Crucial #Choices before the Congress and the BSP
As India heads towards crucial Assembly elections in the winter, which may make or mar the #Narendra Modi led BJP’s hopes to continue ruling the country for another five years after the Lok Sabha elections in ten months’ time, two major opposition parties, the Congress and #Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, BSP, are faced with hard choices on striking an alliance or entering into seat sharing deals. The outcome of the elections in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, to a large extent, and in Mizoram, to a smaller extent, will decide not only who rules there but also impact the BJP led National Democratic Alliance’s chances of winning next year’s general elections.
The BJP, which is heading the #NDA Government at the Centre, has a major stake in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. It has been ruling Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh for the last 10 years and Rajasthan for the last five years. The Congress also has a major stake in these states. A win or loss for the Rahul Gandhi led party will decide not only whether it comes to power in these states or not but also its equation with other political parties trying to challenge the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah led BJP dispensation.
Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, though it has only a few seats in the present state Assemblies, is capable of playing a crucial role in deciding which party, the BJP or the Congress, comes to power there in the winter elections.
Mayawati keeping options open
In a significant development during the week, the BSP supremo lost no time in expelling from party positions a senior leader, Jai Prakash Singh, who had said that Congress president Rahul Gandhi cannot hold the Prime Minister’s post because he has a ‘foreigner’ mother. Specifically he had stated: “Rahul looks more like his mother than his father. And his mother is a foreigner, thus he can never be Prime Minister”. Jai Prakash Singh also made uncomplimentary references to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Significantly, without taking the names of Rahul Gandhi, Yogi Adityanath or any party regarding the offensive remarks, Mayawati expelled Jai Prakash Singh from all party positions for making personal remarks against the leadership of a rival party.
The development comes at a time when there are reports that informal talks are underway between the Congress and the BSP on seat sharing for the coming Assembly elections in the three Hindi speaking states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. The Congress is keen on having an arrangement with the BSP in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, where there is a difference of only a few percent between the vote shares of the Congress and the BJP. If even five percent votes of the Dalits, a large part of whom are influenced by Mayawati’s BSP, shift to the Congress, it may mean the difference between victory and defeat.
But reportedly, the BSP is keen on having a seat sharing deal with the Congress in all three of the Hindi heartland states rather than in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh only. But in Rajasthan, where the Congress fancies that it can beat the BJP on its own, going by recent by-election results, the party does not want to spare seats for the BSP. But the Congress units in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh appear to be very keen on having a tie-up with the BSP. Mayawati’s action against Jai Prakash Singh indicates that she is keeping the options open on having a deal with the Congress for the coming Assembly elections and later perhaps for the Lok Sabha polls.
An alliance or seat sharing deal with the BSP is a double edged sword as far as the Congress is concerned. In the past, it has been seen that while allying with regional outfits has helped the BJP to expand its base, the position has been just the reverse for the Congress. An example of that was the Congress alliance with the BSP in Uttar Pradesh in the nineties, which Rahul Gandhi had himself blamed for the marginalisation of the party in the state. A similar picture emerged in Bihar, where alignment with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, RJD, led to the Congress being destined to play the role of a peripheral player.
The Congress is now face to face with the national ambitions of major regional outfits in many, if not all states of India. These include the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the TRS in Telangana. And many other regional outfits like Chandra Babu Naidu’s Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh treat the Congress as untouchable.
The Congress has hopes of allying with major regional outfits in states like Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Even in states where the Congress has good prospects of entering into alliances and seat sharing deals with regional outfits, the stage is set for tough bargaining on the number and particular seats to be shared. The regional parties all want to return to the next Lok Sabha with greater numbers. Many of their leaders like Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar have Prime Ministerial ambitions.
But the Congress is no longer in a position to dictate terms to the regional outfits with whom it wants to have alliances or seat sharing deals. It has to take whatever it can salvage, because it does not have much leverage.