In Search Of The Right Ally

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Friends in need? Ajit Singh’s (left) RLD supported candidates fielded by Mayawati’s BSP in the Legislative Council election

A new political formation is taking shape in Uttar Pradesh, where strange bedfellows are expected to come together ahead of the 2017 Assembly election. This new formation comprises the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) led by former Union minister Ajit Singh. Both the parties had drawn a blank in the state in the Lok Sabha polls and recently tied up for the Legislative Council election. The Congress and the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) headed by MP Asaduddin Owaisi are also expected to join the alliance at a later stage.

This alliance-in-the-making could capitalise on the prevailing anti-incumbency mood among the state’s electorate against the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), which is only expected to deepen in the fag end of its term. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party has lost the support of a substantial chunk of the minorities and the prospective alliance is likely to aim at harvesting the votes of the disillusioned Muslims.

Although the SP managed to wrest as many as 10 seats from the BJP in the Assembly bypolls last September, analysts argue that it cannot be interpreted as a revival of the electorate’s confidence in the ruling party. “Our party will be up against serious odds in the 2017 Assembly polls,” says senior SP leader and former mp Reoti Raman Singh.

The SP is clearly on a sticky wicket. In 2012, it had rode to power in the state on its own for the first time by winning 224 seats in the 403-member Assembly with a vote share of only 29 percent. But Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure saw the party’s popularity go down a steep incline. In the 2014 General Election, the party won a measly five of the 80 seats in the state and was reduced to what was derisively called a “family enterprise” in the Lok Sabha as those seats were held by Mulayam Singh and his kin. Adding to the party’s woes, there are rumours that a clutch of its Brahmin and Rajput leaders are waiting for the right moment to cross over to the BJP.

So far, the BSP, the RLD, the Congress and the AIMIM have refused to give credence to any talk of a prospective alliance ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls. “The electoral understanding with the RLD is limited only to the Legislative Council polls and nothing more should be read into it,” said BSP chief Mayawati. “There is no proposal to extend this understanding for the Assembly polls.”

The Jat-dominated RLD, whose presence is largely confined to the western parts of the state, has also denied that it has any plans to ally with the BSP for the Assembly election. “Mayawati sought our support for the Legislative Council election and we decided that our MLAs will vote for the BSP candidates. But this should not be taken as an indication that a future electoral tie-up is on the cards,” says RLD general secretary and Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Chaudhary.

Congress MLA and AICC spokesperson Akhilesh Singh, on his part, says that it is too early to talk of alliances for the 2017 polls.

The newest entrant in UP’s political arena is the aimim, which has been desperately trying to gain a foothold in the state for the past three years. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has adopted Sanjarpur village in Azamgarh, Mulayam’s Lok Sabha constituency, as part of a strategy to woo the Muslims of the state, where the minority community comprises a substantial section of the electorate in 35 of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies and in more than 100 of the 403 Assembly constituencies.

Sanjarpur had hit the national headlines in September 2008, following the Batla House encounter in Delhi in which one suspected terrorist from the village was killed and a few others arrested. Owaisi’s attempts to hold public meetings in Azamgarh were thwarted a number of times in the past three years, with the district administration refusing to grant permission citing a threat to law and order.

“How long can the UP government stop my party from holding meetings in Azamgarh?” asks Owaisi. “We are a democratic country, not one ruled by a monarch.” On the possibility of allying with other parties in the state, the AIMIM chief says it is too early to comment, adding that his party’s first priority is to convince the people of the state that it represents not just one community but “all the poor and downtrodden masses”.

According to AK Verma, who teaches political science at Christ Church College, Kanpur, “Mayawati will leave no stone unturned to retrieve her Dalit vote bank, a large section of which had shifted allegiance to the BJP in last year’s General Election. Her game-plan was to damage the SP’s chances by transferring her vote bank to the BJP, but it backfired and caused her party immense loss. And if she allies with the AIMIM ahead of the Assembly polls, it will polarise the voters, especially in western UP, against the BSP. Mayawati’s biggest problem is how to win back the Dalits’ support even while wooing the upper castes. That has been the main contradiction in her politics at least since 2007.”

A cursory glance at the Assembly segment-wise results of last year’s Lok Sabha election reveals that the odds are heavily against all non-BJP parties. The BJP was the leading party in 335 segments whereas the SP was No. 1 in 37, the Congress in 13 and the BSP in nine.

The alarm bells had started ringing for the BSP soon after the 2014 parliamentary election, as it drew a blank in Uttar Pradesh for the first time since 1989. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the party had won 20 seats in UP. After the 2014 debacle, party cadres put up a banner at the BSP’s state office in Lucknow that read “Behenji, suno Daliton ki pukar, nahi to khatam ho jayega janadhar (Listen to the Dalits or else your vote base will be wiped out)”.

Never in the past two decades had the cadres dared to raise slogans against Mayawati, and the BSP was seen as one of the country’s most disciplined political outfits. That seems to have changed with the leaders and cadres getting increasingly desperate. A few have been shown the door and are set to join the BJP. In the case of senior leader Jugal Kishore, the only thing that has prevented him so far from joining the BJP is the fact that he is one of the BSP members in the Rajya Sabha.

In its three-decade-long chequered history, the BSP has entered into electoral alliances only twice. It allied with the Samajwadi Party in 1993, when mid-term polls were held for the UP Assembly, leading to the formation of a minority government under Mulayam Singh with outside support from the Congress, Janata Dal and the Left parties. That government lasted for nearly 18 months. The only other instance of the BSP allying with another party was in 1996 when it entered into an alliance with the Congress ahead of another mid-term election. That alliance helped the Congress raise its tally in the UP Assembly, but the BSP gained little from it. Since then the BSP has been wary of pre-poll tie-ups. But the rout in last year’s General Election may have left Mayawati’s party with little choice but to seek credible allies in a bid to retain its relevance in UP politics.

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