in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, that number went down to 7.5%, and it further went down to 6% in 2017. For the BSP, the trajectory has been the opposite. Most recently, the party secured 22% in 2017, an increase from its 19% in 2014.

If you take the newly formed alliance as a collective, their vote share in 2014 was 42.1%; this was marginally below the BJP’s 42.6%. The alliance does have the fire power to deal a huge blow to the BJP in the state which could have an impact in other states. Given the numbers and electoral prospects, the Hindustan Times editorial states that the BJP has its work cut out for them in the state –

The alliance could unite three powerful social groups — Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims — on one side. To offset Narendra Modi’s presidential style campaign, the SP-BSP alliance will need to tell UP’s electorate a better story of why voting for it will lead to a better government in Delhi. BJP will need to consolidate all other Hindu social groups behind it to be in the reckoning. That is a tall order.

The BJP, on the other hand remains defiant and confident of victory in the state. Several BJP leaders have predicted that the alliance is doomed to fail. Rajnath Singh, reminding them of the results of the last elections there said in part, “Have they forgotten what happened in 2017 elections? They can form as many alliances as they want, but BJP will not win less than 72 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh.” The Chief Minister himself was confident in victory. Yogi Adityanath said, “This alliance will have no impact on the politics of the state. It is good that both these parties have come together. It will help us to effectively wipe them off.”

The onus is on the BJP as they are the ones playing defence. Will there be anti-incumbency in the state or can the Modi wave carry the party forward. For the Congress, it seems they have more of a supporting role. While contesting all seats in the state, they have an uphill task given their recent performances.

More columns by Varun Sukumar