The real lineup to challenge the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, a coalition of the state’s two major regional parties, Mayawati’s BSP and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, is practically up and running, although a formal announcement is still awaited.
Friday’s meeting between Ms Mayawati and Mr Yadav in New Delhi was apparently crucial in firming up the partnership, and the story was leaked to the media the next day. The long-speculated absence of the Congress from this combine is unlikely to disturb the anti-BJP vote, and is thus not perceived as a disruptive element in the story.
The reason is that the Grand Old Party is expected to garner its votes mainly from upper castes and, more broadly, from elements of the middle class, with some support from the minorities and dalit sub-castes outside the BSP’s influence.
Therefore, if the Congress eventually fights independently, it will chiefly be appealing for votes from the same sections as the BJP, hurting the saffron party. This can’t displease the BSP-SP alliance, and it may well be that the Congress staying out of UP’s “secular” alliance, if that does eventually come to pass, may also be the result of an understanding.
The larger political background to this is that the Congress is a shadow of the party that dominated electoral politics in the state until the mid-1970s, and there has been a gradual decline in its fortunes in the subsequent decades.
Against the run of play, the party picking up as many as 21 Lok Sabha seats out of 80 in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll, with Rahul Gandhi (not the party president then) doing the campaign heavy lifting, did cause anxieties in the BSP and the SP but the Congress’ resurgence was not sustained, and the worries of the regional secular parties were dispelled.
Nevertheless, in the Congress camp, there does appear to be some enthusiasm about going it alone in UP. The 2009 election does evoke some memories. The policies of the BJP, that are widely seen as negative, also infuse hope in the Congress as a viable challenger to the saffron voting constituency.
The BSP and the SP are expected not to put up candidates against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in Rae Bareli and Amethi respectively. This is a sign of a broad “secular” understanding being in place. The Congress is expected to reciprocate in the same fashion. The 2017 SP-Congress poll understanding showed that the two parties could not quite transfer their votes to one another. That has been a learning experience for both.
The way things have gone so far can lead to head-scratching in the BJP camp. But for all sides, there is still some time left to prepare....