The Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) tie-up may have come as a public put-downer to the Congress- looking to forge a pan-India ‘Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance)’ against the BJP. But a deeper look at the ‘tactical’ thinking of the alliance in politically critical Uttar Pradesh suggests a deliberate and well thought-out strategy for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.Why have Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati decided to stick together, leaving the Congress out of the formation despite the latter’ recent electoral showing in Hindi belt states?
Some may say Mayawati’s ire over Congress not tying up with the BSP electorally in the central Indian states could be one reason, and perhaps, ‘retaliation’ of some kind. But to seal the alliance, closing the door on the Congress shows that beyond the turf war, there is the calculation of the SP-BSP combined vote share of close to 43 per cent — equal to what the BJP commanded with the Apna Dal in 2014 being adequate in 2019 and the gambit, that by forcing a Congress-led third front, the SP-BSP could gain from shearing of upper caste votes from the BJP, leaving themselves ultimate gainers.
Outwardly and publicly the SP-BSP combine has claimed that the Congress demand of at least 22 out of the 80 seats was ‘difficult to spare’ in the face of continuously dwindling Congress vote shares over the last three decades. The Congress stood decimated with just two seats in the 2014 LS polls as against the 22 it won in 2009. In the 2017 UP Assembly elections, it shrunk to a new low of just 7 seats as against the 28 seats it won in 2012.
The broader understanding on seat sharing of 38 seats each to SP and BSP, leaving 2 each to the Congress and the RLD, while leaving the burden on SP to spare some for potential partners like Apna Dal,was based on the 2014 LS results, the allies claim. Insiders say the haggling for seats by allies was high pitched and, protracted with both claiming the seats of 2014 where they came in second. By this formula, while the BSP had been placed number two on 34 seats and SP on 31, the Congress could claim no more than 6 while winning two — Rae Bareli and Amethi —which have been ‘spared’.
“We were demanding such seats which we had won in 2009. In fact, in 2014, no party could withstand the Modi wave and BSP was decimated. We were even ready to settle for 15-16 seats, but they were not prepared,” said a Congress leader.If the Congress is upset, it is not showing as much beyond Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s terse “ History would judge them for not coming together on one platform to fight a common enemy”, though the thinking within is that, “On the back of recent successes in central India, UP in 2019 could be another turf for Congress to recreate more magic-if not wholly so”.
Both the SP and the BSP strongly feel that seats to the Congress would have been a waste. For, in 2014, results demonstrated that even on the 22 seats it won in 2009, the Congress came a distant 5th on 3 seats, 4th on 11 seats, 3rd on 2 of them and 2nd on 6. “Sparing those seats would have weakened the alliance to the extent of losing collective impact”, accepted a BJP leader.
The bigger worry, however, to the SP-BSP combine was their respective experience of a tie-up with Congress and the latter’s inability to transfer its vote to allies. SP, which tied up with the Congress for the 2017 Assembly polls, did not witness any Congress vote accruals on seats it fought as a partner, while even traditionally Congress votes shifted to the BJP.
Despite a high-octane campaign slogan: ‘UP ko yeh Saath pasand hai (UP likes this alliance)’, SP suffered severe reverses and slid to 47 seats from 221 seats it had won in 2012 — buried in the Saffron tidal wave. BSP’s own experience with the Congress has been no different as was demonstrated in the 1996 Assembly elections.Many SP-BSP insiders however believe, keeping the Congress out for 2019 is not entirely over grouses or shared experience, but part of a calculated, conscious strategy. “There is no tit-for tat here. “It’s sheer maths and its practical. The Congress going alone without the OBC, BC and SC core of the SP-BSP for support, might present itself as a more attractive package to upper castes and keep them away from swinging to the BJP”, said a SP legislator.
Interestingly, Akhilesh is believed to have conveyed to the Congress leaders that it would be in the interest of the “secular forces,” if the party contested on its own.How far the proposed 10% quota for the poor among upper castes would help the BJP mollify the dominant upper castes which had openly shown their resentment against state governments during the recent elections in three states, is not certain.
But it is widely believed in both SP and BSP top circles, that a Congress ‘outside the alliance’ would be a better servant of the secular cause and placed better to cash in on the upper caste and middle class anger against the BJP.For the record, the Congress has not complained loud enough over the scenario it faces despite being dumped, as would have been expected of it!