India Today - - INSIDE - By Ajit Ku­mar Jha

The op­po­si­tion grand al­liance is in cri­sis as the BSP supremo dumps the Congress ahead of as­sem­bly elec­tions in three states


If the photo-op in Kar­nataka in May or the Akhilesh Ya­davMayawat­i tie-up two months ear­lier was any­thing to go by, a ma­ha­gath­band­han or grand al­liance of op­po­si­tion par­ties was al­most a given for three as­sem­bly polls in Novem­ber and the gen­eral elec­tion in 2019. But then the mer­cu­rial Mayawati put a span­ner in the works, align­ing first with Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Ch­hat­tis­garh (JCC) and then rul­ing out an al­liance with the Congress in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ra­jasthan. “In the in­ter­est of the BSP move­ment,” the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party (BSP) pres­i­dent de­clared, “it has been de­cided that the party will not ally with the Congress in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ra­jasthan at any cost. In Kar­nataka, we tied up with a re­gional party (Janata Dal-Sec­u­lar). In Ch­hat­tis­garh, we tied up with Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Ch­hat­tis­garh. In Mad­hya Pradesh and Ra­jasthan, we may go with re­gional par­ties there, but cer­tainly not with [the] Congress.”

Mayawati’s blis­ter­ing at­tack on All In­dia Congress Com­mit­tee gen­eral sec­re­tary Digvi­jaya Singh, who she ac­cused of be­ing a “BJP agent” and held squarely re­spon­si­ble for the botched al­liance talks be­tween her party and the Congress in poll-bound Mad­hya Pradesh, has stunned ob­servers. The Congress, how­ever, is cling­ing on to the hope that these are mere bar­gain­ing tac­tics by the BSP for a greater num­ber of seats in any pre-poll al­liance with the Congress in the three poll-bound states.

One in­di­ca­tion of this came on Oc­to­ber 9 when, cel­e­brat­ing BSP founder Kan­shi Ram’s birth an­niver­sary, she said, “We won’t go beg­ging to any party for seats. We won’t tol­er­ate the in­sult of our peo­ple. That’s why we have put forth only one con­di­tion, of be­ing given a re­spectable num­ber of seats to en­ter into an elec­toral al­liance.”

On their part, most Congress ob­servers firmly be­lieve this is typ­i­cal Mayawati-style hard bar­gain­ing. Af­ter all, they point out while gun­ning for the Congress lo­cal lead­er­ship last week, Mayawati sig­nif­i­cantly spared Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi and United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance chair­per­son So­nia Gandhi, even go­ing to the ex­tent of say­ing, “I feel So­nia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi’s in­ten­tions for a Congress-BSP al­liance are hon­est. But some Congress lead­ers are sab­o­tag­ing it.” This strat­egy of spar­ing the Congress high com­mand but at­tack­ing state-level lead­ers is with an eye to keep­ing her op­tions open for any ne­go­ti­a­tions prior to the Lok Sabha polls. Ac­knowl­edg­ing the equa­tion, Congress leader Ran­deep Sur­je­w­ala says: “Mayawati has ex­pressed mu­tual re­spect and re­posed her con­fi­dence in So­ni­aji and Rahulji. If the three top lead­ers—So­nia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and BSP pres­i­dent Mayawati—are on the same page, no fourth per­son can dis­turb the equa­tion be­tween the Congress and the BSP.” The Congress’s dreams of help from the BSP, a key ally in the grand al­liance, to end 15 years of BJP rule in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh col­lided di­rectly with the BSP’s de­sire to pig­gy­back on the Congress in the three states. Congress lead­ers say they would have given the BSP a max­i­mum of 15 seats when the party wanted as many as 50 in the 230-mem­ber MP as­sem­bly. MP Congress Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Ka­mal Nath, how­ever, came to for­mer CM Digvi­jaya Singh’s de­fence, say­ing, “Some­one had to be blamed for the al­liance not work­ing out, and Mayawati blamed Digvi­jaya Singh. The fact is the BSP wanted 50 seats and given the ground po­si­tion, the BSP can­not pos­si­bly win in many of these seats. This would have di­rectly ben­e­fit­ted the BJP,” says Nath. How­ever, be­ing the op­ti­mist and prag­ma­tist that he is, Ka­mal Nath still hopes some ar­range­ment can be worked out be­fore the polls com­mence.

