Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav with Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati | PTI
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav with Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati | PTI
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Her problems with the Congress are unique.

Mayawati’s decision to ally with Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress (Chhattisgarh) seems surprising. Mayawati claims to be opposed to the BJP and is allying with the Samajwadi Party to defeat the Modi juggernaut in Uttar Pradesh. Why, then, is she allying with a small player in Chhattisgarh who everyone thinks is only out to cut the Congress votes and help the BJP win?

Mayawati may have allied with the SP in UP, but she has so far given little indication of warming up to the Congress. Some days ago she had said both the BJP and the Congress were responsible for the rise in fuel prices. It was an obvious hint: just because the BSP has tied up with the SP in UP, we should not extrapolate it to think Mayawati’s party will easily slide into a national grand alliance of opposition parties.


Also read: This is why Mayawati’s BSP is such a valuable political ally


Mayawati had entered into an alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular) for the Karnataka assembly elections in May, once again as a third force that damaged the Congress more than the BJP. It is similarly plausible that the proposed alliance between the BSP and the Congress in Madhya Pradesh may not work out.

Some have wondered if this has to do with the CBI pressure on Mayawati and her brother Anand. In that case, why is such pressure not making her call off the alliance with the SP in UP? Besides, she wouldn’t really mind going to jail as that would make her a Dalit martyr, raising her profile even further.

Friction with Congress

The truth is that Mayawati and the Congress aren’t easy parties to do an alliance with each other. The Dalit votes Mayawati gets, no matter how few they are in some of these states, used to belong to the Congress. Both parties are claimants of the Dalit vote. In any alliance negotiation, both parties are wary of damaging each other in the long run.

Similarly, the Congress would be wary of giving away too many seats to the BSP. In the short term, doing so would raise the profile of Mayawati, and her prime ministerial ambitions are no secret. This would reduce Rahul Gandhi’s position as the main opponent to Modi. In the long run, Mayawati could use this opportunity to expand the BSP into more states and become a serious player outside UP as well.

In fact, the BSP and even the SP are not very keen on allying with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. They realise the Congress doesn’t bring much to the table. It would be better for the SP-BSP alliance if the Congress just puts up upper caste candidates across UP in 2019 to cut into the BJP’s core vote base.

T-series will save SP-BSP alliance

The BSP historically does not like to enter into pre-poll alliances. It is a unique party that’s often contesting anywhere and everywhere, which is how it has acquired the status of a national party. The BSP sees elections as an activity to spread its Ambedkarite ideology among Dalits, and therefore doesn’t usually like to vacate seats for alliance partners. When it does do so, Mayawati has often publicly complained, the alliance partner is unable to shift its votes to the BSP. The party’s own Dalit votes shift easily.

Yet the BSP has come around to forge an alliance with the SP in UP, and smaller parties in other states. This is an act of desperation. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw the BSP win zero seats in Uttar Pradesh. What was worse was that a section of Dalits voted for the BJP, thanks to the Modi wave. The story repeated itself in 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, when the BSP won 19 of 403 seats. In both elections the BSP maintained a solid vote-share of 19-22 per cent.

This core vote share of the BSP has been under threat from an assertive BJP. Dalit voters in UP, particularly Jatavs (Mayawati’s own caste), have been restless since 2012 when Mayawati left office the last time. Without access to power, there have been murmurs if the Dalit vote should reconsider its options. This explains the emergence of Chandrashekhar Ravan in western UP, for instance.


Also read: Four things the BJP could do to counter the SP-BSP alliance in 2019


What’s worsened matters is the revived dominance of Thakurs in Uttar Pradesh since a Thakur, Yogi Adityanath alias Ajay Singh Bisht, became the chief minister in 2017. Thakurwaad in UP, also known as T-series, has made Dalits want an unlikely alliance with Yadavs. The demand for the BSP’s alliance with the SP has thus come from the ground.

Mayawati’s first priority is not to become prime minister. The talk of Mayawati for PM is meant only to charge up Dalit voters. Her main priority this election is to retain Dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh. Without the SP alliance, she might again end up with zero seats and Dalit voters may desert her for good.

The SP-BSP alliance has not been formally announced in UP because the two parties don’t want to show their cards too soon. The BJP must be using the carrot-and-stick approach to break the SP-BSP alliance in UP. If Mayawati indeed does so, she risks losing the hold she has over the Dalit vote in UP. That’s why no amount of money or any number of CBI cases is unlikely to break the SP-BSP alliance.

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  1. Plausible analysis. However, Ms Mayawati is not seeing the larger picture, tends to be more tactical than strategic in her thinking. If she does not play her cards well, 2019 would mark an irreversible decline in her political fortunes. As it is, she has no natural successor. Her response to Chandrashekhar Azaad has also been very churlish, small hearted. She has done well for herself, of course; unclear how much for the Dalits of UP in a tangible, material sense.

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