The pre-poll alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh is a moment bristling with possibilities and challenges. It can be located in a sequence that began with the defeat of the ruling BJP in the bypolls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in UP last year in March.
The humbling was especially bitter for the BJP and the taste of victory particularly sweet for BSP chief Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. They had joined forces because it happened in the constituencies of the incumbent chief minister and his deputy.
The trouncing of the BJP in the recent Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, this time by the Congress, has further chipped away at the veneer of invincibility that the BJP has so aggressively cultivated since its sweep in 2014. In this backdrop, the pre-poll pact between two long-standing rivals in the politically critical state presents a real challenge to the BJP that bagged 73 of 80 seats in 2014.
But this is only half the story. The other half goes back to 1993 when the SP and BSP first came together to defeat the BJP. Theoretically, the experiment of backward caste and Dalit consolidation should have started a new phase of low-caste combination.
But the seemingly natural alliance collapsed in June 1995 after the infamous “guest house incident” that Mayawati mentioned at least twice in the joint press conference she held with Akhilesh in Lucknow. It has only become more challenging to resurrect backward caste-Dalit solidarity since then. In fact, till the recent past, Mayawati allied with both the BJP and the Congress in her quest for power and to keep the SP away.
This time, the BSP chief has insisted that the Congress should be kept out, leaving only the two seats represented by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi uncontested by the new combine. She claims to be peeved that the Congress did not invite her to join hands in its quest to regain power in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Whatever the implications of the alliance for the BJP’s prospects in UP, the BSP is now unlikely to join hands with the Congress, but can act as a spoiler, limiting its ability to transplant the recent Assembly elections into 2019 battle for Lok Sabha.
Moreover, the SP-BSP tie in UP could set an example for other regional satraps. In Talangana, TRS supremo K Chandrashekar Rao has shown that this can be done successfully. In West Bengal and Odisha, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik, respectively, can be tempted to keep the Congress away. This will ensure one thing. Even if the BJP and its allies fail to get a majority in the new Lok Sabha, the Congress will not have a decisive government formation after 2019.