Among the three states, the Congress has the least of problems in Rajasthan because the party unit is working more cohesively than in MP.
Going by political responses immediately after Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati announced her decision to go solo in the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Assembly polls, weeks after announcing her pact with Ajit Jogi’s fledgling outfit in Chhattisgarh, it appeared that the glee of the BJP and its leaders was more intense than the Congress’ worries at this development. The BJP’s delight stems from the assessment that this is a huge setback for the Congress and the Opposition’s efforts to cobbleup a Mahagathbandhan for 2019 and consequently, a major shot in the arm for the saffron brigade.
This conclusion arises from an understanding that views the impending state elections through the prism of the Lok Sabha polls. But such analysis is flawed because unless either the incumbent or the challenger is able to create an all-India political reasoning which unites voters across states, the electoral narrative will be different in the two situations and people will vote with different motivations. It is only rarely that trends in state polls have been maintained in the parliamentary elections, and this happens only in wave elections like in 2014, when the BJP’s sweep of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh the previous year was repeated during the Lok Sabha polls. At the moment, however, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor anyone from the entire pantheon of Opposition leaders appears to be moving towards creating a upsurge in favour of their parties.
As a result, the Assembly polls in the states where the BJP faces a serious challenge must be delinked from 2019 and the BSP’s decision must be evaluated sparately in each state because the potential impact varies.
The BSP’s previous electoral performance, especially its voteshare in 2013 of 6.29 per cent and four seats (in MP) and 3.37 per cent and three seats (in Rajasthan), has been cited as the main raison d’être for the Congress to reach out to Mayawati for the alliance. But the political context in 2013 was markedly different than now. Moreover, recent byelections in Rajasthan demonstrated that the Congress is on the upswing. Additionally, it has been argued that being accommodative in these states would ensure a good deal for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, where it is at best the third most significant anti-BJP party after the BSP and the Samajwadi Party but ahead of Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal.
However, only the politically naive would believe that being adjusting in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan would ensure a sweet deal in Uttar Pradesh. In politics, promises are to be honoured only till one is negotiating a deal. Undertakings for the future are rarely honoured because no party ever relents on the principality of personal interest. History shows that parties come together because of a unifying idea, but when it comes to negotiations, no one yields even one inch.
Among the possible steps the BJP can take for improving its chances in the parliamentary polls, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine’s first effort would be to retain at least two of the three states — MP and Chhattisgarh being the states where it can still remain optimistic. Ms Mayawati’s decision to plough the lonely furrow dents the Congress’ chances in these two states, if not in Rajasthan. Within the larger picture, however, possible BJP victories in these two states would have little impact on the Lok Sabha elections excepting buoying the enthusiasm of the party cadre. It appears that Ms Mayawati has broken the Opposition’s ranks with the intention to hurt the Congress in the state polls with the aim of securing a better deal in the parliamentary polls.
But this strategy may backfire for two reasons. First, the political context has altered, and from a situation where it was considered perfectly normal for all parties to woo the representative of dalits, after the Supreme Court verdict on the SC/ST Atrocities Act and the subsequent amendment in the law, there has been a considerable backlash from the upper castes. This had forced the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in MP to commit to nullifying the amendment in the state. Second, despite the several attacks on dalits across India, the community has not articulated any pan-Indian collective sentiment which has translated into votes.
Additionally, many new forces have emerged within the dalit community — Chandrasekhar Azad in UP and Jignesh Mewani in Gujarat being the most prominent, as a result of which Ms Mayawati’s claims of providing political representation to the community is no longer valid. Because of the altered political reality, the BSP has a lesser capacity to contribute to the table in these three states. Consequently, the Congress was nonchalant in forging an alliance. Before parting, Ms Mayawati served notice of going on her own if she was not made a “decent” offer. That the Congress did not bow to her tune means the party is aware of the limited value of a BSP alliance. She had obviously demanded more than was merited.
Among the three states, the Congress has the least of problems in Rajasthan because the party unit is working more cohesively than in MP. Despite disagreements, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot are working harmoniously and are focused on the first round only, that is till the state elections. Other issues, on who would be chief minister if the party wins, and second, the party’s strategy for the Lok Sabha polls, are to be decided later.
Ms Mayawati is possibly the only Opposition leader anxious for a pan-Indian Opposition front, while the others are mostly looking ahead on a state-to-state basis. Ms Mayawati’s anxiety to strike alliances in other states besides UP stems from the BSP being one of the seven national parties — as recognised by the Election Commission — and her worry that it may lose this label if the party does not perform creditably in at least four states. Given her kind words for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, this is clearly not a final parting but a tactical shock to the Congress. But she should be worried that it could well be her party which gets short-circuited in the process.
The writer is the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984