Cover Story: Congress becomes another wheel of Samajwadi Party in UP

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Together they go: SP state president Naresh Uttam and UP Congress chief Raj Babbar hold a press conference in Lucknow

Cycle paves way for SP-Congress deal

Emergence of Akhilesh Yadav as victorious in the internal feud in the Samajwadi Party and walking away with party’s election symbol award under his belt and his strategy in having clinched an alliance deal with Congress Party, has seemingly helped him in carving a unique niche in state politics to be envied by many veterans. This alliance can help Akhilesh Yadav and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi to mobilise youth vote in the state. Both entail enough potential to emerge youth icons and a pointer towards this has already been reported by Akhilesh when he spoke about one of his visits to a primary school in Rae Bareli, the parliamentary constituency of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and said that children took him for Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

SP-Congress alliance
Electoral alliance between SP and Congress has set alarming bells ringing in political camps of BJP and BSP. Both parties have agreed on seat sharing where SP would fight on 298 seats and the Congress on 105. This all but clears any chances of a grand alliance in the state as well. Akhilesh’s victory in SP’s internal feud has seemingly helped him emerge as the leader of consensus within the party and whatever little resentment people had with the government was pushed into the background.Politics of alliances may be a reality in UP now, but winning elections has always been as huge a challenge as also running the government. And who else would know it better than the two parties — Congress and SP — who both have bitter-sweet experiences of alliance politics albeit with different partners.

Prior to its alliance with Congress, the SP was apprehensive that they would lose Muslim voters had they joined hands with the Ajit Singh-led RLD. However, after SP’s tie-up with the Congress, Akhilesh has become the most prominent face of the secular coalition. The solidarity between the Jats and the Muslims has diminished to a huge extent after the Muzaffarnagar riots. As far as the Congress is concerned, even in a state of disarray, it commands around 10% of votes. The coming together of the SP and the Congress will help unify the traditional voter as well as consolidate Muslim votes on its own. The coalition also hopes to attract women voters and neutral voters from the upper castes. Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav are young leaders and they could be bolstered by the presence of Dimple Yadav and Priyanka Gandhi.

One expert has opined: “The alliance has brought the two parties back in the race; they have won the battle of perception. But its success would depend on coordination at the ground level. Their cadres are used to opposing each other and suddenly they will be expected to cooperate.” Another expert opines that SP and Congress, which had together polled about 40% votes during the 2012 assembly polls, presently are in a win-win situation in numerical terms; nevertheless, at ground level, it will be advantage Congress and the SP may not gain much.

Some political observers caution against too much reading into this political marriage between SP and Congress, because, as they argue, the inherent contradictions of the SP-Congress alliance are bound to strain any tie-up at every stage of the polls. The SP’s massive surge began after it started eating into the Congress’ minority support base, especially in the post-Babri mosque demolition phase, when Muslims deserted the Congress lock stock and barrel and joined the SP in 1993. The SP’s alliance with Kanshi Ram’s BSP proved a formidable social combination of OBC-Dalit and Muslims that literally overwhelmed the Hindutva wave in 1993.

The SP continued to successfully confine the Congress to the margins till 2004 and the 2004-2009 period saw a bonhomie between the SP and the Congress. The SP even bailed out the Manmohan Singh government against the CPM’s attempt to pull the rug out from under the UPA government’s feet. This afforded Congress an opportunity to expand its base by eroding the SP’s core base of minority and a section of OBCs. Alarmed by this development, SP’s subsequent moves were not to let the Congress emerge from the fringe role it has been playing all along. It is in this backdrop that some experts caution against seeing through the prism of an agglomeration of arithmeticbecause politics is more chemistry than a sheer game of numbers.The Congress, which had been relegated to the fourth position in the state and its influence being restricted to pocket boroughs like Amethi, Rae Bareily and Sultanpur, has in the past few months, seems to have gained some ground through its various missions like the “Kisan Yatra” undertaken by Rahul Gandhi and its recent alliance with SP may help to regain some lost ground.

It is interesting to watch BJP’s strategy of fortifying itself in Uttar Prasesh by allowing traditional foes into the party’s fold

BSP’s Prospects
The BSP led by Mayawati, one of the major contenders for power, has been the first to come out with its list and it did not hesitate from giving 97 tickets to Muslim candidates. Evidently, it is eyeing the Muslim vote bank of the SP. Some experts say BSP supremo Mayawati has fielded Muslim candidates only in those constituencies that have close to 100,000 minority voters. None of these constituencies has less than 30,000 Dalit voters. The BSP believes Dalits and Muslims do not just vote for a common candidate, more than 90% of them make sure they come out and vote. If between 180,000 and 200,000 votes are polled in these constituencies, and the Muslims and Dalits are united in their thinking then the BSP will be a winner. These are the parameters Mayawati has kept in mind while giving tickets to the forwards, backwards and the Dalits.

On the other hand, Mayawati is better placed than any other political formation to gain from the RSS leader Vaidya’s recent controversial statement on reservations. Soon after statement, Mayawati launched a full-blooded attack on the RSS-BJP combine and questioned their commitment to the Constitution and Dalit welfare. Nobody knows better than Mayawati that with solid backing of 22 percent Dalits, she would sail through if she can engineer a shift of the Muslim votes and the most backward classes (MBCs) in BSP’s favour. Mayawati is leaving nothing to chance to stitch up a formidable social coalition of Dalit-Muslim and MBCs in the state.

