UP polls: Congress-SP alliance likely

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to have simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas is quite understandable. As a person who virtually rules like a US president, he is surely irritated by these frequent tests of democracy in different states. For instance, the loss for the BJP in Bihar state assembly elections did undermine his prime ministerial authority to some extent.

Now within a few months, he has to face another test in Uttar Pradesh. His massive majority 73 seats out of 80 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, stamped his unquestioned authority in the state. But the 405 Vidhan Sabha seats in the country’s most populous state offer a much more fragmented challenge, and the dynamics of the caste equations in the Hindi heartland come into play in a very different form. Naturally, this is a test he would not be required to face if the country had the format of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state Vidhan Sabhas.

But till the time the Prime Minister gets this wish fulfilled he has to reckon with these tests of democracy. He faces this battle not just in UP, but in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa. It may be too early to predict the issues that would be shaping the outcome of these state assembly elections, but it can be said with certainty that his November 8th note ban announcement would be a key factor.

The by-elections and the local body elections that have followed the note ban have mostly resulted in good showing for the BJP, giving the Prime Minister the bragging rights to claim that the people have by and large supported the demonetisation decision, and the opposition has been barking up the wrong tree. Even otherwise, saffron ideologues like S Gurumurthy have been telling us that the Prime Minister has been on an election winning spree since 2014, and he really does not need to take steps like demonetisation with an eye on polls. He has been winning these anyway.

This upbeat sentiment in the BJP notwithstanding, the desire among other opposition parties to work out strategies that would affect the saffron surge in their respective territories cannot be discounted. It is in this context that an alliance between the ruling Samajwadi Party and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh cannot be ruled out; this notwithstanding on the record denials by senior leaders from both the sides.

The political landscape for an SP-Congress tie-up seems quite fertile in Uttar Pradesh at the moment. Whatever be the weaknesses in the respective parties, the fact that an overwhelmingly influential 19 percent Muslim electorate (especially in a four way contest) in the state looks upon this alliance as the only potent force capable of stopping the BJP in the forthcoming elections is the driving force for this political development. The respective parties’ leaders may not be dying to embrace each other, but the realisation that there is no survival if they go their separate paths is pushing them into each other’s arms. In all likelihood, the SP may yield a total 125 seats to alliance partners including the Congress, and the wider Janata gathbandhan. Interestingly, the GenNext on both sides – Rahul-Priyanka and Akhilesh is all for the alliance, and the problems if any are from the older generation. But they would fall in line, before long.

For the Muslim electorate, the other option of going along with the Mayawati-led BSP is not very attractive. There are two reasons for this situation. The BSP leader would always consider them as second class citizens in her compact, as her first preference is for her solid impregnable dalit 22 percent vote base. The second reason is more potent than the first. In the likelihood of a hung assembly, she would not mind stitching an alliance with the BJP for the sake of becoming the chief minister of state once again. Even for Prime Minister Modi, it would be better to have a BJP supported Mayawati ruling the state, if he cannot get a BJP man to be the chief minister.

In so far as the note ban issue is concerned the impact on the elections would depend on the pain that is being suffered by the people on the polling day. If the experience of the weeks since November 8th is any guide there is no reason for the people to vote for the BJP purely on the basis of the pain that is suffered by the bulk of the population that has nothing to do with the issue of black money. The people may have supported the main idea to fight black money as a matter of principle, but this does not negate the pain in their daily lives.

It is not as if the BJP/RSS leaders are unaware of the possibility of the note ban decision hurting the party’s prospects in the state elections. There have been reports about the adverse feedback from RSS affiliates in Uttar Pradesh, and even the members of parliament from the state have conveyed that the initial warmth for the demonetisation decision has faded as the cash crunch continues to hit the people.

By the time, these states go to polls there would be almost an avalanche data on the demonetisation and we would have a definite idea of how much of the banned currency does not return into the banking system. The verdict on demonetisation as a tool to unearth black money would be out in the public domain. It would no longer be a slanging match between the government and the opposition.

Moreover, the 50-day period sought for ‘pain’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi would also be over. If the cash restrictions still continue, then there would be another set of problems. Any extension of this period would strain the Prime Minister’s credibility. To that extent it shall add to the rhetorical power of the Congress-SP alliance which would have taken shape by then.

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