Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
Jan 14, 2019, 10.08 AM
The political wheels have come full circle in Uttar Pradesh. About 25 years ago, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party came together to successfully contest the 1993 Assembly elections in the state. The idea was to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at bay following its rise. Now the two parties have aligned yet again to counter the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha polls. Since we are into history, let’s recall a few incidents that happened thereafter.
Then it was Mulayam Singh Yadav from the SP and Kanshi Ram from the BSP who stitched the partnership. Two prominent industrialists had played a significant role in bringing the rivals together, and they were subsequently rewarded with Rajya Sabha seats. The BJP still won the largest number of seats but fell short of a majority, while the combined numerical strength of the SP and the BSP led to the formation of a coalition regime with Mulayam Singh Yadav as the chief minister. Mayawati did not join the government, but she was entrusted with the task of supervising the partnership.
The alliance worked well for the first few months, but friction began to develop thereafter, more so after incidents of violence which had erupted following the removal of an Ambedkar statue in Meerut in 1994. The state police, which had a good number from the Yadav caste, came down hard on the protesters and at least two members of the Scheduled Castes died in the firing. More problems arose when the Yadav community protested against the installation of an Ambedkar statue on a plot of land it claimed belonged to the community. The Yadav-Scheduled Caste confrontation led Mayawati to get aggressive, and soon reports began to circulate that she was interfering in the functioning of the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led government.
Then came then infamous guest house incident in mid-1995. By then, political equations had begun to change in Lucknow. The BJP and the BSP had got closer to each other with the latter realising it would have to pull out of the coalition regime to keep its Scheduled caste vote-base intact. Indeed, Mayawati had met the Governor and effectively withdrawn support to the government. All hell broke. Mayawati had summoned a meeting of her legislators at the state guest house in Lucknow to discuss further course of action. Once the meeting was done, the BSP leader was closeted with a few senior leaders for fine-tuning the political strategy. A mob of around 200 SP leaders and supporters attacked the guest house and raised casteist slogans against her and her community. It was followed by more filthy language and threats to kill. Power supply to the guest house was cut off and the mob shouted for Mayawati to be dragged out and taught a lesson. The BSP legislators who came in contact with the mob were brutally assaulted.
Two junior police officers came to Mayawati’s rescue. Later the district magistrate of Lucknow and some BJP leaders played important roles in the rescue of the BSP leader. A traumatic Mayawati and her guru Kanshi Ram vowed to never do business with the SP. She soon became chief minister with the BJP’s support.
Cut to the present: On Saturday, sharing the stage with SP leader Akhilesh Yadav to announce the renewed partnership between the SP and the BSP and the seat-sharing deal, Mayawati remarked that she was willing to forgive and forget the 1995 incident in the larger interests of the nation (read, to get rid of the Modi government from the Centre).
Then, as now, the common factor is the need to counter the BJP. But that’s where the commonality ends. The first difference is that the two leaders who made the alliance possible in 1993 are not in the picture this time around. Kanshi Ram is dead and Mulayam Singh Yadav is a mere bystander in the party which he founded. While both Kanshi Ram and Mulayam Singh Yadav were astute, in the present case Mayawati, now a veteran both in terms of years in politics and mercurial nature, clearly has the edge, whereas Akhilesh Yadav is subdued by his relatively junior status and inexperience. Everybody knows who will call the shots in the post-result scenario if the combine does well, is not a secret.
The second difference is that the 1993 alliance had been for Assembly elections, whereas the present one — at least for now — is for the Lok Sabha polls. Then it was Mulayam-Kanshi Ram versus Kalyan Singh of the BJP, who had been deposed as chief minister following the Ayodhya mosque destruction incident. Today it is Akhilesh-Mayawati versus Narendra Modi — a more formidable challenge.
The third refers to the political status of the BJP. Then, the BJP was not in power either at the Centre or in the state. Today it’s there in both places. In the 2014 general elections, the party had got 40 per cent of the vote-share in Uttar Pradesh. The SP could manage only five seats while the BSP ended with none. The situation was not much different in the 2017 assembly polls where the SP and the BSP had to bite the dust while the BJP romped home with a huge majority. And yet the SP-BSP combine has reason to feel upbeat. It had tasted blood in the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls, and this had proved to be a trigger to explore a formalise alliance between the two parties.
There, questions remain: First, will the coalition deliver in 2019? Will it last in case of failure? Will it sustain even after the victory or become victim to ego battles, as had happened in 1995?
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)