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At the week­end, the Mayawati-Akhilesh Ya­dav ‘gath­band­han’ was for­mally con­se­crated. The two lead­ers ad­dressed a joint press con­fer­ence in Lucknow to re­as­sure the re­spec­tive cadres, which were, hith­erto, at each other’s throats of a mu­tu­ally gain­ful elec­toral tie-up. Thirty-eight Lok Sabha seats, each are to be con­tested by the two al­lies while two seats have been left on sheer mercy grounds for the Congress’s mother-and-son duo, and two more for mi­nor groups which might be roped in later. Clearly, Ajit Singh can lay claim to one in west­ern UP, though he has rea­son to feel slighted for not hav­ing been ex­tended the ba­sic cour­tesy of an in­for­mal con­sul­ta­tion and for be­ing com­pletely left out from the for­mal an­nounce­ment in Lucknow on Satur­day. Such cour­te­sies have never come easy to ei­ther Mayawati or Ya­dav who are happy har­ness­ing their re­spec­tive caste bases for amass­ing il­licit wealth. If Mayawati is sit­ting on an em­pire of a mod­est es­ti­mate nearly Rs 5,000 crores, Ya­dav, the son of a for­mer wrestler-cum-in­ter­me­di­ate-col­lege-teacher, has an­nounced plans to build a Rs 300 crore ho­tel in the heart of UP’s cap­i­tal. This, when one is sup­posed to be the mes­siah of Dal­its and the other the cham­pion of the in­ter­me­di­ate Ya­dav caste. Since cor­rup­tion has hardly ever pre­vented vot­ers from elect­ing their caste lead­ers, the rel­e­vant ques­tion is whether the SP-BSP tie-up will fa­cil­i­tate a straight­for­ward trans­fer of each other’s votes to the al­liance can­di­dates. Em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence is not clear on this vi­tal ques­tion. More of­ten than not such op­por­tunis­tic and neg­a­tive part­ner­ships end up in­flict­ing losses on both the al­lies. For, in a par­lia­men­tary poll which has be­come in­creas­ingly pres­i­den­tial, vot­ers no longer elect MPs, they elect a prime min­ster. In the present case, nei­ther Mayawati nor Ya­dav, that is, Bua and Babua, as they have taken to ad­dress­ing each other to ad­ver­tise their new-found close­ness, is se­ri­ously in the quest for prime min­is­ter­ship, while Modi is seek­ing a sec­ond suc­ces­sive term. That ques­tion will weigh as much with her Dalit vot­ers as it would with his Ya­dav vot­ers as they en­ter the polling booths, and this might pay put to the dream of the duo for a straight­for­ward ag­gre­ga­tion of each party’s votes to make a win­ning com­bi­na­tion. Yes, the SP-BSP-Con­gressRLD tie-up against the BJP did man­age to win three Lok Sabha by-elec­tions last year in UP, in­clud­ing the Go­rakh­pur seat of Chief Min­is­ter Yogi Adityanath. But what was at stake here was not the com­plex­ion and char­ac­ter of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. Such a protest vote in by-polls is not usual and does not presage the out­come of a par­lia­men­tary poll. In any case, as they say it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.

Both Mayawati and Ya­dav face se­ri­ous cor­rup­tion cases, and the for­mer is so vul­ner­a­ble that she has al­ways staked her po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion for pro­tect­ing her­self and her fam­ily from the clutches of the anti-cor­rup­tion and an­ti­money-laun­der­ing laws. The point is that it is early days yet and how the al­liance sur­vives against the pulls and pres­sures from the rul­ing party re­mains to be seen. Mean­while, the Lucknow pact, 2019, has ad­min­is­tered a clear blow to the Congress’s am­bi­tions of be­ing the po­ten­tial an­chor of an om­nibus anti-Modi al­liance. Hopes of a much-bal­ly­hooed Ma­ha­gath­band­han were blown to smithereens with Mayawati us­ing choic­est ep­i­thets to de­cry the Congress lead­er­ship. She re­called how in the last As­sem­bly poll, Ya­dav had burnt his fin­gers al­ly­ing with the Congress while she her­self has not for­got­ten the pain of an al­liance with the party in the mid-90s. Even in the af­ter­math of its good show­ing in the re­cent As­sem­bly poll, there are no tak­ers for the Congress in a re­gional al­liance. How the Congress fares in al­liances can also be gauged by the com­plete re­jec­tion of its op­por­tunis­tic tieup with the TDP in the re­cent Te­lan­gana As­sem­bly elec­tion. In sum, the game of Elec­tioin 2019 has just be­gun, there will be many al­liances and many break-ups, but the vot­ers will pass judge­ment most dis­cern­ingly af­ter duly con­sid­er­ing the what and how of such gath­band­hans and ma­ha­gath­band­hans in the past which had only in­flicted un­told pain on the coun­try.

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