The coming together of the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj party in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh having the maximum number of 80 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha can prove to be a vital game changer in the general elections barely a hundred days away. The significance of the two parties joining hands for the first time on their home turf cannot be undermined though the BJP sent them on a leather hunt five years back in 2014.
The SP and the BSP had been decimated three years later in the 2017 UP Assembly elections, winning just 47 and 19 seats respectively. The BJP recorded a stunning victory with 312 seats which was more than three fourths majority in the 403-member House. After that the BJP suffered a spate of defeats in the bye-elections to both the Lok Sabha and the various assemblies. This included Gorakhpur, the stronghold of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, which he represented in the Lok Sabha. Interestingly, the combined vote share of the SP and the BSP amounted to 44 per cent which was more than the BJP’s 40 per cent.
There are serious doubts about the BJP being able to repeat its performance in the last general elections, particularly in UP, when it bagged 71 seats on its own. With two seats of its ally, the Apna Dal, it had an enviable tally of 73 out of the 80 seats. While the SP won five seats and the Congress two, the BSP failed to open its account. This is the first time in more than two decades there is growing realisation in the SP and BSP that coming together and pooling their resources can be the best way to keep the BJP at bay. Mayawati has been out of power for six years in UP and facing a shrinking footprint in the rest of the country.
The arithmetic being put forth is indeed appealing. Analysing the data of the assembly elections held two years back in UP, the BJP can lose at least 50 Lok Sabha seats in UP should the votes of SP and BSP get combined. This can boost the combined strength of the two regional satraps to 57 out of the 80 seats with the BJP losing a whopping 48 seats of the 71 it had won the last time. For now, the ‘ekta’ or unity appears to be paramount. With the Modi regime steadily losing its sheen, Akhilesh Yadav of the SP and BSP supremo Mayawati appear confident in seeing the back of the BJP, particularly Modi as the Head of Government enconsed in South Block on the majestic Raisina Hill in the national capital.
These developments have raised the expectations of a combined opposition putting up a challenge in the Hindi heartland including Bihar where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) and the BJP are back in power. After the recent setback in the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the Lotus party will have to do much more than think out of the box to retain its vice like grip in the Hindi belt. The latest outcome in the Hindi belt can well be a dampener for the saffron brigade which propelled the party in securing a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha for the first time five years back.
Along with its allies, the NDA crossed the rubicon of 300 finishing with a comfortable tally of no less than 340 seats in the House of the People. Needless to say, the Modi government can also face the ire of many of its alliance partners for its high handed attitude as evidenced with the Shiv Sena and, to some extent, the Shiromani Akali Dal. Earlier on Monday, the AGP walked out of the alliance with the BJP in Assam on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 as it posed a threat to the state. The Telugu Desam party of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu has already severed all ties with the NDA accusing the Modi government of reneging on its pledge of financial assistance in the construction of its new state capital — Amravati.
Compounding matters for the Modi government is the threat by the religious leaders at the pilgrim centre in Ayodhya to start an agitation if a decision on the construction of the much delayed Ram Temple is not taken by January 25. This is increasingly becoming an emotive issue even though the Prime Minister has counselled for patience in awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court on the issue before the Centre steps in. As the main campaigner for the BJP, Modi has already begun his campaign last week starting from Congress ruled Punjab, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s BJD ruled Odisha and Jharkhand where his party is at the helm of affairs.
Continuing to remain at the top of the popularity charts, Modi has found it necessary to list his government’s multi-faceted achievements in the wake of a multitude of pledges remaining unfulfilled while launching a frontal attack against the Congress for peddling lies.
T R Ramachandram is a senior journalist and commentator.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)