Congress-SP embrace makes its anyone’s game in UP

Lucknow, Jan 25 The sealing of the electoral alliance between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) has altered the political landscape in Uttar Pradesh for the crucial seven-phased assembly elections from February 11 to March 8.

While leaders of these two parties claim to have been forced into a political embrace to “stop the forward march of the communal BJP”, the tie-up seems to have come as a rude shock for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), waiting in the wings to return to power on the time-tested Dalit-Muslim combination.

A resurgent BSP, which is targeting the ruling SP on poor law and order and focusing on the its failure during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots which left more than 60 persons dead and thousands homeless, has suddenly gone into a huddle, haunted by the spectre of Muslims rallying behind the SP-Congress combine.

“There was euphoria in favour of Behenji (BSP supremo Mayawati) as the electoral race started in Uttar Pradesh. The SP was mired in infighting between father (Mulayam Singh Yadav) and son (Chief Minister) Akhilesh Yadav and the Congress had little to write home about. The BSP was a serious challenger to the BJP, itching to come to power at any cost,” a senior Muslim voice in the old city pointed out.

He, however, said the political situation has changed drastically in the last 48-hours since the SP-Congress brokered a deal to stop the BJP. “We as a community want to keep the BJP at bay and the new alliance seems better placed to do so,” Faiz-ur-Rehman, a worker at a city mosque, contended.

The writing on the wall seems to have already worried the BSP leadership as its senior leaders, mostly Muslim faces, have been asked by Mayawati to “go out and explain to the community that SP-Congress tie-up will only help the BJP by dividing votes and that she remains their best bet”.

“The coming together of the SP-Congress is nothing but an attempt by both sides to piggyback each other in the face of certain electoral defeat,” Naseemuddin Siddiqui, the tallest Muslim leader of the BSP, said.

One of Mayawati’s closest aides, Siddiqui scoffed at the “winnability prospects” of the alliance.

Mayawati, on her part, has sharpened her attack on both the parties and has appealed to the Muslims not to be swayed by the last-minute tie-up as this was being done at the “behest of the communal forces to weaken the BSP”.

“The Congress leadership has surrendered before the SP in a bid to garner a few seats but it has failed the aspirations of the Muslim voters,” she thundered.

With 19 per cent votes that could influence 60-70 seats of the 403-member assembly, political observers here concede that while the Congress aligning with the SP could “offer a serious threat” to the BSP, they for now are giving the BSP and the Congress-SP alliance a 30:70 chance of splitting Muslim votes.

The BSP is stressing to its Muslim voters that the coming together of the 19 per cent Muslim vote and 23 per cent Dalit vote is potentially a match-winning cocktail. A section, however, dittoes Mayawati’s fears that a triangular fight could give the BJP an edge it has been waiting for.

The jury is, however, out on who benefits and by how much from this alliance. For the SP, it is felt that the alliance is timely as, due to the infighting within, it was being largely considered knocked out of the race.

The tie-up returns it to the reckoning and it can now pitch in with its winning and time-tested MY Muslim-Yadav combination. The pan-Indian acceptance of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi as benefactors of the Muslim community stays intact and could benefit the SP. For the Congress too, it’s a good situation as it is now riding with a regional party and is back in the fight.

Relegated to the fourth position in the state over the past few decades, the Congress now stands a decent chance of enhancing its numbers in the assembly and, in any case, can only hope to taste in power in a coalition. With its organisational structure in tatters, the 105 seats that have come its way is a “bumper draw”, in the words of an old Congress worker. The Congress won a mere 28 seats in the 2012 assembly polls.

On the face of it, the BJP is chuckling, saying the alliance will result in a surge in its favour. “We have always been saying that the SP is the B-team of Congress and they are now out of the closet, making it easier to target them,” said a senior BJP leader. The Congress, he pointed out, is still not favoured by the people in north India and the SP faces strong anti-incumbency.

BJP strategists also say that the SP-Congress alliance to consolidate the Muslim vote could trigger “reverse polarisation” on a larger scale among Hindus and force them to stand behind the saffron camp. Senior journalist Arvind Bajpayi, who has followed Muslim politics for very long, however, says “its an open field for all as of now”.

“Campaigning is yet to start. On the face of it, the SP-Congress alliance seems to have taken a head start. How it pans out during the course of the polls — we will have to wait and watch closely,” he said.

The verdict on the winnability of this new political combination will be out on March 11 when votes are counted — but, for now, the two have clearly managed to create a buzz.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at mohit.d@ians.in)

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