BAHUJAN Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has announced that her party will not partner with the Congress party ‘at any cost’ for the upcoming Assembly polls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Mayawati’s announcement has dealt a blow to the opposition’s efforts to stitch a united front against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. It would definitely give the BJP a breather, if not a clear edge, in the crucial state elections ahead of the 2019 parliamentary polls. She accused the Congress of displaying an arrogant, stubborn attitude. She has blamed a senior Congress leader for the alliance not coming up in MP. In Chhatisgarh, the BSP has struck an alliance with Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress. Though Mayawati has closed doors for partnership in the Assembly polls, she has kept them open for parliamentary elections. She has reposed faith in United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi, describing them as ‘honest leaders.’
That Mayawati was mercurial is well known in political circles. She has yet again exhibited her temperamental and volatile persona when she stunned the Congress party by calling off the alliance talks abruptly. The Congress party might have just realised how difficult it could be to forge partnership with her. Political pundits have been saying that a Congress alliance with the BSP could have given a tough challenge to the BJP in the coming elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Mayawati’s decision to go it alone was believed to have been triggered by, among other things, an uncalled-for diatribe against her by senior Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh, who in an interview alleged that she was reluctant to tie up with the Congress because she was feeling the heat of investigative agencies pursuing corruption cases against her. Singh has been sidelined by the Congress leadership after his activities were found to be contrary to the interests of the party. Singh, who was in-charge of the Goa desk, apparently has lost party’s confidence after his questionable role in Goa in the first few days after the last elections which cost the party a chance to form the government. He has since been stripped of all responsibilities.
The BSP chief had demanded 40 seats in Madhya Pradesh but agreed to accept 30 seats after negotiations with state Congress president Kamal Nath. While she was almost on board, the diatribe by Digvijay Singh and refusal of the Rajasthan state unit to share any seat with her led her to declare her party’s decision to go it alone. According to political pundits, though the BSP is not a major force in the three poll-bound states, a Congress-BSP alliance could have pooled the anti-BJP votes. In the last Assembly elections held in 2013 in Madhya Pradesh, the BSP had polled 6.4 per cent votes in the 2013 elections. The BJP got 41.04 per cent votes and the Congress 40.29 per cent. The gap between the BJP and the Congress was less than one per cent. The calculation was that if the Congress and the BSP came together their vote percentage would be higher. In Rajasthan, the Congress managed to get only 34 per cent votes against 46 per cent of the BJP, while the BSP’s vote share was a meagre 3.44 per cent. The Congress hopes of defeating the BJP with an alliance were based on not only the summation of vote shares but also on victories in recent by-elections to the Assemblies and the Lok Sabha.
As the Congress has taken the lead to form a grand alliance (Mahagathbandhan) to take on the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, an anti-BJP alliance in the poll-bound states could have gone through tests for its feasibility as well as strength. It would not help the Congress if it concludes from its recent victories in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that it could take on the BJP on its own. Though anti-incumbency and charges of corruption against BJP governments in the poll-bound states could be advantageous to the Congress, it has to work for consolidation of the non-BJP vote, because fragmentation will only help the BJP retain power. It is high time that Congress learns a lesson from Akhilesh Yadav, who despite being a major force in Uttar Pradesh, has given an upper hand to Mayawati and preferred to play second fiddle. The Congress should learn from its mistakes in Karnataka and make renewed efforts to woo back Mayawati in order to build an alliance. A pooling of the opposition vote in the poll-bound states could, if effectively managed, bring the Congress the double benefit of dethroning the BJP from the three poll-bound states as well as improving its numbers in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.