“Politics makes strange bedfellows”, they say. Where better can you witness the entire gamut of political drama, alliances, enmity and high intrigue than in the world of Indian politics? And at the heart of the Indian election scenario is the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. With over 200 million people, UP is one of the most populated states in the country. This also means that it has the highest number of Lok Sabha seats (80 seats according to the Election Commission report on the 2014 general election).
Now, it quite stands to reason that the party that wields most influence in the state will have a great deal of influence on the national political environment too. In fact, the CM of UP is often considered second in importance only to the country’s Prime Minister. It is little wonder, then, that the SP, BSP, BJP and Congress are locked in such a close battle over the state’s upcoming legislative assembly elections.
A Few Weeks Ago
Till about a fortnight ago, the Congress seemed to be in dire straits in UP. The ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) was riddled with internal strife. Party supremo, Mulayam Singh Yadav went as far as to remove his son, Akhilesh Yadav from the party despite the latter being the Chief Minister of the state.
A hurried reconciliation did not do much to repair the uncertainty caused by the rift. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party at the centre is undeniably keen to make a huge impact in Uttar Pradesh and kickstart the campaign for the 2019 general elections. The only person that has stood as a strong contender in the upcoming elections is Mayawati, former CM and head of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Mayawati seemed to be collecting the steam required to unleash a Dalit juggernaut crushing all her rivals on the way. PM Modi had gone on record to say that Mayawati was the one to watch out for in the elections that are scheduled between February and March, 2017.
Congress Joins Hands With SP
Earlier this weekend, the Samajwadi Party and Congress announced that they shall be entering into an alliance and contesting the UP Assembly elections together. “For the unity and integrity of India, and following a secular ideology, we will continue our fight under SP National President Akhilesh Yadav”, said the UP chief of SP, Naresh Uttam. So what is clear is that Akhilesh Yadav remains the CM candidate for the SP-INC combine.
Former actor and UP Congress chief Raj Babbar confirmed that Congress would be contesting from 105 Vidhan Sabha constituencies while SP would be fielding candidates in 298 constituencies. The state of Uttar Pradesh has a total of 404 legislative assembly constituencies and the two parties together want to maximise their chances of victory by covering all the seats except one.
Surprised But Not Shocked
The alliance between Congress and the Samajwadi Party does come as a surprise to those who have been keenly watching the political developments in the state. Till about mid-2016, Congress was going strong with the slogan “27 saal, UP behal“, referring to the poor governance in the state since Congress lost its power in the state.
In 1989, Congress gave up its power to Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav was one of the main leaders of Janata Dal at the time. Over the past two decades, the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Bharatiya Janata Party have been embroiled in caste and community politics and have neglected the state, claimed the Congress. The main agenda now, however, seems to defeat the BJP and to prevent the party from making a clean sweep through one of the most important states in the north. Without the support of the SP, Congress stood to lose a part of the Muslim votes in the state.
Good News For BJP?
Despite Congress’ efforts to stage a comeback in the state, the alliance between Congress and SP is certainly good news for the BJP. The polarisation of Muslim votes in favour of this alliance is a far more preferable scenario for the BJP than a combination of both Muslim and Dalit votes had Congress decided to join hands with Mayawati and the BSP.
The BJP hopes that the news of the alliance will help the Hindus of the state cut across caste politics and vote in favour of the BJP. In recent months, Mayawati has been aggressively wooing the Muslim voters of the state for the same reason. So much so that the Muslim community was starting to favour a Mayawati-led government than stay with a strife-ridden SP. A Dalit-Muslim consolidation would have meant trouble brewing for both the SP and the Congress.
Shiela Dixit Withdraws
Before the announcement of the election, Sheila Dixit, a senior INC politician (and former CM of Delhi), had been projected as the Chief Ministerial candidate for the party in UP. After the two parties join hands, however, Dixit withdrew her candidature because an alliance between the two important parties cannot be done apart by putting forth two possible chief ministers.
It is time for the younger generation to take over, she was reported to have said. Dixit may still contest elections from the state but is not looking forward to heading the government.
The Run-up To the Assembly Elections
The groundwork for the UP state Legislative Assembly elections is on in full swing. BJP is trying vigorously to woo non-Jatav Dalits, a group that has not found much political representation in the state. Their power to make a difference remains very limited, though.
Add to this the fact that the BJP has not yet announced a CM candidate and we start to see why despite the relief, UP is still going to be an uphill task for the centre’s ruling party. There is also the chance that the Muslim voters, disillusioned by the Congress joining hands with a turbulent SP may choose to vote BSP into power.
The BJP will also have to contend with the SP-INC alliance’s ability to woo the voters from the upper castes and from the major cities of UP.
There is not much time left for the assembly polls and we shall be watching the developments in UP rather closely.