The public display of bonhomie between Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati after decades of animosity and bad blood reflects what an irresistible elixir political power can be. Until Akhilesh’s father and SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati shared the dais in Mainpuri after 24 years of acrimony on Friday there was open hostility between the two Uttar Pradesh regional leaders, but thanks to Akhilesh who pandered to the weakness of the two bigwigs to try to get a taste of the power tonic again, both Mulayam and Mayawati were singing paeans to each other in full public view.
The trigger for the acrimony — the infamous guest house incident in Lucknow when Mayawati was under siege of Mulayam’s goons at a government guest house while the latter was in the saddle was brushed aside as inconsequential by both now with Mayawati describing the patch-up as being guided by ‘national interest.’ Mulayam gave a fervent call to his supporters to “always respect Mayawati ji” while Mayawati called Mulayam a “real leader of the backwards.”
The provocation for the SP-BSP reconciliation has been the BJP’s steamroller win in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in the State when Mayawati could not win a single seat while Mulayam was mauled a trifle less comprehensively. The two parties used the byelections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur Assembly as a testing ground and Mayawati shrewdly did not put up her candidates in both these, deciding instead to support SP nominees.
With the BJP running riot, the two parties reckoned that the only way the Modi juggernaut could be stopped was if they sunk their differences and decided to swim together. It goes to the credit of both Akhilesh and Mayawati that since they entered into this marriage of convenience, they have not looked back. Of course it did help matters that real power within SP had passed to the new generation (Mulayam’s son Akhilesh) but it was no less an achievement that the two leaders were able to contain dissidence within their parties to the extent that any murmurs of discontent were buried under the carpet.
To BJP leaders who were waiting to drive a wedge between Akhilesh and Mayawati to gain political advantage, the sustained workable relations between the respective leaders has been a major dampener. Today, with the two parties on the same footing, the challenge for the BJP is ever so great. But while in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the transfer of votes from the BSP to the SP was manifest, there is a question mark over whether the SP votes would transfer to the BSP alliance candidates in equal measure.
The SP-BSP relationship has not come under strain on issues with both Mayawati and Akhilesh showing due maturity in accommodating each other’s standpoint. The felicity with which Akhilesh dropped his preference to accommodate the Congress in a proposed mahagathbandhan on a nudge from Mayawati was revealing. The seat-sharing talks between the SP and the BSP was a smooth affair.
The Congress would surely have demanded a generous slice of the cake and that would have led to some acrimony within the mahagathbandhan. By keeping the Congress out, offering it a mere two seats which the Congress was bound to reject, the SP-BSP alliance was able to ward off an ugly situation.
As things stand, the Congress has been left high and dry and poses no challenge to the gathbandhan. All would now depend on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vote pulling capacity which will be under severe test. All in all, an interesting contest is well on the cards.
Apart from Uttar Pradesh, the only other state where mutual distrust between the two principal parties had touched astronomical proportions was Tamil Nadu where the bad blood between DMK kingpin Karunanidhi and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa was legendary.
With both these towering leaders having passed away, the two parties are no longer at each other’s throat while they continue to be political rivals. What the future holds in store is an enigma. While in UP the alliance could well hold, in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK it is severely dented by the absence of Jayalalithaa.