A des­per­ate and com­bat­ive Mayawati has her own com­pul­sions in driv­ing a hard bar­gain with the Congress. The BSP’s vote share had dipped dra­mat­i­cally in each of the three Hindi heart­land states in the 2013 as­sem­bly polls af­ter peak­ing in 2008. In MP, her party’s vote share de­clined from 8.8 per cent (or 7 seats) in 2008 to 6.3 per cent (4 seats) in 2013. In Ch­hat­tis­garh, the party’s vote share de­clined from 6.1 per cent (2 seats) in 2008 to 4.3 per cent (1 seat) in 2013. In Ra­jasthan, its vote share and seats halved from 7.6 per cent (6 seats) in 2008 to 3.4 per cent (3 seats) in 2013.

The slide in BSP vote share and seats has been even more dra­matic in Ut­tar Pradesh, its great­est strong­hold. The party, with 30 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote in 2007, had romped to power with 206 out of the 403 seats. Mayawati be­came chief min­is­ter for a full five-year term. By 2012, the BSP’s pop­u­lar vote had slid down to 26 per cent, bring­ing down its seat share to 80, and ced­ing the chief min­is­te­rial space to Sa­ma­jwadi Party scion Akhilesh Ya­dav. Things turned even more dis­as­trous in 2017, when the BSP’s pop­u­lar vote slid to 22.2, earn­ing the party a measly 19 seats and paving the way for Yogi Adityanath to be­come the head of the BJP gov­ern­ment in the state. The de­cline of the party is re­flected even in the Lok Sabha re­sults. In both 2004 and 2009, the BSP won 19 and 20 seats re­spec­tively out of the

80 seats in UP. But by 2014, the BSP ended up with nil seats de­spite a 19.6 per cent vote share.

It is this dra­matic slide in vote and seat share that has made Mayawati des­per­ate. It is a now or never sit­u­a­tion for her in both the as­sem­bly elec­tions this year and the gen­eral elec­tion next year. She sees the bat­tle in the Hindi heart­land states as a chance to in­crease her vote and seat share. The ris­ing Dalit con­scious­ness in the face of atroc­i­ties against them in BJP-ruled states, di­lu­tion of the pro­vi­sions of the Sched­uled Castes/ Sched­uled Tribes (Preven­tion of Atroc­i­ties) Act and the is­sue of quota in jobs and pro­mo­tions have come to her aid.

In April this year, MP be­came the epi­cen­tre of mas­sive Dalit protests af­ter six peo­ple were killed in mob vi­o­lence in Gwalior, Bhind and Morena dis­tricts and many more in­jured dur­ing a Bharat bandh. The rail block­ade and other in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence spread all around the Hindi heart­land states of Ra­jasthan, UP and Bi­har. Mayawati, with her com­mit­ted Dalit vot­ers, wants to cap­i­talise on this ris­ing sen­ti­ment of the com­mu­nity.

Be­sides these, there were at least an­other dozen seats in which the BSP vote was sub­stan­tial enough to al­ter the out­come of the polls should it ally with the Congress. Even MP Chief Min­is­ter Shivraj Singh Chouhan ad­mit­ted that a Congress-BSP al­liance could pose a se­ri­ous threat for the BJP in Bun­delk­hand, par­tic­u­larly in the Gwalior-Cham­bal and Vind­hya re­gions, in at least 15 seats.

