The coming together of traditional political foes – Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh – clearly seems to be taking the gas out of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) balloon that had been soaring ever since its spectacular win in the 2014 general elections. And even though the Congress is not a part of the alliance, with the party’s recent win in three states of the Hindi heartland, there is reason to believe that at the end of the day, many other smaller players would come under the larger Congress umbrella to stop the Narendra Modi juggernaut in 2019.
The worries among the BJP rank and file was amply displayed at the very outset of the recent two-day BJP national executive when both Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well his man Friday Amit Shah, the party president, devoted a lot of their energies towards running down the alliance. Shah even went to the extent of describing the “gathbandhan” as “dhakosla (farce)”. Little did he seem to realise that if he really believed in what he sought to impress, then what was the need to exhibit his agitation before his own captive audience.
Likewise, Modi took a leaf out of BSP chief Mayawati’s off the-cuff remark that she wanted a “majboor (weak)” government. He trained his guns at the alliance by alleging that the alliance had been formed to give a “majboor sarkar”, while going on to claim that he alone could provide a “mazboot sarkar (strong government)”.
The jitters in the BJP came to the fore not only in the utterances of its top leaders, but also in their actions. For instance, no sooner than news spread about the first meeting between Mayawati and SP president Akhilesh Yadav, the CBI sword began to dangle over the heads of some SP and BSP leaders, allegedly involved in a UP illegal mining scam. Word was also spread that the next man on CBI target was going to be Akhilesh and his uncle Ram Gopal Yadav, whose protégé bureaucrat had already been put in the dock for abetting illegal mining. Mayawati’s brother is also facing the CBI scanner.
The defeat of BJP in four successive bypolls in 2018 are nightmarish trailers for what may happen in 2019 in the state
The ruling dispensation tried to go on the back foot by claiming that the CBI raids were being carried out in pursuance of an Allahabad High Court order. Even though that was correct, what the powers that be systematically concealed that the court order had come way back in 2016. So what was it that prompted the investigation agency to go for the kill now?
What came close on the heels was the Modi government’s hasty decision to provide 10 per cent reservation to the economically weak among the upper castes. Evidently, that too was a move prompted on account of the potential threat that the party leadership could see coming from the impending opposition unity.
There can be no denying that the exclusion of the Congress party from the SP-BSP alliance is not a very happy sign. It is believed that while the SP was inclined to have the Congress on board, BSP supremo Mayawati had her own issues with the Congress leadership. It is said that Mayawati’s ego was hurt primarily because the Congress had denied Mayawati the large number of seats she was demanding in the three states of Hindi heartland – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – where Congress won and formed the government recently. In any case, poll result in the three states clearly proved that Mayawati’s demand was far disproportionate to her party’s unimpressive hold on ground in any of those states.
The formation of the SP-BSP alliance seemed like a replay of the 1993-94 alliance between these very partners, then referred to as ‘Mandal’, while the Ayodhya temple movement had given BJP the sobriquet of ‘Kamandal”. Even though both ‘Mandal’ and ‘Kamandal’ have gone through several twists and turns over the past 25 years, both sides are doing their best to sharpen their tools as the battle of the ballot gets closer. A demonstration of a united opposition’s dominance over the BJP became visible in the defeat of the BJP in four successive by-elections in 2018 when the party was humbled not only in what was seen as an impregnable bastion of saffron-clad Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath but also that of Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
The fact remains that the Congress cannot be wished away by the alliance. What cannot be ignored is that today the Congress is not as down in the dumps as it had fallen in 2014, after an impressive performance in 2009 when it won a good 22 out of the 80 Lok sabha seats from UP. The party’s recent victory in the Hindi heartland of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has not only put the Congress on a revival path, but has also clearly established Rahul Gandhi as a formidable leader. Ironically, the BJP’s four-year-long strategy of ridiculing him has backfired and only made the 48-year-old Congress president a seasoned, mature and confident political leader.
The alliance has shaken BJP’s leadership and forced the saffron party to go for desperate damage control
Rahul Gandhi has declared that his party would contest on each of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP. The party stands a fair chance with partial return of its old vote bank of the upper castes, a section of Dalits and a sizeable chunk of the minorities. There is no doubt about Muslim support for the SP though, because of their love for the grand old Mulayam. But having seen Mayawati aligning with the BJP on three successive occasions in the past, a lot of Muslims may naturally prefer the Congress.
The Modi-Shah duo might be busy dismissing Opposition unity as “opportunistic”. But is that not true of most alliances including Narendra Modi’s own 35-party NDA? But, the reactions from within the BJP are enough to prove that the alliance has shaken the party’s leadership and forced it to go for desperate damage control. Thus, besides throwing financial baits, the party, in collusion with other elements in the ‘Sangh Parivar’, could try to hype up the Ayodhya issue. The Hindutva card could be raked up in other ways like raising the pitch on “cow slaughter” too. However, the fact remains that all such moves would only go to further show how rattled the BJP has gotten on account of the formidable challenge thrown up by a fast uniting Opposition.