Maya, Akhilesh seek regional leadership for nation
ACongress emerging victorious from the Gandhi bastions of Rae Bareli and Amethi. While declaring that both the partners would be contesting 38 seats each, Mayawati and Akhilesh kept the door open for post-poll adjustments by agreeing that neither party would set up a candidate in Rae Bareli or Amethi. In all probability, the remaining two seats would go to Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chowdhury. The formidable coalition would pose a major challenge to top BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, should he decide to seek a re-election from Varanasi.
Elaborating on the reason of not including the Congress in the pre-poll arrangement, Mayawati said that the Congress did not, so far as UP was concerned, bring much to the table, thereby sending a reality check to any push for Rahul Gandhi to be PM in 2019. The implication of her assertion was that both the SP and BSP by sharing their support bases were in a sturdy position to thwart the BJP’S ambitions getting realised through caste and religion based politics.
The pre-poll alliance comes shortly after the two parties succeeded in trouncing the BJP in the Lok Sabha byelections in Gorakhpur, the stronghold of current Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, and Phulpur, represented by his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya. While making the declaration, Akhilesh allowed Mayawati to do most of the talking. He made it clear to his supporters that he would not tolerate any insult to Mayawati and would take it as a personal affront. Akhilesh’s stance was to erase memories of serious differences the two parties had developed after coming together under Mulayam Singh Yadav and the late Kanshi Ram, to defeat the BJP in 1993, when the Ram Janmabhumi movement was at its peak. Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav did not see eye to eye and the former escaped a murderous assault in the mid 1990s, at a guesthouse, when attacked by SP goons.
The tie-up entails that while on one hand the BJP’S overall numbers in Parliament could come down drastically and on the other hand, the Congress party too would have to curtail its ambitious Upa-based intentions. The Congress may have to struggle to reach the three-figure mark in Parliament. The development is consistent with Mamata Banerjee’s formula of allowing the strongest parties in each state to counter the BJP so as to end saffron rule in the country. Mamata has been all along maintaining that individual plans of parties had to be curbed for the larger objective.
The pre-poll declaration would put Rahul Gandhi in a serious dilemma, since he is under tremendous pressure from his supporters to go it alone in UP and some other states, such as Delhi and Punjab. If he decides to contest all the 80 seats in the state, including from places where the party has no base, he would be seen in the larger context as assisting the BJP, by dividing the anti-bjp vote, thus deviating from the common aim of displacing Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. However, if in the event he chooses to confine his approach to contesting a limited number of seats, he would be susceptible to criticism of not observing the basic blueprint for the success of a post-poll Mahagathbandhan.
The problem in the Congress, as the possible allies view it, is that after the success in the three Hindi heartland states, the party high command has started to overreach, without acknowledging the fact that there is an absolute paucity of an organisational base. Within his own party, Rahul Gandhi has made certain decisions that have a sizable chance of backfiring. For instance, by declaring chief spokesman, Randeep Surjewala, a relatively younger Jat as the party’s nominee from Jind in the byelection from Haryana, he inadvertently sent a signal that Surjewala could be his preferred choice for Chief Ministership of the state subsequently. Surjewala, who saw this opportunity as a forward movement, now finds himself in a situation where he would experience difficulty in winning the predominantly Jat seat—the biggest opposition coming from within his own party. However, if he manages to come out unscathed from the electoral battle, he could occupy the position in Haryana politics.
The BSP-SP alliance has also thrown open the question of the Opposition leadership provided the BJP was voted out. By virtue of being the largest Opposition group, the Congress would expect to acquire that position. In the UPA era, it monopolised both the Prime Ministership as well as the Cabinet Committee on Security portfolios. In the emerging political scenario, it would be considered a politically correct decision if Rahul was to announce that he was not an aspirant for Prime Ministership in 2019 and the collective wisdom of the anti-bjp parties would decide the nominee, if such an eventuality arose.
Mayawati and Akhilesh have played an insightful hand at politics relegating the Congress to a marginal position in UP. This could be a template on which other regional parties, barring the NCP, might build their strategies on.
So far as the BJP is concerned, the SP-BSP alliance would impede its onward march in UP thus possibly depriving it of critical numbers. It is difficult to imagine the BJP replicating its stellar performance in several other states where it had managed to win all the seats or with an overwhelming majority. The BJP would have to alter its plan and take into account the relevance of regional players and parties, should it lose its majority yet seek a return to power.