Mandal vs Kamandal 2.0: How the SP-BSP alliance has challenged the BJP, again

Sharat Pradhan
Sharat PradhanJan 14, 2019 | 17:44

Mandal vs Kamandal 2.0: How the SP-BSP alliance has challenged the BJP, again

The announcement of a seat-sharing agreement between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that came on Saturday, January 12, has sounded warning bells for the mighty BJP that is desperately seeking another five years at the Centre.

The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party will contest on 38 seats each in Uttar Pradesh. (Source: PTI)

Since the BJP, along with Apna Dal, bagged 73 of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 Lok Sabha seats during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, sure enough, the state had a major role in propelling the BJP to power in Delhi with a record 282 seats, enabling Narendra Modi to take over India’s political destiny.  


The emergence of a new political combine in UP, with the potential of denting the might of the ruling dispensation, is bound to send ominous signals to the BJP now.

After all, it is undeniable that the route to power in New Delhi goes through UP.

Evidently, it was not just a reminder to the BJP that the same forces, which had crushed the party way back in 1993 when it managed to ride to power on the back of the Ayodhya temple movement, were knocking on its iron gates.

The then-SP-BSP alliance had acquired the title of ‘Mandal’ since it was the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations that had given political weight to the socially backward groups. And since the BJP was spearheading the temple movement, it was often referred to as ‘Kamandal’.

Years later, it is ‘Mandal’ threatening to overtake ‘Kamandal’ in the race for power — barely about 100 days from now.

Even though both ‘Mandal’ and ‘Kamandal’ have gone through several twists and turns over the past 25 years, both sides are doing their best to sharpen their tools as the battle of the ballot draws closer.


A demonstration of the dominance of the SP-BSP combine over the BJP was already visible in the four successive by-election defeats the BJP suffered in 2018 when the party was humbled in the Parliamentary bastions of chief minister Yogi Adityanath as well as deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.

Meanwhile, there is no denying that the exclusion of the Congress from the SP-BSP alliance is also not a very happy sign.

Hello, goodbye: After initial warmth, the SP-BSP alliance has left out Rahul Gandhi's Congress. (Source: PTI)

It is believed that while the SP was inclined to have Congress on board, BSP supremo Mayawati had her own issues with the Congress leadership. It is said that Mayawati’s ego was apparently hurt primarily because the Congress had denied Mayawati the number of seats she was demanding in the three states of the Hindi heartland – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — where the Congress won and formed governments recently.

The poll results in the three states proved that her demand was disproportionate to the party’s hold on the ground in any of the three states.

Yet, in an obvious tit-for-tat, Mayawati not only kept the Congress away from the alliance, but also went about blasting the party at the joint press conference she addressed along with SP president Akhilesh Yadav on Saturday.


Akhilesh, on the other hand, maintained silence on the Congress but was clearly diplomatic when a journalist asked him if the SP would support Mayawati as a prime ministerial face of the alliance. Perhaps that was his way of leaving room for an unwritten understanding with the Congress. In any case, it is believed that ample room would be kept for accommodating like-minded political players in the post-poll scenario.

Both the SP and the BSP did choose to leave uncontested the two constituencies of Rae Bareli and Amethi, represented by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi respectively, thereby sending a message that doors were being kept open for a post-election arrangement too.

What could not be ruled out is a tacit understanding with the Congress on select seats, particularly where both the SP and the BSP knew they were on a weak footing.

More than that, the alliance could also draw strength from Muslim voters — who remain the most potent of all anti-BJP vote banks.

BJP leaders believe that any attempt towards polarisation of Muslim votes would lead to counter-polarisation of Hindus and therefore help the saffron forces. However, from what has been visible over the past one year, Muslims have not remained as vocal as they were in the past and many have also preferred not to react even to provocative acts and utterances of aggressive Hindutva forces.

Under these circumstances, a well thought-out unwritten understanding between the alliance partners and the Congress could prevent any meaningful division of the minority vote.

The fact remains that as it stands today, the Congress cannot be wished away by the SP-BSP alliance.

What cannot be ignored is that today, the Congress is not as down in the dumps as it had fallen in 2014.

The SP-BSP alliance has decided not to field candidates from Rae Bareli and Amethi, represented by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi respectively. (Source: PTI)

The party’s recent victory in the Hindi heartland has not only put the Congress on a path of revival, but has also established Rahul Gandhi as a leader.

Ironically, it was also the four-year-long BJP orchestrated ridicule of Rahul Gandhi as ‘Pappu’ that helped the 48-year-old Congress president to eventually emerge looking like a seasoned and mature politician.

The confidence with which he speaks today was unthinkable until a year ago.

Perhaps unnerved now by being left out by SP-BSP, Rahul has declared that his party would contest on each of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP. But what he is expected to do is overhaul his party organisation in the state, so that the Congress is seen as a real contender.

And once that is done, a good section of the minority votes could drift to the party.

There is no doubt about Muslim support for the SP, simply because of their love for the grand old ‘Maulana Mulayam' — but having seen Mayawati aligning with the BJP on three successive occasions in the past, it may not be that simple for the BSP to enlist Muslim support.

It is in such pockets that the Congress could get an upper hand over BSP nominees. But the Congress will have to be very tactical about its candidates in such places.

Given these developments, that the BJP is already jittery became visible when, on the very first day of the party’s national executive at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on January 11, party president Amit Shah devoted a good 15 minutes talking about the SP-BSP alliance. He may have ‘dismissed’ the alliance as a ‘dhakosla’ (farce). But then, he may be asked, “Then what is the big deal?”

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy playing down the alliance as an attempt towards forming a ‘majboor’ (weak) government.

Other BJP leaders, including the saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath, sought to term the alliance as “unholy, casteist and corrupt”. Many other top BJP leaders chose to dismiss the SP-BSP bonhomie as a consequence of the “fear of Modi” or “opportunistic”.

Narendra Modi may have dismissed the SP-BSP alliance — but where's his party's strategy to counter it? (Source: PTI)

That there were worries in the BJP camp over the alliance became visible when the CBI suddenly carried out raids on both SP and BSP leaders for their alleged role in an old illegal mining racket, which happened no sooner than Akhilesh and Mayawati met for the first time in Delhi.

The ruling dispensation sought to justify the raids by claiming that the CBI had acted in pursuance of an order of the Allahabad High Court — what they didn't put out much though was the fact that the court order had come two years back.

Well, the families of Akhilesh and Mayawati have been under the CBI scanner for years, largely on account of their alleged disproportionate assets. But when Mayawati’s brother Anand Kumar gets summoned by the CBI for questioning in one of the cases at a time when the alliance itself is building up, it reflects possible intent on the part of the powers that be.

That most alliances in India’s politics are opportunistic is a crude reality and that should not exclude Narendra Modi’s own 35-party National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

But the reactions coming from the BJP’s rank and file are enough to prove that the alliance has left the party shaken.

This is bound to prompt the BJP leadership into taking certain measures to counter the move. For instance, the party, in collusion with other elements in the Sangh Parival, could go for building hype around the Ayodhya issue once again, besides raking up the Hindutva card through other means.

However, at the end of the day, that would only go to further show how rattled the BJP is on account of the formidable challenge thrown up by a fast-uniting Opposition.

Last updated: January 14, 2019 | 17:44
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