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Priyanka seen behind SP-Congress alliance

Priyanka Gandhi Rae Bareli by Shailendra (14)

Both the parties project the face of Akhilesh Yadav as their chief Ministerial candidate, writes Mudit Thakur

Uttar Pradesh is heading to witness all colours of political maneuvering to woo the voters. Priyanka Gandhi has been credited for working out alliance between Congress and Samajwadi Party which was finally announced on Sunday 22nd January, 2017 after it saw lot of ups and downs. The alliance was result of political compulsion and sheer opportunism to run down growing popularity of BJP rather than any ideological motivations as Samajwadi Party nurtured its vote base just on the strength of anti-Congress stand. It was claimed after alliance, that both the parties have come closer to restrain the rise of communal forces to power projecting the face of Akhilesh Yadav as its chief ministerial candidate.

Priyanka Gandhi will lead as star campaigner for the Congress party for the first time in UP to galvanise its disillusioned party workers who have become demoralised due to indecisive approach of its leadership. The momentum that was generated by “Kisan Yatras” and road shows of Rahul Gandhi and other programmes were virtually slow downed due to inaction from its leadership. Perhaps the Party has lastly realised that it cannot fight BJP single handedly and therefore it sent Prashant Kishor as its emissary to mediate a respectable poll pact with Samajwadi Party.

Prashant met Samajwadi Party’s patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and young chief minister Akhilesh Yadav several times as state Congress president Raj Babbar was not inclined and congenial for an alliance and his statements created pin pricking effect causing unusual delay. Some senior Congress leaders attacked Prashant alleging overstepping his brief. It resulted in his indifferent behaviour as his team packed up from the state and assumed new assignments in Punjab and Uttrakhand. The contribution of Kishor could not be undermined to sideline in view of his exceptional organisational skills and capabilities in managing successful events for Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and grand show of Sonia Gandhi in Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister
Narendra Modi. The Gandhi family was happy with the unexpected results he delivered so they
decided to keep local party leaders away from any negotiations for tie up and authorised only Priyanka and Gulam Nabi Azad.

Unitedly Congress, and Samajwadi Party have the potential to challenge and derail ambitious plans of BJP in UP

Priyanka invigorated the poll alliance directly with Akhilesh Yadav and developed a tactical understanding even to the extent that, if required, at some places even Samajwadi Party candidates could be fielded on the symbol of Congress Party in order to meet its demand in an honorable manner but source close to Akhilesh confirmed that his candidates are not keen to choose Congress symbol over the cycle. The alliance was stuck up even in Raibareilly and Amethi where Samajwadi Party has more sitting MLAs then Congress Party. Cross claims on the same seats from both the parties were causing stumbling block over the possibilities of alliance.

Political strategists feel if secular forces want to repeat Bihar like performance in UP then Congress and Samajwadi Party have to contest polls together. Unitedly they have the potential to challenge and derail ambitious plans of BJP, designed methodically to ride the power of this most crucial state by forging various caste combinations and fielding rebels of other political parties in election fray. The challenge thrown by alliance would change the entire political dynamics and landscape for 2019 parliamentary elections too as it will have far reaching effect.

Overcoming from bitter family feud over primacy in party and owning its symbol cycle, Akhilesh has kicked off his poll campaign on his development plank from Sultanpur and Amethi as late as on 24 January 2017. Significantly, once these areas were the bastion of Gandhi family that went out of their grip due to apathy from its successors. Addressing crowded rallies Akhilesh counted his enormous achievements on fulfilling his electoral promises of 2012 manifesto and narrated his future plans for his development model. He said, “I am influenced with development of America who developed infrastructure of wide roads and I followed in our state. Lucknow-Agra Expressway is an example how we fast tracked our development plans.”

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BJP’s Dilemma

Undoubtedly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a cadre-based party having ruled the state for some time in the past; nonetheless, it has many hurdles to cross in the ensuing assembly polls in UP. In the first place, it has no credible young face to be declared as CM candidate. Secondly, it faces the dilemma of ‘many revolts’ within the state unit on the question of ticket distribution. Thirdly, SP-Congress alliance is a recent challenge for the party that can erode its newly gained OBC base. Demonetization is regarded by some experts as a measure that may adversely affect the BJP.

However, on the contrary, Prime Minister Modi he has tried to project himself as a messiah of the poor after demonetization. It will be interesting to watch as to whether Modi’s new image would manage to overcome caste loyalties the way it did in 2014.

To achieve this goal, BJP president Amit Shah has been busy for many months preparing a strategy. He managed to sway the Jat voters in 2014 using the Muzaffarnagar model. Even in these elections, he is toying with the polarization formula. Apart from this, Shah has tried desperately to woo the vote bank of the extremely backward and the poorest Dalits.

Way ahead
In the ensuing assembly polls in UP, the evolved voters are unlikely to consider the policies of the parties and may go in for the faces of candidates, thereby following the herd mentality. As one expert has opined, thanks to the shenanigans of politicians in the blind race for power, the issues essential to Uttar Pradesh’s development are pushed out of the discourse. It looks like a three-way contest in Uttar Pradesh where political coalitions have lost their relevance. According to one opinion, unlike Bihar where the Nitish-Lalu political coalition reshaped the social coalition in the state, regional satraps of Uttar Pradesh lack the political sagacity and perspicacity to milk the situation in their favour. The jury is still undecided on the likely effects of the SP-Congress alliance, which has given a head-start to both the beleaguered parties caught in problems of their own.

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