Mayawati And Akhilesh Yadav Should Not Count Their UP Chickens Before They Are Hatched

Mayawati And Akhilesh Yadav Should Not Count Their UP Chickens Before They Are HatchedSamajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav presents a bouquet to Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati during a joint press conference in Lucknow. (Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via GettyImages) 
Snapshot
  • The SP-BSP coalition is strong enough to halt the Modi juggernaut in 2019 in UP, but talk of Mayawati as prime minister is premature.

    Even if the BJP slides dramatically in UP, this is not a done deal.

The Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BSP) electoral pact of last week is certainly going to dramatically impact the outcome of the 2019 elections.

Under the announced deal, the two parties will fight 38 seats each in Uttar Pradesh, leaving the other four to the Congress and another regional party (presumably Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal or RLD).

Its alliance will ensure that the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) 73-seat tally of 2014 cannot be repeated; on the contrary, assuming Yadav and Dalit voters transfer their votes seamlessly to each other’s candidates, the alliance could win 50-plus seats.

More interesting is the larger understanding that seems to have been arrived at between Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. The latter appears to have promised to back Mayawati for the prime ministership if the results throw up the possibility of a third front. This implies that she will, in turn, back Akhilesh’s bid for the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh in the 2022 assembly elections.

The advantage of the understanding is that both parties can prop each other and expect to be dominant in their chosen spheres, since each one can undermine the other at the national or state levels. This is what helped the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) rule the Centre and Tamil Nadu in 2004 and 2006 respectively, even though neither had a majority in their spheres. M Karunanidhi ruled Tamil Nadu despite lacking his own majority, secure in the belief that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) needs the DMK in Delhi.

The problem with the SP-BSP scenario is that it ignores other political realities in India. Also, given Mayawati’s past track record of not honouring her agreements with those who support her (this happened with the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP in the past in Uttar Pradesh and is happening even now in Madhya Pradesh with the Congress), a lot will depend on the shape of the coalition that is expected in a post-Modi era, assuming that is what the electorate has in store in May 2019.

Consider the things that must fall into place for Akhilesh and Mayawati to make good on their promises to each other.

First, the combined seat total of the BJP and the Congress must fall below 272 in order for the third front, or a Mayawati-led front, to even be possible. As things stand now, while the BJP will certainly slide from its 282-seat majority in 2014, it is by no means a certainty. And with the Congress showing signs of resurgence in parts of the Hindi belt, there is an 80 per cent chance that the two national parties will at least cross the 272 mark together. This implies that no government can be formed without the consent of one or the other party, and Mayawati’s shot at the top job depends on the Congress’ support or acquiescence. Will the Congress do so, when it has just been given the boot in UP?

Second, a Dalit prime minister at the top will be a matter of huge pride for this long-suppressed community, but it creates rumbles in other regional parties of a different kind. One, if they agree to let her get the job, there is no way they can plot her ouster later (which is what happens in such coalitions), since this will be seen as a great act of betrayal by Dalits. Also, the bases of the OBC and upper caste parties will not easily accept this arrangement. So, if a third front is to materialise, and Mayawati is the option for prime minister, the parties supporting the front will probably try to offer another Dalit face to head the coalition, a pliant Dalit face with lower electoral clout. This is what happened in Bihar after Nitish Kumar’s 2014 rout, and he stepped down to offer the job to Jitan Ram Manjhi. The fact that a strong leader like Mayawati will be difficult to oust will be a key factor in deciding whether other parties will support her candidature for the PM’s office. Coalitions of a multi-party nature tend to prefer weaker leaders at the top, so that the parties with real power can flex their muscles.

Third, there will be disquiet in the SP itself. There will be a three-year-long wait before UP goes to the polls, and the BSP-SP understanding will have to withstand whatever pressures the new central coalition faces in the meanwhile. In India, pressures will come in many forms, not least from the upper caste parties and from non-Yadav OBC groups. Mayawati will have to handle them, and unless Indians have moved to a more chilled out phase in their history, disruptions will come sooner than later, not least because of the economic challenges coming up ahead.

Fourth, since Muslims will be backing the SP-BSP coalition at the cost of the Congress in UP, it is not unreasonable that they will be demanding a payoff once the results are to their satisfaction. This means the BJP will ultimately stand as the only major opposition voice in UP, especially for the upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs, among others. This caste coalition will pose a huge challenge to the SP-BSP alliance, and could even play a huge role in counter-mobilisation in the Lok Sabha polls. It is foolish to presume that the BJP, faced with a strong SP-BSP alliance, will not make overtures to smaller parties and be more accommodative of their aspirations than it has been in the past. One cannot even rule out the entry of Ajit Singh’s RLD into the NDA, now that he has been marginalised in the SP-BSP deal. He is sure to check out offers from the BJP or the Congress. The SP-BSP edge will be tested well before Akhilesh and Mayawati can prepare for the state assembly polls. In India, every caste or religious mobilisation results in a counter-mobilisation of those left out. This is exactly what Modi is facing now and it would be foolish to presume that the reverse won’t happen.

Fifth, the only party that may be left out in the cold is the Congress. Perhaps, the SP-BSP calculation is that the Congress will now cut into the BJP’s upper caste base, but in any kind of polarised election, it is the weaker party that loses out. In this case, it will be the Congress, not the BJP.

Lastly, the Mayawati-Akhilesh alliance is an arrangement dictated by straightforward electoral arithmetic (your vote plus my vote is greater than BJP’s); the chemistry is still to be tested beyond one press conference and a few bypolls. The fact that the alliance has delivered in byelections should not be taken to mean that the same voter will vote against Narendra Modi in 2019. That remains to be seen.

The SP-BSP coalition is strong enough to halt the Modi juggernaut in 2019 in UP, but talk of Mayawati as prime minister is premature. Even if the BJP slides dramatically in UP, this is not a done deal.

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