NEW DELHI — A section of Congress leaders have urged party president Rahul Gandhi to abandon the ambitious three-way alliance between the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) in favour of a straight tie-up with the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, HuffPost India has learnt.
The distribution of Uttar Pradesh's 80 seats, currently under discussion, would give 32 seats each to the SP and the BSP, 12 to the Congress, four to the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) — or three to the RLD and one to the Nishad Party. Jettisoning Akhilesh Yadav and the SP, the thinking goes, would leave a considerably higher number of seats for the BSP and the Congress.
A three-way alliance could prove unwieldy, these leaders argue, and could alienate rather than unite each party's base.
This disruption in alliance talks comes at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janta Party have already launched their campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh, tempering expectations for the prospects of the so-called Grand Alliance of Opposition parties in the polls next summer.
"This is one idea that is being discussed. Nothing is decided," a senior Congress leader said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "There are some alliances that are natural, like the BSP and the Congress. The SP and the Congress is not a natural alliance. The SP and the BSP is not a natural alliance."
The alliance between the SP and the Congress in the 2017 Assembly election was a disaster, with both parties suffering. Some blamed the rather awkward and unconvincing dynamics between the two leaders. The Congress won seven seats and the SP won 47, its lowest score since it was founded in 1992.
The SP and the BSP, the two regional heavyweights, have always been seen as archenemies but have tied once before to prevent the BJP from coming to power. Relations between the two parties hit rock bottom in 1995 after Mayawati pulled out of an alliance with the then Mulayam Singh Yadav-led SP, and his supporters retaliated by physically assaulting the Dalit supremo in a guest house in Lucknow. Between 1995 and 2002, Mayawati became chief minister three times with the support of the BJP.
Some believe that relations between the two regional foes have turned a corner after Akhilesh Yadav has taken charge of the party, but Congress leaders are not sure if the SP's traditional voter base, comprising the OBCs (Other Backward Classes), especially the Yadav community, will vote for the BSP, a party of the marginalized Scheduled Castes.
Political analysts also highlight the bad blood between Dalits and the backwards classes in UP. Some believe that more atrocities against Dalits are committed by the backward classes than even the upper castes.
There was a 25 percent rise in atrocities against Dalits in UP in 2015-2016, five times the national average, when the SP was in power. While blaming the SP government for protecting criminals attacking Dalits, a BSP leader said, "Almost the same thing is happening in the present BJP dispensation." Another BSP leader that HuffPost India interviewed last week said that he did not see any need for an alliance.
While Mayawati could still convince her loyal Dalit voters, especially her own Jatav community, to vote for their local SP candidate, Akhilesh Yadav is seen as having less sway over his base. The Yadavs are a powerful and affluent community in UP, but may have divided their loyalties after the Yadav family feud last year.
There are those who point to the three by-poll losses that BJP has suffered in UP after the two regional parties joined forces in UP. It is worth pointing out that in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, it was the BSP backing candidates from the SP. Furthermore, some political analysts believe that while the three by-poll losses in UP should worry the BJP, these cannot be chalked up as a decisive vote against Modi.
Congress leaders that HuffPost India spoke with said they just do not see the advantage of aligning with the SP.
The OBCS have not favoured the Congress since Jat leader Chaudhary Charan Singh, India's first prime minister from the backward classes, politicized the peasantry in North India, and after BJP president Amit Shah's much touted social engineering in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the non-Yadav backward classes and the non-Jatav Dalits are more likely to vote for the BJP.
There is also concern that the coming together of the BSP and the SP just might push more Yadavs towards the BJP as well. And the coming together of the Congress and the SP, regarded by many savarna-caste Hindus as a Muslim party, would push the savarnas towards the BJP.
A BSP-Congress alliance, on the other hand, would bring Dalits, Muslims and upper-caste Hindus into the fold. Furthermore, SP fighting the Lok Sabha election on its own might be Akhilesh Yadav's best chance of retaining his party's traditional vote bank.
"Have a pre-poll understanding and post-poll alliance if needed," the Congress leader said.
One more confrontational scenario, laid out by some leaders, is for Rahul Gandhi to abandon the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP, but induct his uncle, Shivpal Yadav, with whom he had a public falling out last year, into the Congress.
A Congress insider, who sees merits in inducting Shivpal, said, "He is a veteran leader with a loyal following who can help transfer votes to the Congress."
Upcoming state elections
HuffPost India has also learnt that Congress leaders are concerned about SP angling for around 10 seats each in the upcoming Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh state elections. The BSP, which is contesting 55 to 60 seats in the MP state Assembly election, is also looking for Congress to back it in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
While the BSP has four lawmakers in Madhya Pradesh, the SP does not have a presence in any of these three states.
In exchange for backing the regional parties in the state election, party insiders said a deal could be worked out in which the Congress would get an additional three Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh.
The break up would then be around 30 seats for SP and the BSP each, 15 for the Congress and five for the other parties including the RLD and Nishad.
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