Will the Elephant Ride the Bicycle?

IndLalu Prasad is holding a grand rally in Patna on 27 August and Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are set to attend it. Akhilesh caused a stir amongst political pundits with his statement: “If there is any announcement (regarding a future BSP-SP alliance), it will be made there.”

Pre-Poll Brotherhood

The Samajwadi Party (SP) had joined hands with the Congress in a pre-poll alliance before the 2017 UP state assembly elections. Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM, had earlier commented how an all-party alliance and victory against the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) would require the SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) coming together, in a Bihar-style Mahagathbandhan. Without this partnership, it would be a mere gathbandhan. Kumar here is indicating the predominance of the two regional parties which have dominated politics in UP ever since the Mandal era and de-Brahminisation of the politics of the state.

Exit polls in the aftermath of the polling showed BJP falling short of a majority. In order to prevent a dictatorship of the Centre (in the form of President’s Rule), Akhilesh expressed his willingness to form an alliance with the BSP.

Post-Poll Debacle

The EVMs, however, declared a catastrophe for the gathbandhan. The seat share of SP, which was in power until now, fell from 224 to 47 and the Congress managed a mere 7 seats, compared to 28 in 2012. Mulayam Singh Yadav lay the blame of his party’s bitter defeat on the alliance with the Congress. The tensions within the party, with Shivpal Yadav forming an alternative front also contributed to the weakness.

The BSP won scarcely 19 seats, as compared to its earlier tally of 80. It tumbled from being the ruling party, to the largest opposition party, to barely crossing double digits. Yet the actual political lacuna was the splitting of minority votes between the two regional parties, paving way for the BJP to sweep away the rest.

Soon after the ignominious defeat, Akhilesh still indicated leaning towards a BSP-SP alliance. The parties have come together in the past, in 1993. This partnership ended bitterly with Mayawati withdrawing support in 1995. The infamous “guesthouse incident”, in which she locked herself to protect herself from SP goons was the beginning of a long era of bipolar competition.

A Mahagathbandhan?

Sociologically, the caste system places the Backward Castes (the Yadavs) above, and as the immediate oppressors of the Dalits. However, politics never respected the shastras and the sutras. Social engineering of castes played out during the assembly elections as well, with Mayawati fielding a Brahmin candidate, Ravikant Mishra, in Noida. Political pragmatism trumps ideology.

Yet another reason for a likely alliance would be the logic of the “lesser evil”. The RJD and JD(U) were bitter rivals in Bihar. However, they joined hands to counter the saffron wave of communalism and intolerance that the BJP represented. The same may apply to UP, proximate to Bihar both geographically and politically. The parties are closer to each-other on the spectrum when compared to the BJP. An alliance of the Bahujan, a term coined by Kanshi Ram (which included Dalits, backward classes, Muslims and other downtrodden sections) may help Mayawati reengineer her lost electorate. In fact, Kanshi Ram had nurtured several OBC leaders such as Barkhu Ram Verma and Sone Lal Patel. Several ex-BSP OBCs have now joined the BJP.

This rethinking is especially important, considering the loss of Dalit and Muslim votes for both the SP and the BSP in 2017, to the BJP. Since BSP was seen as a Jatav party and SP as a Yadav party, non-Jatav and non-Yadav minority votes levitated towards the BJP, which promised vikaas. BJP managed to secure 39% of the Muslim votes (surprising on the land of the Babri incident), and 40% of the Dalit votes (with BSP, which identifies as a Dalit party, getting 24%).

“There are no ideological differences between SP and BSP. The formation of a grand alliance is a reality and talks have been initiated at the highest level.” said a senior SP leader regarding an anti-BJP alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Confidence-building may trickle down to the homeground of UP, where both parties seek to defend what was their bastion.

There are upcoming civic body elections and Lok Sabha byelections for the Gorakhpur (CM Yogi Adityanath’s constituency) and Phulpur (Deputy CM Keshav Parsad Maurya’s constituency) seats. While this is too soon for an alliance to materialise, the changing political landscape would prompt swift action from parties securing their position in the democratic bargain.

Image source: http://www.siasat.com/news/akhilesh-opens-tie-mayawati-prevent-bjp-1147745/
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