Socialist parties in India’s UP have a game plan to beat Modi in polls

Politics makes strange bedfellows and India’s two feuding regional and socialist parties patched up after 28 years by holding a joint media conference in Lucknow on Saturday to announce their alliance in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Uttar Pradesh state (UP).

Mayawati, leader of the Bahujan Samaj party (BSP) representing ‘dalits’ or ‘oppressed’, and Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party (SP) supported by Muslims and backward castes, agreed to field 38 candidates each leaving the seats of Amethi and Rae Bareli for Congress and two more seats for others.

UP sends the maximum number of MPs (80) to Parliament’s Lower House called Lok Sabha.

The bonhomie witnessed on Saturday would have been unthinkable in 1995 when BSP and SP parted ways after Mayawati alleged she was physically attacked by supporters of veteran SP leader and Akhilesh’s father Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The two parties have forged an alliance now to remove their common enemy Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government from power.

Mayawati put it bluntly by telling media that the BSP-SP alliance will give sleepless nights to the BJP ‘guru’ Modi and his ‘minion’, party chief Amit Shah.

The anti-Modi stance of the two socialist leaders is understandable as alone, they are too weak to stop the BJP juggernaut in UP. During the last parliamentary elections in 2014, BJP won 71 of the 80 seats in UP. SP won 5 seats while Congress had to content with just 2 seats. BSP could not get even a single seat.

This time, the two socialist parties have dumped Congress, their ally in the 2017 state assembly elections which BJP had won by a landslide. They justified their move by citing corruption scandals haunting India’s grand old party. If Congress is such a liability for them, why did they spare Amethi and Rae Bareli seats for the party? The gesture may be an indication that the door is still open for Congress to join their coalition.

Akhilesh claims he has carefully laid out the roadmap for the upcoming general elections. This means Dalit votes are likely to go to BSP while Muslims and backward castes will support SP. Hindus, especially Brahmins, who are upset with BJP’s failure to build the Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, may vote for Congress. Discontented farmers too may support SP-BSP candidates.

This could be the strategy Akhilesh and Mayawati are working on to split BJP votes.

Anyone watching the media conference could notice that Akhilesh was allowing Mayawati to lead the way. While she gave a long speech, Akhilesh kept smiling, encouraging her. That raises the question whether Akhilesh is projecting Mayawati as India’s future prime minister if BJP is defeated in the general elections.

The Opposition parties’ so-called grand coalition remains a non-starter and the alliances they are planning may be confined to regions as in the case of SP and BSP. In such a situation, Mayawati may emerge as a possible contender for the prime minister’s post.

Mayawati’s shift to New Delhi will clear the way for Akhilesh to become the chief minister of UP if SP wins the assembly elections in 2022. With a non-BJP government at the Centre, he could reasonably hope that the present BJP government headed by the Yogi Adityanath may become a bit shaky.

If, on the other hand, BJP wins the parliamentary elections, the SP-BSP alliance in UP will abruptly end.

Whether the alliance wins or loses, Akhilesh knows that Mayawati is shrewd, assertive, stubborn, ambitious and temperamental. He appeared subdued during the media conference. In the days ahead, he will tread cautiously since Mayawati is not a woman easy to deal with.

But the more he stoops to conquer, the angrier his supporters will become. Some of them may even leave the party and join his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party.

If SP and BSP are looking for a lasting partnership irrespective of poll outcome and they work hard for the uplift of the weaker sections of the society, the alliance can pose a challenge to the Modi and Yogi governments. If it is just an alliance of opportunists, it will crumble sooner or later.