Thrown to the winds: Oppn unity
The much-anticipated pre-poll alliance between Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for Assembly elections in three BJP-ruled states -- Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh -- has been shelved. On Wednesday, BSP supremo announced that her party would not ally with Congress in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Earlier, she had announced a pre-poll alliance with former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi's Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) for the Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh. Mayawati who had asked for a respectable number of seats in Madhya Pradesh in her talks with Congress on Wednesday termed the grand old party arrogant and said some of its leaders like former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and general secretary of the party Digvijay Singh do not want an alliance between the two parties. Talking in the same language as Congress had when she announced the alliance between BSP and JCC, Mayawati said that Congress leaders are afraid of CBI and ED. Mayawati's decision to give Congress the cold shoulder will surely upset Congress' poll strategies in the three poll-bound states. Recognising the influence of BSP in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Congress was eyeing to forge an alliance with the party for the Assembly polls in these states but the two parties apparently could not arrive at a mutually acceptable seat-sharing formula for the alliance talks to go forward. After humiliating defeats in the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, BSP was considered to have lost its appeal among the voters but in some of the recent byelections in UP, the party emerged as a game-changer. In these elections, BSP lent its support to Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidates who handed a shock defeat to BJP candidates, making it amply clear that if opposition parties field a common candidate, they can defeat the official BJP candidates on most Lok Sabha seats. This prospect made the opposition leaders across the country launch a parallel campaign for the opposition's unity and they came together as a united force to witness the swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy in May this year. For quite some time, opposition leaders like Telangana Chief Minister and chief of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) K Chandrasekhar Rao, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Congress President Rahul Gandhi enthusiastically talked about forging a grand alliance of opposition parties ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But as the latest move by BSP suggests, all talks of opposition unity have turned out to be mere speculations. While announcing that BSP will not partner with Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Mayawati also said that Congress leaders think that they can win the upcoming elections alone. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are two states where Congress thinks it can win comfortably. In Madhya Pradesh, it wanted to have an alliance with BSP as the SC/ST voters in the state constitute about 10 per cent of the total number of voters. It also wanted to have an alliance with BSP in Chhattisgarh where Congress was expecting to come back to power. But Mayawati apparently drove a tough negotiation with Congress and demanded a respectable number of seats to contest. But that did not happen and BSP announced its independent plans for these states. Realising the prospect of a victory in the three poll-bound states, Congress did not want to leave many seats for other opposition parties including BSP. Now, with BSP and Congress contesting the Assembly elections on their own, the upcoming elections become multi-cornered contest in which the opposition votes will split and may benefit BJP. The formula of opposition's unity that Mayawati experimented in UP is not being employed in the upcoming Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
The regional parties which constitute the bulk of the opposition are led by some of the most influential political leaders with their own ambitions to become the Prime Minister of the country. These parties, which include BSP, do not see Congress as a likely partner. Rather, they think Congress is an obstacle in their way while Congress wants to be seen as an alternative to BJP. These conflicting interests of key opposition parties render the opposition unity ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections a distant dream. However, key opposition leaders are now pinning their hopes on the post-poll scenario where depending on the seat tally, the opposition leaders can chalk out a fresh strategy to oust the BJP government from the Centre. But if the opposition remains as divided as it is today, there is every chance that BJP will manage to win enough number of seats to remain in power for another term. However, Mayawati's strategies for Assembly elections in the 3 states are surely going to pay off. Her chances of emerging stronger after these elections are very high.