How strong is the BSP in MP? The party re­lies mainly on a core com­mit­ted vote bank com­pris­ing Sched­uled Castes. Three of the four seats it won in MP in 2013 are re­served for SCs. Of these, two are lo­cated in the GwaliorCha­m­bal re­gion that has a com­par­a­tively high pop­u­la­tion of SCs and the re­main­ing in the Vind­hya re­gion, the orig­i­nal strong­hold of the BSP in MP. The party notches up vic­to­ries in its stronghold­s where the con­test is three-cor­nered or where the Congress has be­come very weak and does not have sub­stan­tial votes to win. The BSP usu­ally wins when it gets the SC vote en masse along with some OBC votes. The party would win in the Vind­hya re­gion in the 1990s when OBCs like the lo­cally dom­i­nant Kur­mis be­gan sup­port­ing it. In re­cent years, how­ever, the Kur­mis have largely aban­doned the BSP and been ap­pro­pri­ated by the main­stream Congress and BJP.

In the one gen­eral seat that the party won in 2013, Di­mani, it had fielded an up­per caste can­di­date. A Brah­min by caste, Balvir Singh Dhadotiya se­cured the com­bined SC and Brah­min votes to post a vic­tory.

Both in MP and in Ch­hat­tis­garh, the crux of the BSP-Congress al­liance rests on the trans­fer­abil­ity of votes. The Congress can­not yield seats be­yond a point to the BSP since it feels that the up­per caste vote will go to the BJP in­stead in such seats. The BSP feels its vote will trans­fer to the Congress but not vice versa. In such a sce­nario, the BSP feels it is at a dis­ad­van­tage in an al­liance with the Congress.


In fact, at the ground level, the Congress and BSP have of­ten com­peted for the same vote. How­ever, the prospect of a BSP rise at the ex­pense of the Congress is re­mote. The BSP did ap­pro­pri­ate the Congress’s Dalit vote bank when it al­lied with the Congress in UP in 1996. But be­tween 2008 and 2013, the BSP vote base be­gan shift­ing back to­wards the Congress and other par­ties, given the party’s di­lu­tion of the Bahu­jan ide­ol­ogy.

Mayawati’s cur­rent beef with state-level Congress lead­ers is also be­cause the party gives shel­ter to BSP’s ex­pelled lead­ers. Once its tallest Mus­lim face in UP, Nasimud­din Sid­diqui was ex­pelled by Mayawati af­ter the UP poll disas­ter in 2017. Hav­ing now joined the Congress, Sid­diqui is try­ing to ex­pand the Mus­lim base of the Congress, es­pe­cially in west­ern UP. In MP, the Congress is try­ing to project Devashish Jarariya as the Dalit face of the party. A BSP leader in MP, he was sacked osten­si­bly be­cause he had launched the BSP youth web­site to at­tract SC/ST youth, when the party did not have even an of­fi­cial Twit­ter or Face­book ac­count. Af­ter Jarariya was ex­pelled, Mayawati also made it clear that the party had nei­ther a youth wing nor a web­site.

The BSP’s de­cline in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 UP as­sem­bly elec­tion has led to a po­lit­i­cal vac­uum in large parts of the state. Mean­while, new Dalit lead­ers like Chandrashe­khar Azad are gain­ing trac­tion. Af­ter his re­lease from jail in Septem­ber, Chandrashe­khar made an over­ture to Mayawati, say­ing, “She is my buaji (aunt) and I am her bhatija (nephew). Our blood is the same as we both come from the same com­mu­nity.” Ac­tu­ally, Chandrashe­khar’s aim is to unite the BJP’s anti-Dalit vote bank in west­ern UP. On the other hand, Mayawati, who be­longs to the same Jatav sub­caste as Chandrashe­khar, is un­happy with the Bhim Army for di­vid­ing the BSP’s care­fully nur­tured Jatav vote bank. Ajit Ku­mar, a pro­fes­sor in Ba­naras Hindu Univer­sity, says, “Mayawati doesn’t want to cre­ate any other Dalit lead­er­ship, es­pe­cially from the Jatav com­mu­nity in west­ern UP, since it will dam­age her hold over Dalit vote banks and in turn re­duce her bar­gain­ing power. But any di­vi­sion in the Dalit vote bank will cer­tainly help the BJP, which is ap­peas­ing Dal­its with an eye to the Lok Sabha polls.”

