Can Akhilesh-Rahul alliance trump Modi-fied BJP in UP elections?

Praveen Shekhar
Praveen ShekharJan 18, 2017 | 12:30

Can Akhilesh-Rahul alliance trump Modi-fied BJP in UP elections?

There has been a major upheaval in UP politics after the Election Commission announced on Monday that CM Akhilesh Yadav and his camp would be given the “cycle” symbol. It clearly heralded that it is none other than Akhilesh who will represent the “real” Samajwadi Party, who will now have the clearest say on the direction his party takes in the upcoming Assembly election.


It has been known for a while that Akhilesh has long been in favour of an SP-Congress alliance. That this is exactly what happened on Tuesday, when AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad announced that the Congress and the Samajwadi Party under Akhilesh Yadav would fight the UP Assembly polls together, is only one more indicator of how the young CM has truly taken over the party reins.

So, what have been the possible reasons that brought the Samajwadi Party and the Congress together? Is there any ideological similarity between the SP and the Congress which has forged the bond between these two parties together; or, is it just going to be an alliance of convenience?

Even though the origin of the Samajwadi Party was, in fact, a political rebellion against the Congress, this time the SP-Congress alliance is against the saffron surge of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-led BJP. So, what has brought the former enemies together? Is it just the fear of Modi, or is it also a battle for survival?

There is also a big question as to whether Mayawati's strategy of social coalition building, by uniting the Dalits and the Muslims alienated by the rift in SP, would pay off. The BSP is posing a stiff challenge to SP and is going all out to woo the Muslim voters.

Will Mayawati's strategy of social coalition building by uniting Dalits and Muslims pay off?

However, most in the SP camp believe that with the Congress as a partner, it can reinforce the Muslim-Yadav combination and galvanise voters against the BJP. Also, the Muslim tilt towards the BSP can be stopped.

Options before Mulayam Singh Yadav

After being thoroughly outwitted by his son, the SP veteran Mulayam Singh Yadav has very limited options left with him. Will he bow down before Akhilesh and end his illustrious political career as a defeated general and act just like a “Bhisma Pitamah”? Or, does he still have the gumption to fight back?

Here’s what MSY can do:

1. Float a new political party: Not exactly a wise choice considering his son’s growing popularity and open defiance.

2. Truce with Akhilesh: He can act as the SP’s new “margdarshak” (chief patron). But Mulayam is hardly in a position to choose candidates according to his preference.

3. Move to Lok Dal: There are reports that Mulayam may be in negotiation with the Lok Dal, on whose ticket he was once elected to the UP Assembly.

4. Fight the polls independently: Mulayam can also choose to ask his close associates to fight election as independent candidates in a bid to cut the vote share of the Akhilesh-led Samajwadi Party.


5. Knock on Supreme Court’s door: Mulayam could also go to the Supreme Court against the Election Commission verdict favouring his son and awarding him the Cycle symbol.

Bringing Congress on board

The Congress will have to explain to its supporters and voters why it agreed to shake hands with the Samajwadi Party. Apart from putting up a united “secular front” against the saffronising force of Modi-led BJP, what is common between the Congress and the SP that is likely to be a binding force?

Minutes after the Congress confirmed its alliance with the Samajwadi Party ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, a faction of the party’s workers came out protesting outside the party headquarters in New Delhi. Congress workers raised slogans like “Gathbandhan thukrao, UP bachao (Reject alliance, save UP)". The workers also demanded that Congress campaigner Priyanka Gandhi be brought to the forefront in Uttar Pradesh.

There seems to be some discomfort amongst a section of Congress itself about this alliance.

Can they stop Modi?

On November 6, Congress’ poll strategist Prashant Kishor met the then SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to explore possibilities of a “mahagathbandhan” in UP on the lines of Bihar. Four days later, scotching rumours about a Bihar-like "grand alliance" to take on the BJP, Mulayam said the SP was open to mergers, but would have no pre-election alliances.

Then a day later, Congress (Rajya Sabha) MP Sanjay Singh hit back at the SP chief saying, “an ocean does not merge in rivers and drains, it is the other way round”. The question then arises, why this sudden change in the political mood?

