Grand alliance comes undone?
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, popularly known as “Netaji”, has pulled out of the grand anti-Modi alliance prior to the Bihar assembly elections. According to news reports, the SP chief left after feeling that he was not given enough respect. It was his efforts that brought erstwhile rivals, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal-United together, besides making Nitish Kumar the alliance’s chief ministerial candidate. Despite Mulayam’s efforts, the party was only given five seats for the upcoming polls and that too from the RJD’s quota. As a result of Thursday’s tumultuous events, the SP has decided to fight the elections alone. JD (U) president Sharad Yadav, meanwhile, has said that the SP will be brought back into the grand alliance, which includes the JD (U), RJD and the Congress. Some in the media have played another angle to Thursday’s sequence events after Mulayam recently met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi while senior SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav last week met with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah.
This is in no way to suggest that the SP will commit the ultimate volte face and join the BJP-led alliance in Bihar. The SP is set to take on Modi-led BJP in his home state of Uttar Pradesh for assembly elections due in 2017. At that particular juncture, the SP will want to dominate proceedings. However, Mulayam’s angst against the grand anti-Modi alliance does have some basis in reason. Underlying all those reasons is the much vaunted Yadav vote in Bihar.
Ram Gopal Yadav, brother of Mulayam and a senior SP leader questioned the very sanctity of the grand alliance. “I always knew that it (the alliance) can’t take off and I categorically said formalising it is signing the SP’s death warrant. It would have meant losing the party’s <g data-gr-id="40">hard earned</g> identity,” he said. It is this very question of identity politics that may have forced Mulayam’s hand. In a time when the RJD, under Lalu Yadav, is losing its political clout in the state, the SP saw the upcoming Bihar elections as an opportunity to make its mark. Lalu Yadav cannot fight elections after his conviction in the fodder scam. The RJD chief’s wife and former chief minister Rabri Devi is no longer active in <g data-gr-id="44">politics,</g> while his children do not possess the requisite influence. Moreover, the current chief ministerial candidate Nitish Kumar has no <g data-gr-id="52">vote</g> base among the Yadavs. What’s more, many senior leaders in the RJD have left in droves. However, what is even more pertinent is the electoral math involved.
<g data-gr-id="41">Yadavs</g> constitute the highest percentage of the population in Bihar (15 percent) and dominate the electoral scene in Western Bihar. Without the Yadav vote, the grand anti-Modi alliance will find it very difficult to secure the state. The BJP, meanwhile, has played its cards well. The party has appointed Rajya Sabha MP Bhupender Yadav as the party’s Bihar in-charge. Lalu’s former lieutenant Ram Kripal Yadav, who switched sides to the BJP is now a union minister at the Centre, after decimating the RJD chief’s daughter in the Lok Sabha elections. With these leaders on board, the BJP will now vie for the Yadav vote. Although the SP cannot secure Bihar alone, it can definitely play its part in reclaiming the Yadav vote.
In addition to the electoral math, the grand anti-Modi alliance has been rather poor in its decision making, especially in the distribution of seats. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has already left due to differences over <g data-gr-id="42">seat sharing</g>. What is even more appalling from a strategic viewpoint is the alliance’s decision to give Congress 40 seats to contest, despite holding only four seats in the current Bihar assembly. According to certain political commentators, the Congress is a non-entity in the state at this particular juncture. Therefore, the decision to give SP only five seats and Congress 40 seems rather unwise.
There is still some way to go and the contest in Bihar remains very tight. Thursday’s events, however, may have tilted the scales in BJP’s favour.