Mayawati is also up­set with the Congress for ap­proach­ing the Bhim Army. The Congress’s state vice pres­i­dent and se­nior leader from Sa­ha­ran­pur, Im­ran Ma­sood, had been con­tin­u­ously in touch with Chandrashe­khar. It was Ma­sood who had helped him get le­gal sup­port while he was in jail. Ac­knowl­edg­ing the debt, Chandrashe­khar said, “Im­ran has sup­ported us in dif­fi­cult days. We will give our blood for him. Im­ran and his com­mu­nity have al­ways tried to give se­cu­rity to Dal­its.” Chandrashe­khar and Ma­sood are now work­ing to­wards a Dalit-Mus­lim al­liance in west­ern UP keep­ing 2019 in mind. Luc­know Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Man­ish Hindvi says: “With 27 Lok Sabha seats in west­ern UP, any sort of Congress-Bhim Army al­liance will af­fect the BSP’s chances in the re­gion.” Says a BSP leader from west­ern UP, “The Bhim Army is try­ing to dam­age the BSP mis­sion by cre­at­ing a dilemma among Dalit vot­ers, and the Congress is sup­port­ing it in­di­rectly. It is do­ing ev­ery­thing that can be called anti-grand al­liance ac­tiv­ity.” How­ever, Ka­mal Waliya, a se­nior leader of the Bhim Army, struck a con­cil­ia­tory note: “We will try our best to unite all Dalit votes against the BJP. We all re-

spect Mayawati and can unite with her in or­der to de­feat the BJP in 2019.”

Congress lead­ers are also wary of the on­go­ing up­per caste and OBC back­lash against the SC/ST Act and reser­va­tions in pro­mo­tions and jobs. An al­liance with the BSP, it feels, could hurt its chances as non-Dalit vot­ers might shy away from the Congress and go with the BJP.

Ini­tially, Akhilesh ex­horted the Congress to have a large heart and ac­com­mo­date the BSP. “The Congress should con­test elec­tions by tak­ing along all po­lit­i­cal par­ties who have sim­i­lar thoughts and ide­ol­ogy,” he said on Oc­to­ber 3. How­ever, with Congress lead­ers ig­nor­ing his plea, Akhilesh de­cided to aban­don the Congress al­liance. On Oc­to­ber 6, the SP chief an­nounced in Luc­know: “We will fight elec­tions in MP and Ch­hat­tis­garh and speak to the BSP and the Gond­wana Ganatantra Party for an al­liance in the two states. The Congress has made us wait for long. We can’t wait any more.”

The as­sem­bly elec­tions in Novem­ber are crit­i­cal for both the BSP and the Congress. The BSP’s as­cen­dancy in UP as well as in MP, Ra­jasthan and Ch­hat­tis­garh had been a body blow to the Congress. How­ever, with an am­bi­tious Mayawati tak­ing the Bahu­jan vote for granted and court­ing the up­per-caste vote, the BSP’s ex­pan­sion not only slowed down post-2012 but ac­tu­ally be­gan de­clin­ing. Now, both par­ties are vy­ing for the same vote banks, strug­gling to re­gain their lost cred­i­bil­ity and the vote base that has aban­doned them. The Congress wor­ries about the price of BSP sup­port for de­feat­ing its main en­emy, the BJP. But un­less you ally with the lesser en­emy, you never win the bat­tle in the long run.


HIGH COM­MAND So­nia and Rahul with Mayawati in Ben­galuru in May


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