Opinion: Why BJP Should Not Ignore Samajwadi Party-Congress Alliance

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Finally, the deal is done. Those who were predicting doom for the I.N.D.I.A alliance in Uttar Pradesh must be deeply disappointed. The Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP), after much suspense, like a good one-day cricket match, have reached a decision on seat distribution. The Congress will contest 17 seats and the rest will be fought by the SP, along with smaller parties. The Congress has decided to give one more seat to the SP in Madhya Pradesh, which reflects that the grand old party has learnt its lesson after the historic debacle in the recently held assembly elections in the state. Just to remind readers, during those elections, the Congress, then led by Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh, had attacked SP chief Akhilesh Yadav by calling him names, who, in turn, angered and humiliated, went on to equate the Congress with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, now that the deal is sealed, I guess we can say all is well that ends well. 

Why UP Is An Important State

Uttar Pradesh is a critical state for any party or political formation that aims to rule at the centre. In 2014, when the BJP selected Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, he decided to contest from Varanasi, in addition to Vadodara in Gujarat. In fact, after winning both seats, he chose Varanasi and gave up Vadodara. Modi was aware that without winning a substantial number of seats in Uttar Pradesh, it would be impossible to fulfil his lifelong aim of becoming the PM. It's no coincidence that the BJP then appointed Amit Shah to oversee the elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The party ended up winning 71 seats out of 80, while its ally Apna Dal got two. What surprised a few BJP supporters was the fact that just two years before that, in the 2012 assembly polls, the party had managed to get only a 15% vote share. But the Modi-Shah pair turned the tables on the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), then considered the principal players in the state. There was a time in fact when the BJP, as well as the Congress, used to struggle for the third and the fourth spot in Uttar Pradesh.  

The SP-BSP Alliance In 2019

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections further proved that the BJP had emerged as a formidable force and no political party had the firepower to defeat it alone. No wonder then that in 2019, the SP and the BSP, who had always been bitter foes, decided to bury their difference and join forces. They did manage to win 15 seats together, but the BJP still captured the lion's share, along with an enhanced vote share. From 42% votes in 2014, the party improved its tally to 49% by 2019. Since 2014, the BJP has successively won two assembly elections, both with a clear majority and with Yogi Adityanath as CM. 

It is in this context that the alliance between the SP and the Congress assumes importance. 

A Dwindling BSP

There is no denying the fact that though it was ultimately trounced by the BJP, the SP in the 2022 assembly polls had commanded an impressive 32% vote share, its best-ever performance. Akhilesh Yadav had tried to create a rainbow coalition with caste-based small political parties, though that coalition collapsed after the election.

BSP chief Mayawati, for some mysterious reason, seems to be in no mood to seriously contest elections in 2024. Her party's vote share has dropped drastically, and she has already announced that the BSP would fight alone. Mayawati's absence from the I.N.D.I.A alliance is advantageous to the BJP. 

Yet, it would be erroneous to conclude that the SP-Congress alliance this time is no match for the BJP's might. The BJP, on its part, seems to understand this very well too.

Why The BJP Is Careful

The BJP's attempt to wean away the Jayant Chaudhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) from the I.N.D.I.A bloc underlines this. Despite the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the party seems aware that it may be difficult to repeat its performance of the last two general elections in the state. The euphoria around the Ram Mandir inauguration, which came in January, seems to be on a decline already this month. 

The BJP should also know that enthusiasm for the temple may not automatically reflect in the voting behaviour of people. The faith of devotees and their voting behaviour are two different things. One can feel grateful towards the BJP for the construction of the temple, but to be certain that people will vote for the BJP might be a mistake.

The BJP does not want to take chances either. Two incidents signify this argument. One, soon after the consecration, the BJP created a window for Nitish Kumar to return to the NDA - this was a party that had publicly said that its doors were shut for Nitish. Two, it announced the Bharat Ratna for the former chief minister of Bihar, Karpoori Thakur. 

Similarly, the Modi government also announced a Bharat Ratna for former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh. Singh was a farmer leader with a massive following in the Jat community. His son Ajit Singh could not consolidate his father's legacy, and his grandson, Jayant Chaudhary, has also been reduced to leading a few Lok Sabha seats in western Uttar Pradesh through the RLD. Jayant Chaudhary and Akhilesh Yadav used to be on good terms and were considered inseparable, but that was only until the Bharat Ratna for Charan Singh. In western Uttar Pradesh, especially in Jat-dominated areas, where Muslims are also present in good numbers, the BJP might face stiff resistance in the upcoming elections. 

The Farmers' Protests

Also, farmers are on the warpath again. Traditionally, the farmer's struggle, thanks to Mahendra Singh Tikait, has had a huge impact in this area. During the last agitation, the Modi government had to withdraw the three contentious farm laws. But the farmers' main demands remain unfulfilled. They have been demanding that a legal guarantee should be given for MSP (Minimum Support Price) for crops and that the Swaminathan Commission recommendations be honoured by the government. Two years back, the Modi government had set up a committee to study this, but even after over 35 sittings, no final decision has been taken.

If the current agitation continues, it will adversely impact the BJP's prospects in the area. Many may also not have forgotten the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in 2021, in which a few farmers were mowed down by the son of a central minister and the government failed to take any action. The million-dollar question, is, will Jayant prove to be handy for the BJP?

Modi's Popularity Intact, But There Are Challenges

Modi is the most popular leader in the country. His image as a Hindutva icon is still intact. He has also bolstered his status as a Prime Minister who is taking the country on a strong development path.

But it would be useful to remember that beyond the grand vision of winning 370 seats, 10 years of anti-incumbency against any government is no small matter, and no leader can afford to ignore it. There is unprecedented unemployment. Inflation is running high. The BJP government knows this well, and extending free ration to 81 crore people underlines its concern. In this context, the alliance of SP and the Congress might just have made the contest a bit more interesting.

(Ashutosh is the author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and Editor of satyahindi.com.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author