When Tejashwi met Akhilesh and Mayawati. How the opposition is using Modi's strategies to defeat the BJP in 2019
Taking a leaf from the PM's game plan of strategic alliances, the opposition may spring a major surprise in 2019.
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The coming together of the SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh has set the cat among the pigeons.
Both parties have decided to contest 38 seats each, leaving two seats for smaller parties and Amethi and Rae Bareilly uncontested for the Congress. The alliance, formally announced on Saturday, has not only put the ruling BJP on the defensive but the non-inclusion of the Congress has also put the fate of the mahagathbandhan in jeopardy.
Political pundits have already written reams about the arithmetic of the Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav alliance, but will that translate into votes without the Congress and RLD? No one is willing to bet on that yet.
What the alliance has definitely succeeded in doing is to give a concrete shape to the opposition's strategy to keep Modi from retaining the PM chair in 2019.
RJD president, and Lalu Prasad Yadav's son, Tejashwi Yadav's visit to congratulate Mayawati and his subsequent meeting with Akhilesh Yadav is a strong indication of the same.
Together, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar account for 120 seats in the Lok Sabha.
That is more than 20 per cent of the total 543 seats up for grabs in 2019.
Will the SP-BSP alliance translate into votes without the Congress and RLD? No one's placing bets yet. (Photo: PTI)
The significance is not lost not on anyone, especially the ruling BJP, that sailed to victory in 2014 riding on a rich haul of 73 (71 + 2 Apna Dal) seats in Uttar Pradesh and 22 out of the 40 seats in Bihar.
More than PM Modi's personal appeal, the BJP benefited by the bifurcation of opposition votes along caste lines, and the party's strategic caste alliances with regional parties.
Five years down the line, the Modi wave is faced with regional post-Mandal satraps coming together, fearing their own political survival, something that the BSP faced when it failed to open its account in 2014 in UP, despite polling 19.8 per cent of the total votes.
While the alliances got the BJP non-Yadav OBC votes and non-Jatav SC/ST votes, Modi's development pitch and his own humble background and OBC caste got a substantial number of Yadav and some Jatav votes. The RSS' work among tribal groups also helped the party.
But can the SP and the BSP successfully transfer their vote share to each other?
In the 2014 Lok Sabha Polls, the SP polled 22.4 per cent votes and won 5 seats, the BSP, which, as mentioned, polled 19.8 per cent of the total vote, won 0 seats, the Congress won 7.53 per cent votes and got 2 seats, while the BJP and its ally, Apna Dal, polled 43.3 per cent votes and picked up a handsome tally of 73 seats.
The vote share of the SP and BSP, had they fought together, was almost equal to the NDA's vote share.
The apparent discrepancy in the number of seats won and percentage of votes polled was due to the SP, BSP and Congress votes getting divided among them.
Later, 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.
The opposition has zeroed in on this, and hopes to translate this arithmetic to seats.
But will sidelining the Congress help the opposition's cause as the party still commands a fair share of high caste and minority votes in the state?
With new shakti: The Congress, using the recently launched Shakti app, has identified 300 seats pan-India where they had won once between 2004-2014. (Photo: PTI)
Although the Congress was not part of the mahagathbandhan during the 2018 by-polls, it helped the opposition by fielding upper caste candidates, cutting into the BJP's votes.
By not contesting the Amethi and Rae Bareilly seats, SP and BSP have left the back door open to a post-poll alliance. While the Congress has declared it will fight all 80 seats, strategic understanding between the Congress, RLD, SP and BSP, by putting up strong and weak candidates to help each other out, cannot be ruled out.
It will also help the opposition demolish the BJP's accusation of 'All versus Modi', thus preventing a counter-polarisation of votes for the saffron outfit.
The Congress, using the recently launched Shakti app, has identified 300 seats pan-India where they had won once between 2004 and 2014. On more than 250 seats, it is in a direct contest with the BJP, while on the remaining 50, it faces off with regional parties.
The data from the five million registered users is already being used by Congress party strategists.
Using the data, and drawing on their strengths, the party may give way to other regional outfits best suited to defeat BJP.
Tejashwi Yadav, whose RJD fought the last Assembly elections in Bihar in alliance with the Congress, will also bridge this gap with the SP and BSP.
An understanding with the BSP will also help the RJD get backward caste votes in Bihar, while denting BJP ally JD(U)'s backward caste vote bank.
The ruling BJP, already on the back foot due its upper caste supporters' angst, may have tried to win them back by passing the 10 per cent EWS quota for jobs and admissions, but the party risks antogonising its hard-won non-Jatav SC/ST and non-Yadav OBC vote bank.
A strategic pan-India caste alliance among regional players could be a massive blow to Modi's 2019 bid. (Photo: PTI)
The SP, BSP and RJD are already pitching this as an appetiser to doing away with caste-based reservation, something that the opposition alleges the ruling BJP is doing at the bidding of the RSS. If that message percolates, it could hit the BJP hard.
Meanwhile, the BJP is also facing flak from its right-wing supporters, consisting majorly of upper caste votes, on the Ram Temple issue.
The party's supporters accuse the BJP of pandering to the backward castes by diluting the SC order on the SC/ST Atrocities Act, while twiddling its thumbs on an ordinance route to building the Ram temple.
A strategic pan-India caste alliance among regional players now could be a death blow to Modi's 2019 bid.
More than being antagonised, the Congress will be smugly smiling, as most of these regional players may opt to ally with the party post-polls.
It also maintains the facade of a strong Rahul Gandhi-led Congress, daring to go alone and not bowing to smaller parties.
The only spanner in the Congress' plan is BSP supremo Mayawati's reported Prime Ministerial ambitions; these may scuttle Rahul Gandhi's dream for the top job.
But the party, it seems, for now is focusing squarely on the present, and the defeat of the Modi-led BJP at any cost.