The Congress party has been out of power in Uttar Pradesh for 27 years. Rahul Gandhi’s “kisan yatra” across the state, though created a buzz, didn't quite get the expected response. The party's fortunes further dipped after the BJP-led central government’s surgical strikes inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The Congress seemed to have changed its mind on account of the fact that post-demonetisation, the popularity of the BJP has declined somewhat and a possible alliance with the SP under a resurgent Akhilesh may just be able to contain the BJP in the crucial UP Assembly polls.

In the last Assembly election, the Congress won in just 29 seats and finished second in 31 seats. According to observers, there are about 50 other constituencies where the party has a fighting chance to do well, and/or prop up the SP candidate.

Lessons for BJP

As far as the UP elections are concerned, the two neighbouring states - Delhi and Bihar - have busted the myth of a “Modi wave”. Now, with the SP-Congress alliance coming up against the BJP in UP, should the BJP be worried? Will the mahagathbandhan upstage and blunt advantage BJP in Uttar Pradesh?

After Delhi and Bihar, if the BJP gets a drubbing in UP, it will certainly be a loss of face for Modi. This is sure to lead to the shattering of his carefully crafted aura of being the prize horse of the Hindutva brigade. It is obvious that the UP dangal is a do or die battle for Modi.

In the 2012 Assembly polls, the BJP could win just 47 seats out of the 403. However, with the ascendance of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the party witnessed a huge rise in fortunes, and in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it managed a whopping 43 per cent vote share in UP, as well as 71 seats.

This, while the total vote share of SP, Congress and RLD stood at 30.74 per cent in the 2014 general elections in UP.

But the general election results cannot be compared with Assembly election outcomes. Indian voters have shown, time and again, that they vote differently in state and Lok Sabha polls. Besides, the BJP’s stunning performance in general elections was thanks entirely to the Modi wave.

However, the rise of Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, and the victory of the grand alliance in Bihar have somewhat tempered the Modi wave. Though BJP’s vote share saw a spike in Bihar in Lok Sabha polls 2014, it also saw a decline in Assembly elections held the very next year in the state.

UP Assembly poll

PartySeats won in UP Assembly poll 2012Vote %Seats won in Lok Sabha election 2014Vote %
SP  224 29.13  5 22.35
BJP   47 15  71 42.63
Congress   28 11.65 2 7.53
BSP  80 25.91 0 19.77
RLD  9  2.33 0 0.86

It is also worth underscoring that PM Modi is scheduled to address at least 15 rallies in Uttar Pradesh, far fewer than what he did in Bihar. In addition, the BJP is yet to find a local face for its UP campaign. Leaders like Varun Gandhi have been sidelined for reasons best known to the party. It seems that BJP has not learnt lesson from its debacle in Bihar and Delhi.

What about Mayawati?

Few months back, it was said that the BSP is the front-runner in the 2017 UP Assembly polls. But now, Akhilesh’s official takeover of the SP and the alliance with Congress has made this mahagathbandhan a front-runner and pushed the BSP to the third position.

BSP has been working to unite Dalit-Muslim voters and for that purpose the party has given around 100 tickets to Muslims. But now it appears that the alliance between SP and the Congress will derail BSP’s exercise of getting Muslim votes. Let us not forget that previously the BSP had allied thrice with the BJP and the party’s appeal to the Muslims could be looked at with suspicion.

On January 15, Mayawati said that only BSP can stop BJP from coming to power in UP. She said: “The Samajwadi Party, even if fighting unitedly and in an alliance with the Congress will not be able to stop the BJP from coming to power in UP and voters should only bank on the BSP for doing the same”.

Win-win for SP-Congress-RLD alliance

However, there are enough reasons why only an SP-Congress-RLD alliance can stop the BJP from coming to power in UP.

1. SP is a dominant force in eastern and central UP, while the Congress vote is thinly spread across the state. With a grand alliance involving RLD and with pocket of influence in western UP, the alliance will be a formidable force.

2. An SP-Congress-RLD alliance could consolidate the votes of Yadavs, Muslims and Jats — a winning combination.

3. The SP and the Congress together could also prevent a split in the sizeable Muslim votes between the Mayawati-led BSP and the SP.

4. A grand alliance would also help SP counter anti-incumbency by promising to deliver on a new agenda, that of the post-caste-politics plank of development.

5. A simple adding up of the vote share of SP (22.35 per cent), Congress (7.53 per cent) and RLD (0.86 per cent) in the 2014 election, the alliance can still reach the decent and winning figure of 30 per cent vote share.


Last updated: January 19, 2017 | 14:01
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