Decoding Mayawati’s Chhattisgarh Gambit Of Ditching Congress For Jogi 

Decoding Mayawati’s Chhattisgarh Gambit Of Ditching Congress For Jogi 

by R Jagannathan - Friday, September 21, 2018 11:40 AM IST
Decoding Mayawati’s Chhattisgarh Gambit Of Ditching Congress For Jogi Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati addresses a press conference in New Delhi. (Ajay Aggarwal/ Hindustan Times via GettyImages) 
  • Mayawati has realised that unless she spreads her wings in other states where the BSP earlier had a base it would be impossible for her to retain status as a national party.

    Without a geographical expansion of the BSP’s footprint, Mayawati fears that her own Dalit constituency will start drifting away.

Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati’s decision to tie up with Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) and unilaterally announce 22 candidates in Madhya Pradesh has widely been seen as a jolt to the Mahagathbandhan (grand coalition) that is necessary to take on Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019. It is also possible to speculate that the entry of a third front in Chhattisgarh may make it easier for Raman Singh, who faces anti-incumbency, to retain power in the assembly elections later this year.

However, despite these obvious conclusions, one needs to understand its wider implications for the shape of the contest to come next year for the Lok Sabha. It is also important to understand why Mayawati wants to do her own thing when so much is at stake in Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 seats to the Lok Sabha, and her own success in getting as many MPs elected from the state depends on the Mahagathbandhan coming to fruition.

Mayawati’s decision stems from short-term tactical considerations, as well as longer-term calculations.

The short-term calculations are three-fold:

One, Mayawati does not want to cede space to the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, and so taking a maximalist position in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh enables her to cow down the party’s likely request for 10-15 seats here. Mayawati calculates that the UP Mahagathbandhan needs the BSP and Samajwadi Party (SP) primarily for success, with Congress playing a very minor role, probably limited to three to four seats. Ceding too many seats to the Congress in UP means Mayawati’s own MP counts will be lower, making it tough to pursue her prime ministerial ambitions in case of a hung house.

Two, she has realised that unless she spreads her wings again in the other states where the BSP earlier had a base – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab – it would be impossible for her to retain status as a national party. Moreover, her bargaining power anywhere depends on her retaining and delivering the Dalit constituency in as many states as possible – something that has not been demonstrated in recent elections. This is why she prefers combining with weaker third parties, like Jogi’s JCC and the Janata Dal (S) in Karnataka, which can give her a larger share of the seats than she deserves.

Three, without a geographical expansion of the BSP’s footprint, Mayawati fears that her own Dalit constituency will start drifting back to either the Congress, or the BJP, as we saw in 2014 and 2017 in Uttar Pradesh. She has to grow to prevent this from happening, and preventing a Congress resurgence is vital to this goal.

But the longer-term aim she probably has in mind is this: occupying the entire anti-BJP space in national politics. Like Arvind Kejriwal in 2013, she too senses that the Congress under Rahul Gandhi is likely to be a diminishing force in national politics, and thus anyone keen to occupy the Congress’ space needs to help cut it down to size, and grow its own presence across states.

Put simply, it suits Mayawati, just as it did Kejriwal, to force a shrinkage of the Congress across various states, and then step into the vacuum. Kejriwal had a chance, but he blew it by mindless politicking and a tendency to alienate everyone. Even the media that was so in thrall of him in 2013 and 2014 has given up on him. Unlike Kejriwal, Mayawati is not prone to any foot-in-mouth diseases, and given her status as a Dalit icon, even electoral defeats do not diminish her status. Any defeat can be put down to Brahminical forces ganging up against her. As long as Dalits broadly stay with Mayawati in the Hindi belt, she can never be counted out as a force to reckon with.

If, after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is found to have shrunk below 200 seats, and a rainbow coalition is needed to form a government, parties with the largest number of MPs will be critical to its formation. Mayawati hopes that with a total of upto 40 MPs from UP, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, she may well become the largest party in the coalition. Her claims for the top job cannot be rejected outright, though the history of coalitions in India suggests that it is not the strongest leaders, but the weakest ones, which generate consensus (consider Deve Gowda and I K Gujral, and even Manmohan Singh under UPA). Weak leaders are always preferred over strong ones in an opportunistic coalition in India.

The other observation worth making is about the Mahagathbandhan. It matters only in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and here it is unlikely that BSP and SP, and RJD and Congress, will goof up. Elsewhere, Mahagathbandhans are being formed only in areas where there are no strong regional players. Thus, TDP and Congress have tied up in Telangana, not Andhra; Congress and Left may tie up in West Bengal and Trinamool is unlikely to sacrifice its seats to accommodate either of them; AAP and Congress may have tactical seat-share deals in Delhi without calling it an alliance, Congress and DMK (along with other regional parties) may form an alliance in Tamil Nadu, and JD(S) and Congress may have a similar arrangement in Karnataka. In Maharashtra, Congress and NCP will surely tie up, but there is already a third front, between Asaduddin Owaisi’s MIM and Prakash Ambedkar’s Republican Party, that can cut into the anti-BJP vote. In UP itself, one should not rule out Minigathbandhans between, say, Congress and the breakaway Shivpal Yadav faction of the Samajwadi Party, in case the Congress gets let out in the cold by Mayawati.

We will know who will cohabit with whom only by January-March 2019, just weeks before the start of the general election campaign. A helicopter view of alliances right now reveals that there is no grand Mahagathbandhan in the works, but there will be lots of Minigathbandhans in various states falling into place by March 2019.

One more myth can also be laid to rest: the bogey of one-nation-one-poll, which the opposition has been betting on for some time, can be laid to rest.

Narendra Modi wants the 2019 elections to be a choice between him and the rest, and not between the BJP and its political rivals. He is going to get it.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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