New Delhi: Mayawati and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are battling it out in Uttar Pradesh in these Lok Sabha elections, much to the glee of the BJP that could emerge as a default beneficiary of this internecine war in the so-called secular camp.
On Monday, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) declared Arshad Ahmed Siddique as its candidate from Dhaurahra, a move that is likely to queer the pitch for the Congress’ Jitin Prasada by potentially splitting Muslim votes.
The next day, Priyanka held roadshows in Saharanpur and Bijnor, the two Lok Sabha constituencies where the BSP has fielded candidates as part of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance.
Call it a variant of na-khaoonga-na-khane-doonga approach, the Congress and the BSP look determined to spoil each others’ electoral prospects even if it is to the advantage of their common adversary, the BJP.
The Congress is bitter about Mayawati’s attempt to “damage” its poll prospects in the assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan last November and then “persuading” SP’s Akhilesh Yadav to keep the grand old party out of the opposition alliance in Uttar Pradesh.
Since January, when the SP and the BSP declared their alliance, Mayawati has trained her guns at both the BJP and the Congress and also declared her party’s intent to field candidates in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand where the BSP is a marginal player but can play spoilsport for the Congress.
“The BSP is working for the BJP,” a senior Congress strategist quipped to ThePrint, pointing out probes by central agencies into alleged scams during her tenures as chief minister.
BSP leaders, however, rubbish these allegations.
Strong candidates in BSP constituencies
The perception, that the Congress and the BSP are on a warpath in UP, has gained traction due to the way the two parties have fielded candidates in the state.
The BSP, for instance, has fielded Fazalur Rahman in Saharanpur where Imran Masood is the Congress candidate. Masood, who was the runner-up in 2014, is perceived as a strong candidate in a constituency with 42 per cent Muslim population but the BSP’s decision to field a Muslim candidate is set to split the minority votes.
On the seats where the BSP has the ticket, the Congress strategy too has been to field either a strong candidate of its own or someone who would damage Mayawati’s party.
In Bijnor, the Congress has fielded ex-Mayawati confidant Naseemuddin Siddiqui against the BSP’s Malook Nagar, the richest candidate in UP with declared assets worth Rs 289 crore.
In Sitapur, the Congress has fielded former BSP MP Kaiser Jahan to take on BSP’s Nakul Dubey and the BJP’s Rajesh Verma.
The only constituency where the Congress seems to have given in is Amroha where it dropped Rashid Alvi, a Muslim leader, to help consolidate the minority community in favour of BSP’s Danish Ali. But the move is intended more to help Ali, a JD(S) leader who joined the BSP only last month with the consent of the JD(S) leadership. The Congress and the JD(S) are coalition partners in Karnataka.
Lightweights for SP
In contrast, the Congress has fielded relatively weaker candidates in constituencies where the Samajwadi Party (SP) has the ticket.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has maintained restraint in his criticism of the Congress and the two parties also seem to have a tacit understanding on many seats such as Rampur, Unnao, Kanpur, Kushinagar and Bareilly.
If one of them has a strong candidate on a particular seat, the other party fields a relative lightweight or someone who would cause a split in the BJP’s traditional vote bank.
In Ghaziabad, for instance, the Congress has fielded a Brahmin, Dolly Sharma, a 33-year-old management graduate who took the plunge into active politics by unsuccessfully contesting the local body elections in 2017. Priyanka held a roadshow in Ghaziabad last week, which, political observers believe, would bolster Sharma’s stature only to the advantage of the SP candidate as she is expected to split the upper caste vote bank of the BJP, which has re-nominated Union minister V.K. Singh as its candidate.
However, the war of attrition between the Congress and the BSP is likely to benefit the BJP, which looked like an underdog arithmetically given that Yadavs, Dalits and Muslims — the electoral base of the SP and the BSP — are estimated to constitute over 50 per cent of the population in 47 of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in UP.
The Congress is a marginal player in the state but it still enjoys the support of a sizeable section of Muslims, a vote bank that Priyanka has been seeking to bolster through her roadshows primarily at the cost of the BSP.