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Driving a hard bargain

Driving a hard bargain

Political parties are in a rush to give a formal shape to their tie-up with other parties in view of the state Assembly elections in three BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh and Lok Sabha elections mid next year. The opposition parties are engaged in thrashing out the seat-sharing issue with their potential alliance partners even as a formal alliance is eluding them so far. After the recently-concluded Karnataka polls in which BJP was restricted to less than a majority and Congress and Janata Dal-Secular JD(S)combine formed the government, the opposition parties are buoyant and look to replicate the success of Karnataka in other poll-bound states. An important aspect of the Karnataka experiment is that even after winning more seats, Congress has offered the post of the Chief Minister to its coalition partner JD(S), underscoring its new-found attitude of accommodation over superiority. This change in stance has boosted the hope of other parties to strike a more equitable deal with Congress as far as the issue of seat-sharing is concerned. Congress which seems to be in the striking distance from power at least in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan is in talks with various parties for a pre-poll alliance in order to set off the division of votes in these states. An important player in the opposition camp, Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party wields a major influence in some part of Madhya Pradesh and is reportedly insisting that an alliance in the state is possible only when a similar alliance and seat-sharing agreement is formalised in other poll-bound states. While Congress is still weighing up its options, BSP vice-president Jai Prakash Singh hit the media headlines by blurting out things that even his party found it hard to approve of. In a party workers' zonal meeting in Lucknow, he reportedly said, "A boy can either look like his mother or father. If Rahul Gandhi had been like his father, then he could have made it in Indian politics. But he is more like his mother (Sonia Gandhi), who is a foreigner. He has foreign blood. I can guarantee that he will not be a success in politics." He also insisted that BSP chief Mayawati, not Rahul Gandhi, is the only alternative of Narendra Modi. Soon after his remarks, he was removed from his post by Mayawati. "I came to know about the BSP national coordinator Jai Prakash Singh's speech in which he spoke against the ideology of BSP and also made personal remarks against the leadership of rival parties. It's his personal opinion. So he has been removed from his post with immediate effect," Mayawati said in a statement. The one thing that was hard to miss out on the stage of HD Kumaraswamy's oath-taking ceremony in May this year where the entire constellation of opposition leaders from Mamata Banerjee to Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Tejshawi Yadav, et al were present, was the public display of affection between Mayawati and Sonia Gandhi, who bumped their heads and held one another's hands for long enough to be noticed. True to that sentiment, Mayawati took no time in expelling the vice-president of her party after he made derogatory personal remarks against Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi. The alacrity with which Mayawati made the decision points to the importance that she attaches to her party's overall image and its willingness to go along with Congress. In Madhya Pradesh, BSP's enjoys a vote share of seven per cent and that could be crucial for making or marring the chances of Congress. But in Rajasthan, the contest will be chiefly between Congress and BJP but BSP insists on a seat-sharing alliance with Congress here too, as also in Chhattisgarh. That's what is giving the Congress interlocutors a hard time in chalking out a poll strategy for Madhya Pradesh.

BSP's ability to tilt the balance and give BJP a nightmare is all well-documented through the recent by-polls in Gorakhpur, Phulpur, and Kairana, where it supported common opposition candidates who went on to trounce candidates fielded by BJP. By joining hands with Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal in these by-elections, she has demonstrated that she does not carry a baggage of past. By distancing her party from the comments made by Jai Prakash Singh, she has demonstrated that BSP no more represents its erstwhile taste for acerbic remarks against rival opposition leaders. As she is gradually positioning herself as one of the central figures in chalking out opposition plans for the upcoming 2019 election, she seems to have let go her temper and ego that she has often been identified with in the past.

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