We still don’t know when the elections for next Lok Sabha will be conducted, however, political winds have started blowing and soon the winds would take the shape of hurricane. Even as Andhra Pradesh political strongman Chandrababu Naidu has posed a serious challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP Government in the Centre, in Uttar Pradesh, young Yadav Akhilesh has signaled that winds in the largest state have already changed their direction. The pointer is that he has left his erstwhile ally Rahul Gandhi nursing his wounds and is now contemplating to work with Mayavati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to take on the BJP. Mayavati and Akhilesh were arch rivals till the last State Assembly elections in which Akhilesh lost the seat of power to Yogi Adityanath.
Break up of Congress-Samajwadi Party Alliance is not a mere coincidence, but the beginning of a new process. It means for Akhilesh, the Congress now led by Rahul is not a force to reckon with, instead Mayavati has the strength to tilt the balance. The Congress had lost badly in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and had failed to recover in the last year’s State Assembly polls.
Akhilesh refuses Rahul’s offer
Rahul had asked Akhilesh Yadav to jointly contest this Sunday’s by-elections in Uttar Pradesh’s Phulpur and Gorakhpur. Gandhi suggested Yadav to pick whichever seat he thought was more winnable and leave the other for the Congress. Akhilesh was not amenable. He eliminated the Congress from his calculations and used all his persuasive powers to draw Mayawati into a limited alliance against the all-conquering BJP for the two seats, which are being seen as a dry run for the epic battle for Uttar Pradesh’s 80 Lok Sabha seats in general election. Perhaps, the BJP’s conquest of the North-East nudged both Akhilesh and Mayawati into a reality check: that they would have to bury the animosity of 23 years — the last time the two parties allied and formed the government in UP in 1993 — or risk political oblivion as the charisma of Modi and Yogi currently being projected by the party as a pan Indian “Hindutva” icons to continue.
The calculations are interesting and mind blowing. The BJP in the state election held last year has appropriated large parts of the Yadav vote. Mayawati finds herself in a similar predicament — even if her assured Jatav vote bank has been shifting loyalties. The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) data shows that the BSP’s Dalit support base went down by about 23 percent in 2014 and has not recovered since then. Mayawati also witnessed a 16 percent decline in her core Jatav support base in 2014. Her losses were the BJP’s gain. The BJP has morphed from being considered a largely upper caste party in UP to being a magnet for all castes. The RSS and Modi have steadily tried to co-opt Dr B R Ambedkar into the RSS pantheon and this has paid dividends among Dalit voters. Separately, the upper castes are thrilled that Adityanath, a Thakur, is the chief minister.
Cracks developed in BSP
Cracks of being out of power are showing in a steady strain of defections from Mayavati’s party after failing miserably in 2014 and the Assembly elections. Mayawati was characteristically blunt while announcing the tie-up with Akhilesh, describing the strategy as “ek haath le, doosre haath de”. The experiment hopes to move her voters towards Yadav Junior who calls her “bua” (aunt) for the by-elections; in return, he will help her win one of the 10 Rajya Sabha seats that will be decided later this month (the BJP is certain to win eight). The idea is to see if this arrangement can be expanded into a much more aggressive alliance for the general election. Mayawati has also managed to get the Congress to support her Rajya Sabha candidate in exchange for supporting the Congress’ choice in Madhya Pradesh for the Upper House.
The Congress has also refused to withdraw its candidates in the two by-elections after Akhilesh spurned the offer to take one seat and leave the other to the Congress. But, the Congress is in no position to call the shots. It needs to act as a catalyst of a grand UP alliance to take on the BJP, similar to what the opposition managed to achieve in Bihar when Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav came together in 2015 in a “Maha-gathbandhan” brokered by the Congress. The BJP was defeated. If the SP and BSP succeed in winning Phulpur, then the alliance will look urgent and attractive and will also ensure that the Congress plays the ball. It means, it is the Phulpur result which will indicate what is next for the most politically strategic state in the country.
There are many developments taking place at Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra level also. Soon we will discuss the issues facing the BJP in these states also as it would be regional parties those would decide the fate of the national politics in the coming years.
The author is a political analyst and former, Member of Parliament (RS).