Rise of the Third Front: Is Mayawati on the way to becoming PM in 2019?
Personal feuds — and in some cases, rival ambitions — seemingly no longer matter in the game of political survival. But can Behenji make it in this high-stakes battle?
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Politics makes for strange bed fellows — something we saw in the recent coming together of erstwhile political foes Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh.
The tie-up, though novel, is not new: In 1993, then-SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and then-BSP supremo Kanshi Ram had joined hands to form a coalition government in Uttar Pradesh. But the withdrawal of support by the BSP in 1995, and the subsequent 'Guest House' incident (where some SP legislators surrounded the guest house where Mayawati was staying, shouted casteist slogans and assaulted several BSP MLAs) made the parties bitter enemies.
Waving the past bye: SP-BSP alliance in UP is deciding emerging alliances ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls. (Photo: PTI)
Fast forward to 2018 — when a fast-declining political base, changing caste coalitions, the emergence of young backward caste leaders and the seemingly unstoppable winning streak of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo changed political dynamics for both the SP and BSP.
The two besieged parties have thus come together, in the process, not just throwing regional politics into upheaval — but also alarming the two principal national parties.
At the recent press conference announcing the formation of the SP-BSP alliance, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav even hinted at supporting Mayawati for PM in 2019.
But is the BSP chief — whose party currently holds zero seats in the Lok Sabha — a serious challenger for occupying 7 Lok Kalyan Marg in 2019?
Some political pundits are willing to bet on her now.
BSP supremo Mayawati is a strong contender for the top job in 2019. (Photo: Reuters)
The emergence of a non-BJP, non-Congress Third Front has brought into focus the increasing significance of regional satraps. Earlier content with playing second fiddle, these state leaders are now ready for a space in the national spotlight.
The principal Opposition party, the Congress, till recently quite pleased with the Mahagathbandhan tasting victory in by-polls and Assembly elections, is increasingly finding itself sidelined.
Most parties now believe that the Congress' votes are not transferable, and there isn't much benefit in a pre-poll alliance with the party. Charges of alleged corruption during its tenure is also baggage others are not willing to bear.
In UP, even in terms of vote share, the SP and BSP don't really need the Congress.
The two parties' combined vote share was almost equal to the votes polled by the BJP-led NDA in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls — and more than the NDA's share in the 2017 Assembly elections.
In 2014, while the SP polled 22.4 per cent votes and won 5 seats, the BSP polled 19.8 per cent of the total vote, winning 0 seats. The BJP, along with its ally Apna Dal, polled 43.3 per cent votes.
In 2017's Assembly election, the 45.6 per cent combined vote share of the SP, BSP, RLD and the Nishad Party was more than the NDA's 41.4 per cent.
Given the 80 Lok Sabha seats on offer from Uttar Pradesh, this would put the alliance within reach of 55 seats — making it the third largest block in 2019, after the BJP and the Congress, giving Mayawati's PM aspirations a major shot in the arm.
Behenji has competition though.
Didi has become another rallying point for the anti-BJP, Anti-Congress front. (Photo: PTI)
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is already reaching out to like-minded parties. Telangana CM and TRS chief K Chandrashekhar Rao and Odisha CM and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik are also pushing for the Third Front, and could emerge as likely contenders for the top job, based on their party's performance.
On her part, Mayawati too is reaching out to other parties.
After fighting the recent Chhattisgarh Assembly elections in alliance with Ajit Jogi's Chhattisgarh Janata Congress, her recent meeting with RJD chief Tejashwi Yadav points to a possible understanding in Bihar.
A strong showing in the polls would majorly bolster her chances.
But what makes Behenji perhaps the strongest contender is the number of seats she could win in Uttar Pradesh in alliance with the SP.
While Mamata Banerjee's TMC currently has 34 of the 42 seats in West Bengal, Odisha has a total of 21 Lok Sabha seats and Telangana has 17 seats.
Thus, what Mayawati's alliance could win is more than the total number of seats on offer from her rivals' states.
Transferability of her Dalit and core Jatav vote bank to alliance partners, something on display in the recent by-polls, also works in Mayawati's favour.
And what adds tremendously to her PM claim is her caste and humble background — factors that had increased PM Modi's appeal in 2014.
It would also make it difficult for other regional allies not to support her, as none would like to be seen as anti-Dalit. Even the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress would find it tough to oppose Mayawati's candidature, if the numbers are in her favour.
While the Narendra Modi-led BJP had hoped for a counter-polarisation of votes in its favour if all Opposition parties came together against it under the umbrella of the Mahagathbandhan, the emergence of the Third Front has decreased the chances of that happening.
The Rahul Gandhi-led Congress would find it tough to oppose Mayawati as PM if the numbers are in her favour. (Photo: Reuters)
From TINA (There Is No Alternative) that earlier worked for both the national parties, the voter could be swayed by a non-BJP, non-Congress alternative, further increasing the Third Front's chances.
While the RSS had earlier made significant inroads into the Dalit community through its ‘samrasta’ campaign, the Backward Castes and SC/STs are becoming increasingly apprehensive of the Modi government's recent decision towards a 10 per cent EWS quota, something they see as the first step towards doing away with caste-based reservation. Mayawati, thus, stands a fair chance of getting a substantial portion of non-Jatav Dalit votes that had drifted towards the BJP in the run-up to 2014.
The Congress party, heady from the recent victory in the three Hindi heartland states, is looking at around 100-150 seats with its allies in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Haryana, which may not be enough to push Rahul Gandhi as a Prime Ministerial contender.
The party could find solace in supporting the BSP chief, as long as its nemesis, the BJP, stays out of power.
Personal feuds — and in some cases, ambition — seemingly no longer matter in the game of political survival.