United they stand a chance

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Joining hands: The idea of a Grand Alliance was floated by Bihar leaders during the silver jubilee celebrations of the Samajwadi Party

The meeting of Congress party poll strategist Prashant Kishor with Samajwadi patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and his political heir, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, has added fuel to the fire to the speculations of a Bihar-like Grand Alliance in UP. The idea was once again floated by Bihar leaders at the silver jubilee celebrations of Samajwadi Party in the sprawling Janeshwar Mishra Park of Lucknow on 5 November, to counter what they call the growing danger of communalism being posed by the divisive policies of polarisation played by the BJP.

“Just take a lesson from us: how we voted out the BJP by uniting secular forces under the Grand Alliance and kept communal forces at the bay,” they say loudly, vowing to repeat the experiment in UP.

Playing the role of peacemakers, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, RLD chief Ajit Singh and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda (JDS) joined the dais amid warring family members of Yadav clan. But despite their best efforts, the suppressed discontentment echoed in the utterances of both Shivpal Singh Yadav and his nephew Akhilesh Yadav, in front of a mammoth gathering called to express solidarity with the party in power in the state.

Lalu Prasad took a pledge to uproot BJP from the grounds of Uttar Pradesh by repeating the Bihar formula. He also pacified ongoing rift between Akhilesh and Shivpal by asking the CM to touch his feet and take his blessings on the dais. Despite all such efforts, Shivpal did not look as if he was calm enough to digest the insult meted out by his own nephew, dismissing him from the cabinet and divesting him of the charge of most coveted ministries.

Mulayam Singh Yadav expelled his cousin Ram Gopal Yadav for allegedly hobnobbing with senior BJP leaders after his kith and kin were found to be hand-in-glove with notorious Noida engineer Yadav Singh, who was raided by CBI in cases of disproportionate assets, corruption and money laundering. Ram Gopal was seen to be the mastermind behind scuttling the partnership of Samajwadi Party in Bihar polls. The decision backfired on it as a trust deficit developed among its traditional Muslim voters, who felt shocked and disillusioned as they saw Samajwadi Party supremo
Mulayam Singh literally helping the BJP in Bihar. This left Mulayam Singh isolated among forces with secular credentials, who are fighting the BJP. Now RJD chief Lalu Prasad has come forward to rescue him as part of a family obligation.

In an atmosphere of utter uncertainty in the rank and file of the Samajwadi Party and apparent pressures of polarisation of minority votes to its disadvantage because of the Bahujan Samaj Party’s rise, the father-son duo are not averse to the idea of entering into an alliance with the Congress party and other political parties. RJD chief Lalu Prasad, whose youngest daughter has been married to Mulayam Singh’s grandson, has geared up to play a vital role to bring secular forces together.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has opted out of any such grand alliance as she resolves to take on BJP on her own mass base among Dalits and growing understanding with Muslims and non-Yadav OBCs. Her aggressive attack on the incumbent government about the deteriorating law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh and her raising of the issue of ongoing family feud is just aimed to alienate the core support base of Samajwadi Party. She tactically spread the massage among Muslims that even the Yadav vote would be divided this time between the outgoing CM and his uncle.

The BJP has been running ‘Parivartan Yatras’ from all the four corners of Uttar Pradesh. They commenced from Saharanpur district of western Uttar Pradesh, highlighting the achievements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and urging the people of the state to get rid of SP-BSP misrule and form a BJP government of absolute majority for the overall development of the state. Flagging off the yatra, BJP chief Amit Shah promised that if BJP is voted to power there would be no loot of public money, no scams as had been taking place all these years in UP. He lauded PM Modi’s policy of conducting surgical strikes in Pakistan to counter the menace of terrorism.

Addressing the second yatra in Jhansi along with Union Home Ministers Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharti and others, he claimed that his party would make UP the richest state if it comes to power. The BJP president also assured the Bundelkhand people that BJP government would never allow illegal mining of natural resources. Rajnath Singh claimed that honesty is the benchmark of the Narendra Modi government and BJP would give good governance in the state as it gave during the terms of Kalyan Singh and Ram Prakash Gupta. Uma Bharti again raised the demand of a separate Bundelkhand state.

Congress party has been rejuvenated in Uttar Pradesh as its vice president Rahul Gandhi spared much time for his Deoria-to-Delhi ‘Kisan Yatra’ and his promises to debt-ridden farmers for a repeat of debt waiver scheme and slashing of electric bills by half, issues that impact most of them. The Congress came to power in 2009 Parliamentary elections on the strength of this time-tested formula devised by the then prime minister and noted economist Manmohan Singh. Rahul blamed the Modi government for paralysing grants for the rural job guarantee programme MNREGA, launched by the Congress government to check migration from villages to urban areas for employment. Congress workers have procured support letters from farmers as a part of a well-conceived plan. But despite all efforts, the Congress party seems to understand that it cannot defeat the BJP on its own, for the latter has gained considerably from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s banning of old 500 notes and demonetising 1,000 denomination for unearthing unaccounted money.

