In fight against BJP, Congress faces alliance hiccups in poll-bound states

The Congress is currently in a tussle with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) over the sharing of seats for the forthcoming assembly polls to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The elections to these three states, along with Mizoram, are scheduled at the end of November and the first week of December. After it had seemed that the Congress-BSP alliance had been sewn up, the BSP’s Madhya Pradesh leadership has threatened to field candidates in the state’s all 230 seats.

Similarly, an SP leader has said the Congress party needed to have a larger heart in seat-sharing in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and his party might return the favour in Uttar Pradesh. Otherwise, he said, the putative alliance of the SP and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh might have to rethink the number of seats it could give the Congress in that state for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It could be as low as two seats — the Nehru-Gandhi family pocket boroughs of Rae Bareli and Amethi.

Sources in the Congress, BSP and the SP pointed out that these statements have not come from any of the top leaders of the two Uttar Pradesh parties, but were that of second-rung leaders. “It is usual during any seat-sharing negotiations for the sides involved to issue such statements, which is intended not only to put pressure on the other side in order to secure a fairer deal as it is also to prepare one’s own supporters to be willing to make sacrifices in the larger interest of the party,” a senior Opposition leader said.

In Madhya Pradesh, the state unit of the Congress is unwilling to part with more than a dozen and a half seats. Its argument is that the BSP won four seats in 2013, and was runner-up in another 11 seats (see Chart). Its leadership also believes that it has weaned away some of the Dalits and most backward castes from the BSP’s influence, particularly by giving representation to Kushwahas.

But a BSP leader said such a deal would be unacceptable to his party. “The BSP is the only party in India that can effectively transfer its votes. Our vote share in MP is evidence that we might not win in a three-cornered fight but could be the difference in Congress party’s win or loss in several seats,” the BSP source said. The BSP has indicated to the Congress that it wants to contest 40 seats. The BSP is unlikely to agree to contest below 30 seats.

The SP also wants a share in Madhya Pradesh as well as Rajasthan. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress is also likely to give some seats to the Gondwana Ganatantra Party. In Chhattisgarh, apart from the BSP, the Communist Party of India (CPI) is also in talks with the Congress. CPI chief S Sudhakar Reddy has said his party will have alliances with the Congress wherever possible.

Dalit assertion in Madhya Pradesh

Not just the influence of the BSP as a political outfit, but the Dalit assertion is increasingly visible in Madhya Pradesh. Tucked away in a small alley along the Mandsaur-Neemuch state highway near Pipliyamandi in Madhya Pradesh is a small blue hoarding with the legend Bhim Sena, a fledgling western Uttar Pradesh based Dalit outfit.

Ever since six farmers were killed in police firing in Pipliyamandi of Mandsaur last year on June 6, Bhim Sena and BSP rebel leader Phool Singh Barraiya’s Bahujan Sangharsh Dal have expanded their outreach in the area in an effort to shape a political base for themselves.

Traditionally, the BSP strongholds in Madhya Pradesh have been the districts of Rewa, Satna, Bhind and Morena. But local units of outfits like Bhim Sena, which sprung up under the leadership of Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ in UP's Saharanpur district in 2015 in response to caste clashes, have come up in Nimar-Malwa region, including in Mandsaur and Neemuch.

On April 2, Dalit protests against the Supreme Court order to dilute the SC and ST prevention of atrocities Act witnessed violence in Bhind, Morena and Gwalior regions of Madhya Pradesh – primarily in and around the Chambal region. Six persons were killed in that violence.

According to the 2001 census, almost 15.2 per cent population of Madhya Pradesh comprises the Scheduled Caste community. Add the OBCs to this, and the number adds up to half of the state’s population. Datia has the highest population of Dalits, followed by Ujjain, which is close to Mandsaur.

While census data shows that Dalits are concentrated in and around Chambal region, the second biggest caste among SCs in terms of numbers, the ‘Balahi’ are concentrated in Ujjain, West Nimar and Dewas districts of Madhya Pradesh, all of which fall in the prosperous Malwa-Nimar belt.

An alliance with the BSP could add nearly 7-8 per cent to the Congress party’s vote share. For example, in Malhargarh reserved constituency, under which Pipliyamandi falls, locals said the Congress candidate would have won the 2013 assembly if there was no BSP candidate. “If this vote was transferred to Congress, the ruling BJP candidate would have been easily defeated,” Santosh from Barkhedha Panth village of Mandsaur said.

There will be hiccups on the way, but the bonhomie on display between UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and BSP chief Mayawati at the oath-taking ceremony of Karnataka CM H D Kumaraswamy on May 23 suggests the Congress-BSP alliance is sure to take shape in the months leading up to the elections to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Madhya Pradesh

MP has 230-assembly seats

In 2013, BJP won 165-seats with 45.19 per cent vote share

Congress won 58-seats with 36.79 per cent vote share

BSP contested 227-seats, forfeited security deposit in 197-seats and won 4-seats with 6.29 per cent of vote share

BSP won 4 seats in 2013 – Dimani, Ambah (SC), Raigaon (SC) and Mangawan

BSP was runner up on 11-seats (all won by BJP with Congress at number three) – Sheopur, Sumaoli, Morena, Bhind, Maharajpur, Panna, Rampur-Baghelan, Semariya, Deotalab, Rewa and Katangi.

BSP was a respectable number three on Bahoriband and Devsar seats, both won by BJP.

In Bichhiya (ST) seats, GGP was a close number three.

SP was runners up in Niwari and Balaghat, both won by BJP.

Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh assembly has 90-seats, of which 10 are reserved for SCs and 29 for STs.

In 2013, BJP won 49-seats with a vote share of 41.18 per cent

Congress won 39-seats with a vote share of 40.43 per cent

BSP won 1-seat with a vote share of 4.27 per cent

GGP and NCP were respectable number three in a handful of seats which Congress lost to BJP by thin margins - Bharatpur-Sonhat (ST), Mahendragarh and Baikunthpur

BSP was either number two or a respectable number three in Sarangarh, Takhatpur, Beltara, Sakti, Chandrapur, Pamgarh, Bilaigarh, Kasdol

CPI was a respectable number three in Chitrakoot, Dantewara, Bijapur and Konta

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