UP's changing landscape
The brewing SP-BSP alliance might be a winning deal in the most populous state
It is often said 'Uttar Pradesh is India and India is Uttar Pradesh'. A win in India's most populous state can be a game-changer in national elections for any party, as it accounts for 80 out of 545 parliamentary seats. Also UP has provided many Prime Ministers to the country.
As the two regional foes-turned-friends Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party are inching closer towards a Grand Alliance in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections minus the Congress, the poll scene is becoming interesting. Congress could still become a coalition partner if there are breakthroughs in the alliance talks but as of now, the two regional satraps want to keep Congress out, as it does not have a place in their scheme of things, as yet. They would like to win the maximum number of seats in their strongholds and take matters from there to a post-poll scenario to bid for the top job.
SP and BSP do not need Congress, which is lightweight in that crucial state. Secondly, Congress votes are not transferable. Thirdly, SP feels that the 2017 Assembly SP-Congress alliance experiment did not help the party. Also, Congress did not include the lone SP legislator in the recent Madhya Pradesh cabinet. Though it was Congress that has been stressing the need to bring the regional parties together to defeat BJP, after winning Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls, it failed to honour the demands of these smaller parties. Fourthly, Mayawati is worried about some Dalit votes moving to Congress. She has made her own political calculations, keeping the interests of her party in mind. Fifthly, they feel a three-corner contest would benefit the alliance as it can stop the Congress votes going to BJP in protest against the Grand Old Party joining the alliance, as the former's core voters are from Dalits, Other Backward Classes and the minorities.
The Grand Alliance might include Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh and some smaller parties. RLD, once strong amid sugarcane farmers of Western UP, has just started reorganising itself. The alliance is also trying to get Om Prakash Rajbhar's Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party and the Krishna Patel faction of Apna Dal.
The alliance not only has its arithmetic but also chemistry as the once bitter enemies – Mayawati (BSP) and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav – are now on "aunt and nephew" terms. In 2014 BJP had a vote share of 42.63 per cent in UP, while the SP-BSP combine also got 42.19 – almost the same. With Mayawati winning 22.23 per cent of the votes even in 2017, and SP 28.32 per cent, together they polled over half of the total votes. If Congress also joins the alliance, the combined vote share will be more than that of BJP's. There is a divided opinion in Congress about joining the alliance. This is in contrast to 2017 when the party in one voice favoured a tie-up with SP. One section feels that making the contest triangular will for sure hurt BJP. The SP-BSP alliance might have a strategic understanding with Congress to help each other.
Where does that leave BJP? Experts say that it means the alliance might pick up about 50 seats. BJP and Congress would then be left with 30 seats. Congress could pick up two seats – that of the Gandhis – and perhaps one or two more. BJP can, at best, hope to get only 24 or 25. In the Hindi heartland after the recent loss of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh it might lose another 30 seats. In the other states, it might shed 20 seats. So the expectation is that BJP could lose as many as 100 and they would have to make up the gap from other regions to reach the 282 they won in 2014.
How much can they make up in West Bengal, South and Odisha? Moreover, BJP does not have any big alliance partners. Telugu Desam has quit. Shiv Sena is threatening to quit. PDP has left and Akali Dal is disgruntled.
AGP is the latest ally to quit the alliance in Assam. The BJP-led Assam government is already facing all-round attacks for the Citizenship Bill. The problems for BJP in the north-eastern state, have increased. About 19 smaller parties have left the NDA since 2014. However, BJP does not agree with this analysis, as they believe that people will vote for Modi. The party hopes that with its strong leadership, effective communication, a disciplined organisation, unlimited funds as well as a divided opposition, it can come back.
However, you can see a sense of worry in the party. The party chief Amit Shah is subdued. The top leadership is already on a course of correction and thinking of a new narrative in its forthcoming National Council meeting next week. But Modi can still spring surprises. One week is said to be a long one in politics and three months are quite long for any prediction. One thing is that the BJP will emerge as the single largest party.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)