The two-hour meeting between Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati at her Delhi home yesterday is the stuff that Amit Shah's nightmares are made of.
The Uttar Pradesh chiefs have finalised their alliance for the 80 seats of India's most populous state: 37 each for their respective parties, three for Jayant Chaudhary's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and one for the regional Nishad Party. They will not contest Amethi or Raebareli, the constituencies of Congress leaders Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, whose party is not a component of the mini-gathbandhan, whose potential on the national election could be maximum.
Nevertheless, the Congress, which just won the three heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has not exactly been excluded from the club. Because nothing is what it seems in the labyrinth that is UP politics.
Rahul Gandhi is united with Mayawati and Yadav in the goal of stopping the Modi-Shah duo from taking Uttar Pradesh. In 2009, the Congress won 21 parliamentary seats. In 2014, it won just 2 seats with a vote share of 7.53 percent that was derived mainly from upper castes.
The alliance between Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati has not been formally announced and her close aide, Satish Mishra, denied that her birthday, January 15, has been reserved for the big reveal. But sources confirm that all details were finalised yesterday and that to celebrate, Akhilesh Yadav offered "Bua" Sitaphal Ice-cream instead of the customary laddoo.
Rahul Gandhi, not having made the cut for the formal anti-BJP alliance in Uttar Pradesh, is believed to have reached out to Akhilesh Yadav to work out a plan for the Congress to eat into the BJP's upper caste votes- to serve, in political argot, as "vote katua" (vote cutter).
In 2017, Akhilesh Yadav tied up with the Congress for a shot at re-election as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh; the results were disastrous. The BJP had a succulent victory.
Since then, Akhilesh Yadav has turned instead to former enemy Mayawati as his partner; in crucial by-elections held in regions that are BJP strongholds, their new pairing created big wins, emphasising that if they stick together, Uttar Pradesh, the country's most politically vital state, could tilt away from Prime Minister Modi.
Working in their favour, apart from the conjoining of their supporters of Dalits (hers) and other backward castes like Yadavs (his), is the widespread perception that under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a monk in saffron robes, crucial administrative and police posts have been conferred on upper castes, allowing a "Thakur Raj" to persecute lower castes.
Adding to the BJP's troubles is an upset ally, the Apna Dal, which won two seats in the last parliamentary election and says it deserves many more this time and will not tolerate being sidelined by the BJP, which has not shown its leaders appropriate respect.
In an attempt to consolidate the Hindu vote and mobilise upper castes entirely to the BJP, the party's ideological mentor, the RSS, insisted that in exchange for its huge cadre and ground support, Gordhan Zadaphia be named in charge of the state for the election.
Zadaphia has been a cantankerous critic of Modi and Amit Shah and is a right-wing headliner who was also Gujarat's junior Home Minister during the state's communal riots in 2002.
Yogi Adityanath and Shah have in speeches been scornful of an Akhilesh Yadav-Mayawati team. But the RSS' intervention shows how seriously the alliance is taken.
Skittish by nature and also apparently under pressure because of the CBI cases of alleged corruption that she faces, Mayawati is being cautious about when and how she makes her plans public. Well aware of how much is at stake, Akhilesh Yadav is just fine with that. While the country waits for election dates to be announced, key plans have been made. Note, though, that it can often take just one phone call to change them.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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