At the weekend, the Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav ‘gathbandhan’ was formally consecrated. The two leaders addressed a joint press conference in Lucknow to reassure the respective cadres, which were, hitherto, at each other’s throats of a mutually gainful electoral tie-up. Thirty-eight Lok Sabha seats, each are to be contested by the two allies while two seats have been left on sheer mercy grounds for the Congress’s mother-and-son duo, and two more for minor groups which might be roped in later.
Clearly, Ajit Singh can lay claim to one in western UP, though he has reason to feel slighted for not having been extended the basic courtesy of an informal consultation and for being completely left out from the formal announcement in Lucknow on Saturday.
Such courtesies have never come easy to either Mayawati or Yadav who are happy harnessing their respective caste bases for amassing illicit wealth. If Mayawati is sitting on an empire of a modest estimate nearly Rs 5,000 crores, Yadav, the son of a former wrestler-cum-intermediate-college-teacher, has announced plans to build a Rs 300 crore hotel in the heart of UP’s capital.
This, when one is supposed to be the messiah of Dalits and the other the champion of the intermediate Yadav caste. Since corruption has hardly ever prevented voters from electing their caste leaders, the relevant question is whether the SP-BSP tie-up will facilitate a straightforward transfer of each other’s votes to the alliance candidates.
Empirical evidence is not clear on this vital question. More often than not such opportunistic and negative partnerships end up inflicting losses on both the allies. For, in a parliamentary poll which has become increasingly presidential, voters no longer elect MPs, they elect a prime minster.
In the present case, neither Mayawati nor Yadav, that is, Bua and Babua, as they have taken to addressing each other to advertise their new-found closeness, is seriously in the quest for prime ministership, while Modi is seeking a second successive term.
That question will weigh as much with her Dalit voters as it would with his Yadav voters as they enter the polling booths, and this might pay put to the dream of the duo for a straightforward aggregation of each party’s votes to make a winning combination.
Yes, the SP-BSP-Congress-RLD tie-up against the BJP did manage to win three Lok Sabha by-elections last year in UP, including the Gorakhpur seat of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. But what was at stake here was not the complexion and character of the central government. Such a protest vote in by-polls is not usual and does not presage the outcome of a parliamentary poll.
In any case, as they say it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Both Mayawati and Yadav face serious corruption cases, and the former is so vulnerable that she has always staked her political position for protecting herself and her family from the clutches of the anti-corruption and anti-money-laundering laws.
The point is that it is early days yet and how the alliance survives against the pulls and pressures from the ruling party remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Lucknow pact, 2019, has administered a clear blow to the Congress’s ambitions of being the potential anchor of an omnibus anti-Modi alliance.
Hopes of a much-ballyhooed Mahagathbandhan were blown to smithereens with Mayawati using choicest epithets to decry the Congress leadership. She recalled how in the last Assembly poll, Yadav had burnt his fingers allying with the Congress while she herself has not forgotten the pain of an alliance with the party in the mid-90s. Even in the aftermath of its good showing in the recent Assembly poll, there are no takers for the Congress in a regional alliance.
How the Congress fares in alliances can also be gauged by the complete rejection of its opportunistic tie-up with the TDP in the recent Telangana Assembly election. In sum, the game of Electioin 2019 has just begun, there will be many alliances and many break-ups, but the voters will pass judgement most discerningly after duly considering the what and how of such gathbandhans and mahagathbandhans in the past which had only inflicted untold pain on the country.