The Congress-SP coalition is founded on flawed logic, faulty arithmetic and short-sighted politics. Instead of helping the alliance partners, it may damage them both.
The Congress and Samajwadi Party (SP) coalition is finally in place in Uttar Pradesh (UP) after the initial drama and nerve-shattering pressure tactics exerted by both sides. While SP president and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had been upbeat about the coalition getting about 300 assembly seats, Congress too was desperate to clinch the coalition to make a comeback in the state. But, the coalition is no passport to power.
What were the reasons for the coalition partners to be so optimistic about their electoral effectiveness?
Let us first look at Congress, which initiated the entire move through its strategist Prashant Kishore, who was roped in by the party to bring it back in state politics, after his astounding success with the campaigns of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in 2015. Kishore realised that the stakes for Congress were very low and any daring experiment to improve its electoral fortunes would be worth attempting. Congress chips had been down in the state since 5 December 1989, when the party lost power to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Janata Dal. The party has been out of power in UP since.
Congress had two bits of coalition earlier; one in 1996 with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the other in 2012 with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). In 1996, Congress contested 126 seats and BSP 296 seats. Though the vote share and seats of Congress remained unchanged despite the coalition, it suffered an additional disadvantage – party organisation collapsed in constituencies that were ceded to the BSP. Since then, the Congress party never recovered organisationally. It took another chance in 2012 by entering into a coalition with RLD and contested from 355 seats, giving RLD only 46 seats. The party very marginally gained in seats and votes, but remained almost at the same level as in 1996.
So, what makes the Congress leadership buy the logic of yet another coalition with SP this time?
SP was formed in 1992 by Mulayam Singh Yadav and due to the understanding reached with Kanshi Ram of BSP during 1991 election campaign, the SP-BSP coalition was formed in 1993 assembly elections. SP contested 256 seats and won 109 seats, BSP contested 164 seats and won 67 seats. Though they were short of majority, they formed the government with the help of other parties and Mulayam become the chief minister. The experiment was short-lived and broke in 1995 owing to the infamous guest house incident at Lucknow, in which SP goons allegedly tried to kill Mayawati. That sealed the possibility of Dalits and OBCs coming together in UP for electoral purposes.
Since then, SP never had pre-poll alliance, though after 2002 assembly elections, it tried, unsuccessfully, forming post-poll alliance of like-minded parties. After the Mayawati government fell, Mulayam Singh formed government in August 2003 with the help of Congress, Rashtriya Kranti Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Samajwadi Janata Party, Janata Party and National Loktantrik Party etc. Later, Ajit Singh’s RLD also joined Mulayam. That was the first and last time that the three – Congress, SP and RLD – come together. Hence, their forging mahagathbandhan in 2017 on Bihar pattern was very unlikely.
So, why was Akhilesh so keen to forge coalition with Congress? What was his arithmetic for winning 300 seats? There could be two explanations. One, Akhilesh was disappointed with the performance of his party in the last Lok Sabha polls in 2014 where his party won only five seats, indicating a decline of his father and SP supremo Mulayam’s influence on the electorate.
Two, Akhilesh was scared about his party’s performance in 2017 polls owing to the feud in his family, party and government. Since, BJP and BSP are SP’s staunch rivals, Congress was the only party left for alliance. Also, Congress banks on Brahmins and Dalits, whereas SP’s core support base represents Thakurs and Yadavs. Akhilesh thought that the two vote bases are complimentary and could help each other. Muslim voters are their common denominator, so they would make a clear choice to vote coalition candidates.
In thinking this, Akhilesh banked on an assumption that the two parties have the capability to get their respective votes transferred to the coalition partner. That is a flawed logic. Neither Congress nor SP has such a hold on their traditional voters to ensure their transferability. Only Mayawati is known to get Dalit votes transferred to whichever party she wants. Since Congress would be contesting in only 105 constituencies, its already fragile voters in the remaining 300 constituencies would shift to other parties, Dalits to BSP and Brahmins to BJP. Also, the Congress party organisation in such constituencies may get decimated that could cost the party dearly in the next parliamentary elections in 2019.
SP too may face revolt in 105 constituencies that go to Congress kitty because many party candidates had been preparing for polls and their political careers may end if the party decided to wind up in their constituencies, in favour of Congress. Many such aspirants may fight as rebels or join BJP. In many cases, rebels from both SP and Congress have started joining the BJP. Additionally, SP made the mistake of announcing its candidates for all seats in western UP and Ruhelkhand which go to polls in the first and second phases. Now, depriving them of seat that was already offered may create tremendous heat and revolt.
Finally, Congress-SP coalition has the seeds of communal polarisation because it is being argued that the alliance would facilitate Muslims to make a clear choice against BJP. That could well generate a counter reaction among Hindus leading to communal polarisation, especially in western UP and Muslim dominant areas that may damage electoral fortunes of the coalition candidates. Also, Mayawati’s Dalit-Muslim coalition would surely fetch some Muslim votes for its 97 Muslim contestants and cause division in Muslim votes to the advantage of BJP.
Hence, in conclusion, we may say that the Congress-SP coalition is founded on flawed logic, faulty arithmetic and short-sighted politics. Instead of helping the alliance partners, it may damage them both.