Diversity in unity

By allying with Ajit Jogi, Mayawati signalsthe BSP can’t be taken for granted
Things are never as easy as they seem from a distance. If the Congress entertained hopes of being at the centre of a national-level alliance against the Bharatiya Janata Party, then it was relying heavily on the changed attitude of the Bahujan Samaj Party to seat-sharing and coalition-building. But as Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan draw near, the Congress is beginning to realise that the agreement on the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh between the BSP and the Samajwadi Party that was touted as a precursor to a larger understanding among opposition parties in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls of 2019 is anything but. By quickly concluding an agreement on seat-sharing with the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh led by former Congress chief minister Ajit Jogi, BSP leader Mayawati was clearly signalling to the Congress that its options were still open in M.P., and that unless given a fair share of the seats, the BSP would not back the Congress. While the BSP has understood the importance of seat-sharing after suffering successive reverses in U.P., this does not mean that it would play second fiddle to the SP or the Congress in U.P. or M.P. The Congress had run the BJP close in 2013, winning 40.29% of the valid votes, and the result could have been very different if it had fought the election with the BSP as a partner. Together with the BSP’s 4.27% share of the votes, the Congress would have been ahead of the BJP, which got 41.04% of the votes. A year later, in the Lok Sabha election, the Congress fared far worse, ceding a 10-percentage point lead to the BJP in vote share. Any which way the Congress looks at the scenario, the JCC-BSP alliance is not good news.
But it is in the bigger State of Madhya Pradesh that the Congress needs the BSP more. While it is conceivable that the Congress could bridge the gap with the BJP on its own in Chhattisgarh, in M.P. the challenge is greater, and the BSP, which won 6.29% of the valid votes in 2013, is stronger. The difference between the BJP and the Congress five years ago was more than 8 percentage points, and the BSP would like to leverage its position as a serious third player. But with the tie-up with the JCC in Chhattisgarh, the BSP might have made an electoral adjustment more problematic in M.P. While Rajasthan is a polarised contest between the BJP and the Congress, M.P. and Chhattisgarh could well see the BSP cornering a chunk of the anti-incumbency vote among the Dalits. A failure in either of the two States in central India on account of a divided opposition will make the Congress’s efforts to put together a broad-based front against the BJP that much more difficult. Many parties might be opposed to the BJP, but that alone cannot be the reason for them to come together in alliance.

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