Changing political equations in UP, India's most prized poll territory

Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati skipped the swearing-in ceremony of Kamal Nath in MP. Photo: PTI
When the Supreme Court on December 14 dismissed petitions seeking probe into alleged irregularities in the Rafale deal, giving a major relief to the Narendra Modi government, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati raised the demand for “transparent policy” for military procurements.

In her nuanced press communiqué, Mayawati not only referred to Rafale but deftly mentioned the Bofors deal, which happened in 1986, when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister.

Coming hot on the heels of the BSP extending unconditional support to the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, where the grand old party had fallen two short of the majority mark of 116 in the 230-member assembly, Mayawati’s suggestion of a policy to preclude corruption allegations over successive defence deals was contextual.

Amid growing clamour for a grand alliance (mahagathbandhan) in Uttar Pradesh, where the BSP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) command greater bandwidth and more ground support than the Congress does, the latter has suddenly emerged as a force to reckon with following a turnaround in its fortunes in the Hindi heartland states of MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

In the UP polls last year, the Congress had entered into a pre-poll alliance with the SP, which gave about 100 of the 403 seats to the former. However, the SP and Congress could win only 47 and seven seats, respectively. Knowing well the bench strength of the Congress then, SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and his younger brother Shivpal had stiffly opposed the alliance.

Nevertheless, the poll debacle fortified the belief that the Congress was nothing but a spent force in UP and lacked a formidable organisation and cadre beyond a few pocket boroughs, such as Amethi and Rae Bareli, to pose any electoral challenge.

The stupendous showing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the assembly polls made the opposition parties quickly realise that only a united front could counter the election machinery and organisational firepower of the saffron outfit. The SP and BSP, which are arch rivals, decided to bury the hatchet and join hands this year during the parliamentary and assembly bypolls, which the BJP lost badly.

Against this backdrop, while the SP and BSP have been exploring the possibility of a pre-poll alliance, the stronger footing acquired by the Congress has disturbed the probable seat-sharing equation in UP, since it is now unlikely to play second fiddle to the two regional parties.

Besides, the Congress’ winning formula of combining the Dalits, Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Muslims has the propensity to directly cut into the traditional vote banks of the SP and BSP, thus proving detrimental to them politically and electorally.

Congress leader Zeeshan Haider said the Congress, SP and BSP shared the same secular character and would come together to defeat the BJP. However, Haider added the party would expect a respectable number of seats to fight in UP and said the seat-sharing issue was yet to be discussed by the leadership of the three parties.

The fact that both the SP and BSP chiefs, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, had skipped the swearing-in ceremony of Kamal Nath in MP had given rise to speculation that the path of the grand alliance was still thorny in UP.

Political pundits maintain the SP and BSP want to give ample signal that they are bigger in UP than the Congress, despite the latter’s revival of sorts in some northern states.

SP spokesperson and former UP minister Rajendra Chaudhary said the party had authorised its president, Akhilesh Yadav, to decide on the seat-sharing and alliance issues. “The ground reality in other Hindi belt states is different from that in UP and this should be understood,” he said, adding that seat sharing would be decided next month.

Political commentator Hemant Tiwari observed a tripartite alliance in UP, including the Congress, SP and BSP, had become tougher after the Congress’ victories in the recent assembly polls.

“The Congress did not firm up alliances with the SP and BSP in these states (Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) although the two parties had their own pockets of influence. Now, the SP and BSP will pay the Congress back in its own coin in UP, where these two parties are stronger. In fact, together they are sufficient to give a tough fight to the BJP without including the Congress in a pre-poll alliance,” he added.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports say the BSP and SP have agreed on a broad seat-sharing formula of 38 and 37 seats respectively, leaving three seats for the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in western UP and two seats for the Congress in Amethi and Rae Bareli, which are represented by Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. There are suggestions that the seat-sharing formula could be arrived at and announced on Mayawati’s birthday, January 15. 

All the three parties have rubbished the reports as mere speculation.

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