It is a well-known fact that most political parties field candidates of sound financial status who can fund their own campaign and contribute to party coffers as well. This masterstroke by the Prime Minister Modi has left them in a stage of shock, rendering useless the stacks of black money that was to be spent on buying influential community leaders to manoeuver their poll prospects.

Poll strategist Prashant Kishor knows the fine print on which the conflicting interests could come together at a point of convergence to fight the common enemy, the BJP. AICC in-charge general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad and state president Raj Babbar have good relations with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh. Senior Congress leaders like Pramod Tiwari and former bureaucrat and Dalit face of the party PL Punia could become members of the Rajya Sabha with the help of Mulayam Singh Yadav and therefore consolidation of secular forces to defeat BJP would not be unimaginable.

To the public, it looks odd that the Congress, after declaring Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial face and undertaking “27 saal UP behal Yatras” (UP is in bad shape after 27 years) against SP-BSP misrule, will now ally with the SP. But this is the party that successfully allied with the JD(U) in Bihar to defeat the BJP. And because nothing is impossible in politics.

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Fixing woes: Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is facing the forthcoming UP elections amid unrest in his own party (photos: Pawan Kumar)

Prashant Kishor, who was the campaign designer for Narendra Modi during the 2014 General Elections, knows his strengths and weakness. Soon after Modi resumed power, he had differences with him. He switched over to the Nitish Kumar camp and brokered the Grand Alliance in Bihar to stop sharp polarisation of vote, resulting in defeat of BJP and paving the way for Nitish Kumar to become Chief Minister despite the anti-incumbency factor against his government.

Congress party sources have identified around 125-150 Assembly seats that their candidate could win, but Akhilesh Yadav is in no mood to accede more than 60 seats in case any alliance is worked out. BSP had given 125 seats to the Congress when it had a tactical electoral alliance with the party.

Sources reveal that an inner assessment of the Samajwadi Party figures out its strength is half what it was in 2012, as its MLAs face tremendous opposition from their electorate because of arrogance of power and misdeeds. So Akhilesh Yadav wants to get rid of such sitting MLAs by introducing young new faces in their respective constituencies. Both Samajwadi Party and Congress have their positive and negative aspects but if they join hands, both will be benefited as, in that eventuality, drifting of traditional votes from Samajwadi Party could be arrested.

Meanwhile, to continue efforts of solidarity, Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav continued deliberations with RLD chief Ajit Singh and senior JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav on 9 November at his Delhi residence and held separate meetings as leaders of Janata Parivar outfits look to form an alliance for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls early next year. His younger brother and his party’s UP unit chief Shivpal Yadav, a keen votary of the alliance, was also part of the confabulations. RJD chief Lalu Prasad was also in the capital.

The key to any unity will be how many seats Mulayam Singh Yadav is willing to concede to parties like RLD, which has influence in western UP, and JD(U), which has little traction in the state but is making concerted efforts under its president and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar to carve a niche for itself in the areas adjoining his state.

It would be interesting to watch what magic Prashant Kishor weaves in the caste-ridden and communally polarised politics of Uttar Pradesh. Though his meetings with Samajwadi Party leaders including Mulayam Singh Yadav, Shivpal Singh Yadav and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav are being branded as mere “courtesy calls” but knowledgeable sources in the Congress party presume that he will not meet them on his own unless the party high command asks him to do so to prepare the ground for an electoral alliance. No senior leader, including its chief ministerial candidate Sheila Dikshit, is in a position to comment on why their poll strategist met

Samajwadi Party leaders. Ghulam Nabi Azad told the media during his yatras, “People of the state are telling us that if the BJP is to be defeated, then there should be united front. But we have not
applied our mind to this. We will think over it maybe after we are done with the Rahul Sandesh Yatra. I am not saying there is a possibility or there is no possibility…just that we will apply our minds,” Azad clarified.

Political analysts predict a hung Assembly in Uttar Pradesh in case an alliance cannot be worked out. In that event, BJP could emerge the largest single party. This proposition is sending warning signals to all the political parties who are opposed to the rise of BJP. The situation is pregnant with possibilities of a Grand Alliance on the Bihar pattern and political pundits feel it is just a matter of time before it is formally announced.