The collaboration of SP-BSP and troubles with its own allies have made matters worse for the BJP. But the party remains hopeful
It is often said that ‘Uttar Pradesh is India and India is Uttar Pradesh.’ A win in India’s most populous State can prove to be a game-changer for any party, nationally, as it accounts for 80 out of the 545 parliamentary seats. Besides, Uttar Pradesh has gifted many Prime Ministers to our country. As the two foe-turned-friends — Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) — inch closer towards a grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, minus the Congress, the poll scene is becoming interesting. The Congress could still become a coalition partner if there is any breakthrough in alliance talks. But as of now, the two regional satraps want to keep the Congress out as it does not have a place in their scheme of things as yet. They want to win the maximum number of seats in their stronghold and take matters from there to a post-poll scenario to do the final bidding for the top job.
First, the SP and the BSP do not need the Congress which is a lightweight in that crucial State. Second, the Congress’ votes are not transferable. Third, the SP feels that its experience of aligning with the Congress during the 2017 Assembly election did not work. Also, the Congress did not include the lone SP legislator in the recent Madhya Pradesh Cabinet. Though it was the Congress that had been stressing on the need to bring regional parties together to take on the BJP, after its recent wins in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, it failed to honour the demands of smaller parties. Fourth, BSP supremo Mayawati is worried about some Dalit votes moving to the Congress’ camp. She has made her political calculations keeping her party’s interests in mind. Fifth, both parties feel that a three-cornered contest would benefit the alliance as it can stop the Congress’ votes from going to the BJP in protest against the grand old party joining the alliance as the former’s core voters are from Dalits, Other Backward Classes and minorities.
The grand alliance might include Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and some smaller parties. The RLD, once strong amid sugarcane farmers of western Uttar Pradesh, has just begun to re-organise itself. The alliance is also trying to get Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party and the Krishna Patel faction of Apna Dal. Not only does the tie-up has arithmetic but also chemistry as the once bitter enemies — Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav — are now on ‘aunt and nephew’ terms. In 2014, the BJP had a vote share of 42.63 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, while the SP-BSP combine got 42.19 per cent — its almost the same. With Mayawati winning 22.23 per cent of the votes even in 2017 and the SP securing 28.32 per cent, together, they polled over half of the total votes. If the Congress also joins the alliance, the combined vote share of the three parties will be more than that of the BJP’s. There is a divided opinion in the Congress about it joining the alliance. This is in sharp contrast to 2017, when the party, in one voice, favoured a tie-up with the SP. One section feels that making the contest triangular is bound to hurt the BJP. The grand alliance might have a strategic understanding with the Congress to help each other.
But where does all of this leave the BJP? Experts say that it means the alliance might pick up about 50 seats. Then the BJP and the Congress would be left with 30 seats. The Congress could pick up two seats — that of the Gandhis and perhaps one or two more. The BJP can at best hope to get 24 or 25 seats. After the recent loss of three Hindi heartland States — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — it might lose another 30 seats. In other States, it might shed 20 seats. So, expectation is that the BJP could lose as many as 100 seats. The party would have to cover up the gap from other regions to reach the 282 mark that it won in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. But how much can they make up in West Bengal, south and Odisha? Moreover, the BJP does not have any big alliance partner. The Telugu Desam Party has quit and the Shiv Sena is threatening to break alliance. The Peoples Democratic Party has left and the Akali Dal is disgruntled. About 18 smaller parties have left the NDA fold since 2014. However, the BJP does not agree with this analysis. They believe that the people will vote for Modi. The party is hopeful that with a strong leadership, effective communication, disciplined organisation, unlimited funds and a divided Opposition, it can make a come back.
However, one can sense a certain degree of worry within the party. BJP chief Amit Shah is subdued and the top leadership is already on a course-correction mode. It will be looking for a new narrative in its national council meeting next week. But Modi can spring surprises. One week is said to be long in politics and three months is quite long to make any prediction. One thing is certain that the BJP will emerge as the single largest party with or without forming the Government.
(The writer is a senior political commentator)