Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. (Image source: ANI and DNA) Photograph:( Others )
The two parties have given serious indications of contesting the Lok Sabha polls together, at least for the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. The state holds the key to government formation at the Centre.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a recent interview that the 'grand alliance' being talked of against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would result in a contest between the people and the coalition. It remains to be seen whether this new narrative will gain traction among the voters in the months to come, but there is an alliance that can create serious problems for the ruling party - the one between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh.
Neither PM Modi nor his party can ignore the elephant in the room, or to be precise, the elephant plus the cycle. This is for several reasons. The first is that the SP-BSP combine is a very real possibility, unlike various other opposition combinations that exist only in the air. The two parties are already collaborating. When the BSP withdrew its minister from the HD Kumaraswamy government in Karnataka, the SP was quick to support the move. When the BSP demanded the withdrawal of certain cases against members of the Scheduled Castes in Kamal Nath-ruled Madhya Pradesh, the SP was again fully supportive.
The two parties have given serious indications of contesting the Lok Sabha polls together, at least for the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. They are both on the same page with regard to treating the Congress as a very junior partner in case the latter decides to join their group. But both prefer not having any truck with the Congress.
The other reason for the BJP to take the possible combine seriously is the state itself. Uttar Pradesh, from all available accounts, holds the key to government formation at the Centre. The BJP rode to a majority — the first time a single party achieved it since 1984-85 — on the strength of its performance in the state, winning 73 seats along with its allies. If it suffers a setback there, it will have considerable difficulty in being in the pole position nationally.
The Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine is lethal on caste grounds too. The Yadav community and the Scheduled Castes together form a formidable voter force; together they comprise case to 30 per cent of the population. Add to it the Muslim voters, and the situation gets only more grim for the BJP. It can be argued that not all Scheduled Caste voters will back the combine — they had supported the BJP in large numbers in 2014. But then, 2019 is not 2014, and there was no alliance between the SP and the BSP.
The situation is more challenging for the BJP in the state this time around also because of trouble with allies. The Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and the Apna Dal (Sonelal) are upset for various reasons. Leaders of both parties have been keeping away from BJP events. Most recently, they were absent from a rally the Prime Minister addressed in Ghazipur. Statements of discontent have been made from both party leaders on various occasions. The BJP will have to mollify them quickly or face the prospect of loss of precious votes in pockets where the two parties are influential. The ruling party cannot afford to lose partners like it did in neighbouring Bihar. Two regional parties which had contested the2014 polls as partners of the BJP have broken away and joined the RJD-led front. But at least in Bihar, the BJP has a tie-up with a dominant Janata Dal (United) to compensate for the loss; in Uttar Pradesh, there is no such solace.
Given the situation, the BJP is readying itself for the grand challenge in the state. It could try any one or a combination of the following factors: Use the Ayodhya card to rally the majority faith voters to its side; play upon the threat of minority appeasement as well as the dominance of the Yadav community to lure voters; recall the development agenda of both the Modi regime and the Yogi Adityanath government in the state.
The potency of the first factor depends greatly on the path the Supreme Court takes in the weeks to come. The second hinges largely on the level of fear that the BJP can arouse song the people. It must be recalled that the BJP had swept the Assembly election in 2017 also because the people had been disenchanted by the minority appeasement policies of the then Samajwadi Party regime led by Akhilesh Yadav. The consolation of Hindu votes had happened as a result. Further supported by the success of schemes such as Ujjwala, the BJP had cut across caste votes to register a fine win.
Is an encore possible?
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)