Business Standard

Arithmetic progressio­n

Looking to consolidat­e Muslim votes, SP and Congress have joined hands for the parliament­ary polls. RADHIKA RAMASESHAN explains what it means for their LS prospects


The Samajwadi Party (SP) has faced a series of electoral defeats in Uttar Pradesh — starting with the 2012 Assembly polls until 2022 state elections. Though it increased its seat count from 47 to 110 in the most recent poll, the party has lost two allies -- the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) — both of which have since joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The SBSP and the RLD, in themselves, are not exactly powerful entities, nonetheles­s, they brought value to the SP’S table by adding their caste-derived votes in eastern and western UP.

The SP'S nomination of three candidates for the Rajya Sabha biennial elections on February 27 has caused internal strife. Pallavi Patel of Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), an ally leader, publicly accused SP chief Akhilesh Yadav of reneging on his commitment to the “PDA (pichada, dalit, alpasankhy­ak)” cause by choosing two nominees — actor Jaya Bachchan and former bureaucrat Alok Ranjan — who are not linked either to backward castes or Dalits or minorities. The third, Ramji Lal Suman, an ex-dalit MP of Hathras, was the exception. Pallavi queered the pitch for the SP after declaring that she would vote against the SP’S “deceit”.

Saleem Shervani, the SP'S national general secretary and former Badaun MP, resigned from his post, alleging that Yadav had done “nothing” for Muslims.

The SP’S alliance with the Congress for the Lok Sabha polls, announced last week after months of haggling, has been seen as a salvo of sorts at its internal critics. Patel, who previously indicated her desire to join the Congress, stated that the alliance strengthen­ed the Indian National Developmen­tal Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc.

The alliance awaits its first test in the Rajya Sabha contest, where the SP has to ensure that its

three nominees get through. In the normal course, the SP would have sailed through, as would the BJP. But sensing friction within the SP, the BJP nominated an eighth candidate, Sanjay Seth, who could disrupt the SP. Seth, a real estate tycoon from Lucknow, was close to Yadav and his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and was appointed party treasurer by Yadav. SP sources have not dismissed the possibilit­y of cross-voting by its 108 MLAS.

The Congress brings just two legislator­s whose votes won’t help the SP tide over a possible crisis. That’s why the SP has reached out to the Jansatta Dal (Loktantrik), headed by Raghuraj Pratap Singh (Raja Bhaiya), an Independen­t legislator with no determined political inclinatio­n.

Looking at the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, which will likely see a three-way contest between the BJP/NDA, INDIA bloc, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the outcome remains uncertain.

The Congress and SP had a partnershi­p once before, in the 2017 state polls that ended with a spectacula­r sweep for the

BJP after nearly 15 years. Sudhir Panwar, a former UP Planning Commission member who is close to the SP’S leadership, said: “Things were different then. The SP was internally fractured, it was up against anti-incumbency, and the Congress was not in a combative mood. We are now looking at a bipolar election, which is the only way to defeat the BJP. So, this alliance is necessary.”

Asked why he disregarde­d the BSP, Panwar said: “Its relations with the BJP stand exposed. The chunk of voters wanting to defeat the BJP will not look at the BSP.”

The speculatio­n that the collaborat­ion was pushed for by Muslim leaders and opinion moulders was confirmed by Rajendra Chaudhary, SP veteran and member of the UP Legislativ­e Council. “Nobody wants the minority votes to be divided. That’s why INDIA stands as a strong secular force.”

Asked if a Muslim consolidat­ion might not conversely trigger a Hindu polarisati­on, Anurag Bhadauria, SP spokespers­on, replied: “We are fighting on a host of issues on which the BJP is silent. Price hikes, women’s welfare, farmers’ problems, unemployme­nt, and restlessne­ss among youths. Look at the lakhs of youths who applied for the police constable recruitmen­t exam and were frustrated because the exam was cancelled after a paper leak.”

On whether BSP chief Mayawati could torpedo INDIA’S calculatio­n about securing the Muslim votes by fielding a record number of Muslims, BSP’S Amroha MP Danish Ali — suspended for protesting the expulsion of Trinamool Congress Party MP Mahua Moitra, from the Lok Sabha — maintained: “Even BSP votes are getting transferre­d to INDIA because its voters feel cheated.” Ali is expected to join and contest on a Congress ticket in the Lok Sabha polls.

But not everyone in the Congress sounded as buoyant. The devil lies in the detail of the 17 seats allotted to the Congress by Yadav. The Congress got Rae Bareli and Amethi, for long considered as the Gandhis’ pocket borough until Rahul Gandhi lost Amethi in 2019 to the BJP’S Smriti Irani and Sonia Gandhi’s victory margin declined in Rae Bareli. Sonia Gandhi has since forfeited her seat, opting for a berth in the Upper House, while it is unclear if Rahul Gandhi will return to Amethi or his sibling Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will step into her mother’s shoes in Rae Bareli. “If the Gandhis desert UP, it will send the most negative message down the line to the workers,” admitted a source.

In the past five years, UP’S Opposition remained passive and defensive against the BJP, a trend that does not augur well for the impending battle.

The Congress and SP had a partnershi­p in the 2017 Assembly polls that ended with a spectacula­r sweep for the BJP

 ?? PHOTO: X/@YADAVAKHIL­ESH ?? Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav (right) joins Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Agra on Sunday
PHOTO: X/@YADAVAKHIL­ESH Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav (right) joins Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Agra on Sunday
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