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SP-BSP to indulge in shadow boxing with Congress to divide upper caste votes? Newspaper report fuels speculations

The reason for this "split" in the mahagathbandhan, as per the report, is that after winning the neighbouring states, Congress would have bargained to fight on more seats as compared to regional powers.

A report in the Dainik Jagran has sent political observers in a tizzy with speculations. The report says that Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) have decided to not form an alliance with Congress in Uttar Pradesh for the 2019 battle, but have still kept the doors open for a post-poll alliance.

According to the report, SP and BSP have already decided their seat-sharing formula with BSP fighting on 38 seats and SP fighting on 37 seats. The report also says that some seats may be given to smaller parties like RLD which is to fight on 3 seats.

The reason for this “split” in the mahagathbandhan, as per the report, is that after winning the neighbouring states, Congress would have bargained to fight on more seats as compared to regional powers. This confirms what we had speculated earlier that none of the regional parties really want to get into an alliance with a strong Congress as Congress is largely seen as a cash cow. A strong or resurgent Congress would mean less stakes for regional powers.

However, what is most telling in the entire report is the fact that SP and BSP both have announced that they won’t be fielding candidates from Gandhi bastions Amethi and Raebareli. Amethi is widely considered to currently be a Rahul Gandhi bastion and Raebareli is considered to be a Sonia Gandhi bastion.

The fact that BSP and SP won’t be fielding candidates for the two seats from which the Gandhis are fighting has confirmed the fact that this breakage of the alliance is not borne out of genuine disenchantment but caste equation compulsions.

It would seem like SP, BSP and Congress are all set to indulge in shadow boxing before the 2019 elections just to enter into a post-poll alliance after the 2019 elections.

For the BSP, the core vote bank is the Dalit faction. For SP the core vote banks are the Yadavs and Muslims. An alliance with Congress whose President, Rahul Gandhi has been sporting a janeu lately could have proven to be electorally catastrophic. The shadow boxing would perhaps serve several purposes. The BSP could consolidate their Dalit votes while SP could consolidate Muslim and Yadav votes. In the meantime, Congress, with its pseudo temple hopping could attempt to pander to the upper caste votes thereby splitting the BJP’s vote share.

Congress has been targetting the upper-caste votes rather consistently in the recent past. One recalls how Shiela Dixit, a Brahmin, was all set to become the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister right before Congress’ alliance with Samajwadi Party and how the Congress drummed up the SC/ST Act rhetoric forcing the BJP’s hand to overturn the SC verdict. The result of this game was evident in Madhya Pradesh where the upper caste got severely disenchanted with the BJP and consolidated to some extent behind Congress.

During the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections the workers of Congress and SP/BSP faced several difficulties in working together since for years, the workers had fought against each other. For 2019, the three parties seem to have gotten wiser and are focussing on keeping up the pretence to join hands after the 2019 elections.

In the coming months, we can certainly expect several comments from SP supremo Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati against Rahul Gandhi and Congress’ overall strategy to consolidate upper caste votes.

The following statement from Akhilesh Yadav seems to be an example of it.

Akhilesh Yadav was seen embracing Rahul Gandhi and calling him “UP ka ladka” not too long ago during the Assembly Elections of Uttar Pradesh. For him, to now trade barbs with Rahul Gandhi seems too outlandish to be true. It is probably just the beginning of such statements to ensure a credible illusion of the mahagathbandhan lying in shambles. However, as they have already stated, a post-poll alliance is on the cards and one wonders if the electorate will see through this shadow boxing.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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