ITDC INDIA EPRESS/ ITDC NEWS For an alliance whose start was heralded as the birth of an insurmountable force, the Mahagathbandhan of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh died a rather quiet death less than two weeks after the election results.
While BSP chief Mayawati gave the first kick to the Mahagathbandhan, it was SP chief Akhilesh Yadav who delivered the final punch. Mayawati, after an internal review meeting of the BSP, had announced her intent to go it alone in the coming Assembly bypolls, while keeping open the possibility of future partnerships. However, on Tuesday, by wishing the BSP the best for the future, Akhilesh sealed the undoing of the Mahagathbandhan.
In the recently concluded general election, 11 seats were won by sitting MLAs. On the resignation of the incumbent legislators, these seats will come up for byelections.
Two things stand out after the developments on Monday and Tuesday. First is that the BSP is not forgoing the bypolls (as it usually does) in favour of the bigger prize (the Assembly elections scheduled to be held in 2022). In the 2018 bypolls to three Lok Sabha seats, the BSP had offered support to the winning candidates (two from SP and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal), quietly asserting its indispensability in breaking the BJP’s stronghold.
Second is the fact that the SP, which was a junior partner in the Mahagathbandhan (in terms of seats contested), might have successfully shrugged off any negativity that could have hit it for its role in the rupture of the Mahagathbandhan.
As is the nature of hurriedly formed alliances, the Mahagathbandhan had begun to unravel over the seven phases of the Lok Sabha elections. There were clashes between workers of the two parties, the SP slumbered on booth management and the BSP seethed over the deliberate slights to its local leaders during joint campaigning.
Adding to these complications was the BSP’s image as an unreliable partner and the SP's overconfidence on many seats and the drubbing became a work in progress. However, for the SP, the loss is bigger as not only did it lose its vote share, some of its sure-shot winners also crumbled.
The perception that the SP was a dependent, weaker partner got bigger during the election campaign as Akhilesh’s wife Dimple—who contested and lost from Kannauj—touched Mayawati’s feet at a rally. However, the courtesy was not returned by the BSP chief’s nephew Akash Anand whom she is grooming for a larger role in the party.
There is only some truth to Mayawati’s observation that the Yadav vote did not transfer to the BSP. Though the logic has been weakly countered by the SP general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav that had SP vote shift not happened at all, no seats would have been won by the BSP, the larger truth is that the SP could not hold on to its core vote. It thus polled 3 per cent lesser votes than what it did in the last election.
For the BSP, which leapt from zero seats in 2014 to 10 seats in 2019, the alliance with the SP was beneficial. In the past too, when the BSP has forged partnerships, it has reaped more benefits that its respective political companion. In the 1993 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, for instance, when it came together with the SP for the first time, the BSP improved its seat count from 13 to 65. In 1995, Mayawati became chief minister with the BJP’s support.
Within the SP, there is a sense of relief that Mayawati was the first off the blocks to signal the demise of the Mahagathbandhan. This gives the SP time to cast its strategy for both the byelections and the next state elections.
It is also time for the SP to re-examine its politics. The Lok Sabha election was the surest mark of Akhilesh’s mark on the party and the disappearance of the old order symbolised by his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brother Shivpal. Senior party leaders have expressed their anger at the manner in which they have been sidelined in favour of a younger, social media-savvy lot around Akhilesh, which they claim is out of touch with ground reality. The oft-heard grouse is that Akhilesh’s circle treats him like a CEO who must manage the party like a corporate entity.
The solo show will thus give the SP a big chance to refashion its bearings and harness the power of its young members. It will also be the opportunity to recast its narrative as a reliable alternative and not just as an antithesis of the ruling establishment to claw back from the precipice it hangs by.
By taking one step back from the brink, for now, the BSP seems more battle-ready for now. But then, little is permanent in politics.