Short-term window

The BSP shuts the door on the Congressfor now, but gives itself some wiggle room Even as she shut the door on the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati left a window open. While calling off talks on an alliance with the Congress for the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Assembly elections, Ms. Mayawati kept alive the possibility of an understanding for the Lok Sabha election. While she was unsparing in her criticism of the Congress interlocutors, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh in particular, for the failure to reach an electoral understanding, she declared that national-level leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi had honest intentions. Coming from Ms. Mayawati, this is high praise indeed. For the BSP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are nowhere near as important as Uttar Pradesh, where it is fighting to regain lost ground. What matters most for Ms. Mayawati is an alliance with the Samajwadi Party in U.P. and not a tie-up with the Congress in these three States going to the polls later this year. Winning or losing a few seats in the three States does not matter as much as spreading the reach of her organisation by contesting in many constituencies. Although, unlike in Chhattisgarh where it allied with the breakaway Congress group of Ajit Jogi, the BSP does not have any viable electoral partners in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the party sees itself in a growth phase in these States and the risk seems worthwhile given the low stakes. What should worry leaders of both the Congress and the BSP is the war of words that could follow from the closure of the alliance option. Congress functionaries have indicated that Ms. Mayawati could be under pressure from the Bharatiya Janata Party to go it alone and that she might have given in just in order to fend off the Central investigative agencies. The BSP chief, never one to take kindly to personal attacks, responded by saying that Mr. Singh was afraid of the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation. The fact remains that in Madhya Pradesh the Congress needs the BSP more than the BSP needs the Congress. For the Congress what is at stake is a shot at power in three crucial States where it is fighting the BJP directly. In at least two, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BSP’s vote share could be more than the gap between the victor and the loser. Quite conceivably, the results could cast a long shadow on the Lok Sabha election. If the Congress is unwilling to consider apportioning more seats to the BSP, it is in no small measure due to its fear of the longer-term impact of conceding space to another political animal in what is at present a two-horse race. But, sometimes, as the Congress may realise, there is no way of protecting long-term interests without securing the short-term.

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