- If the alliance wins, Ajit Jogi will be the chief minister, Mayawati said
- The BJP has been in power in Chhattisgarh for the last 15 years
- "The BJP has misused power in Chhattisgarh," Ajit Jogi alleged
In a huge blow to the Congress and its efforts to anchor opposition unity ahead of 2019, Uttar Pradesh politician Mayawati on Thursday announced an alliance in Chhattisgarh with Ajit Jogi, a known rebel expelled by the party in 2016. She also named 22 candidates for neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress has been unable to thrash out a seat-sharing formula for the state polls later this year.
After his bitter exit from the Congress, Ajit Jogi, 72, formed his own party Chhattisgarh Janata Congress, which could potentially dent his former party's votes, to the advantage of the ruling BJP.
Mayawati, a Dalit powerhouse with pockets of influence in northern states, said as part of her seat-sharing deal with Ajit Jogi, he would be the chief ministerial candidate.
"The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has decided to contest upcoming assembly polls in alliance with Chhattisgarh Janata Congress. BSP will fight on 35 seats and Chhattisgarh Janata Congress will contest on 55 seats. If we win, Ajit Jogi will be the chief minister," Mayawati said.
"You must already know that much is being written about BSP and alliances. I have only said one thing - whichever party we ally with, we need respectable seats."
Pointedly, she also criticised "dependence on Delhi for crucial decisions and inactivity and hopelessness by local BJP and Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh".
The Congress says they will fight the elections independently. "We will form the government in the state," said Congress General Secretary and Chhattisgarh in-charge PL Punia.
That Chhattisgarh is off the table - the Congress had feared a Mayawati-Ajit Jogi tie-up - serves as a big warning for the party.
Mayawati's negotiations with the Congress for a tie-up in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh have been gridlocked over the share of seats and the BSP chief's insistence on a similar deal for Rajasthan, where the Congress sees bright chances of a return to power in the state's two-way race.
In the last state election, the BJP won 165 seats in Madhya Pradesh; the Congress won 58 and the BSP won just four.
Kamal Nath, the chief of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, told NDTV last week: "They wanted 50 seats when we started talking, but are being more reasonable now, seeing what's at stake and that we share a common goal of defeating the BJP. We should have a deal in the next ten days."
Both Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia have been trying to get Mayawati on board, given that Dalits claim six per cent of the votes in Madhya Pradesh, but their internal friction is also seen to stymie the efforts.
With her Chhattisgarh tie-up, Mayawati has showed that she will not be bullied, especially after her mega-political comeback in UP, where she partnered successfully with former rival Akhilesh Yadav to snatch three seats from the BJP.