A Congress-BSP tie-up for 2019 is vital for both parties whatever the fate of the mahagathbandhan might be
Paying tribute to the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party Kanshi Ram on his 12th death anniversary in the Capital on Tuesday, party chief Mayawati in effect fired the opening salvo in negotiations with the Congress for a pre-poll alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha election when she iterated that the BSP will not “beg for seats” to seal the tie-up. Coming as this does on top of the unilateral decision of the BSP supremo to go it alone for the Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, a once-bitten Congress fielded leaders such as Raj Babbar to emphasise the “respect” the party and its leadership has for the BSP, a “national party”, and its “national president”. “The party will have talks on an alliance with her with all due respect. She will never have to beg for an alliance,” Babbar said. Behind this public exchange, aimed mainly at sussing out each other’s negotiating stance and sending out a message to the cadre to keep them enthused, the electoral reality is that both parties need each other for the Lok Sabha poll regardless of the fate of the attempt at larger Opposition unity i.e. the mahagathbandhan.
The math is easy to do. The Congress polled 19.3 per cent of the popular vote in the 2014 General Election in the face of 10 years of anti-incumbency and a Narendra Modi wave while the BSP, which emerged as the third-largest party nationally in terms of vote share, got 4.1 per cent. In terms of seats, though, it was a debacle for both parties with the Congress winning only 44 and the BSP failing to open its account. It’d the chemistry, though, that’s crucial, because the voter base of the BSP among Dalit communities across parts of North and Central India is also an essential component of the erstwhile core social coalition, along with Muslims and Brahmins, of the Congress which is now keen to rebuild that support base. More to the point, however, is that as a combine, a Congress-BSP alliance would not only better its vote share and seats tally but also acquire sizeable heft in the inner wrangling which is sure to take place in the unwieldy mahagathbandhan of Opposition parties against the BJP if it does come to fruition whether partially or wholly. For the Lok Sabha poll, a Congress-BSP alliance could hope to well in the States of Uttar Pradesh (along with the Samajwadi Party it would be a monster coalition), Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh (even more formidable with Ajit Jogi’s regional party in tow). In States such as Delhi and Karnataka too the BSP could help augment seats for the alliance especially if in the latter the JDS-Congress-BSP alliance holds. Given the potential, this is an alliance which is in all likelihood going to be formalised before the 2019 General Election. In fact, the Congress, which is still trying to arrange informal, on-the-ground coordination with the BSP for the Madhya Pradesh Assembly poll where officially the BSP has announced it is going it alone, is possibly waiting for the Assembly polls in the Hindi heartland States to end before beginning an assiduous political wooing of Mayawati.