The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has decided to support its bitter rival, the Samajwadi Party (SP), in a bid to defeat the BJP in crucial by-elections to two Lok Sabha seats, Gorakhpur and Phulpur, on March 11. How does that add up?
Is it unusual for the BSP and the SP to come together?
Yes. The BSP and the SP are known rivals with a long history of political sparring. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, who was formerly an MP from Gorakhpur, has disparagingly termed the alliance one “between snake and mole” and “banana and ber (berry)”, implying it is an unsustainable alliance.
It is an unusual alliance, no doubt, since the social base of both parties is very different — Dalits for the BSP, and Muslims and OBC Yadavs for SP. Unlike in South India or even neighbouring Bihar, where backward caste movements took Dalits along, UP’s politics and caste equations have been different. The OBCs and the Dalits are social and political rivals, and caste rivalries have been more fragmented. Its critics say the SP, the leading OBC and socialist party post-Mandal, became more a party for Yadavs, who constitute about 11% of UP’s population.
The Dalits found their answer in the BSP’s ‘Bahujan Hitay (welfare of Dalits)’. Although when Mayawati came to power with a full majority in 2007, she reached out to the Brahmins, but Yadavs or OBCs were not on her radar even then. Similarly, Mulayam and Akhilesh Yadav never integrated Dalits into their politics.
But this is not the first time the two parties are coming together, is it?
No. The first and the last time this happened was in 1993, in the Assembly election just after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, when UP experienced a saffron surge. That year, backed by the slogan ‘Mile Mulayam-Kanshi Ram, hawa ho gaye Jai Shri Ram (when Mulayam and Kanshi Ram come together, Jai Shri Ram vanished into thin air)’, Kanshi Ram, the then president of BSP, and SP’s Mulayam Singh came together and surprised everyone by winning 176 seats to the BJP’s 177 and went on to form the first and only SP-BSP government in the state.
Why didn’t the alliance work?
The government went along till June 2, 1995, when the so-called ‘Guest House’ incident occurred, when Mayawati, along with her party members, was allegedly confined to a VIP guesthouse in Lucknow for hours on end after she withdrew support to the Mulayam Singh Yadav government. As per her accounts — detailed in her interviews, statements and autobiography — SP workers allegedly threatened her party members, and gheraoed the guesthouse. A day later, she joined hands with the BJP to form the government.
She then set up an inquiry commission headed by Ramesh Chandra, a senior IAS officer, who in his report held Mulayam Singh responsible for “illegally detaining Mayawati and abducting half-a-dozen BSP MLAs from the state guesthouse in Lucknow”. The inquiry relied on 13 affidavits filed by BSP leaders/MLAs.
Mulayam, however, maintained that it was a “spontaneous demonstration” by his workers who were upset by the BSP’s move to topple him and form a government with the help of the BJP.
That incident drew a bitter and sharp wedge between the two regional parties and is held analogous by many to the 1989 episode in the Tamil Nadu Assembly premises, when Jayalalithaa was allegedly attacked by her rivals in the DMK, an incident which turned the AIADMK-DMK dynamic from being just another political rivalry to a feudal enmity, almost.
So why have BSP and SP come together now? What is the math?
If the BJP was to secure the votes it got in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, they would breeze through, even if SP and BSP votes are combined. Consider this:
But the picture changes if one were to look at how the two Lok Sabha seats voted in the Assembly elections.
In Gorakhpur, going by how the five Assembly seats here voted in 2017, the SP-BSP combine would win four of the Assembly seats, with the BJP winning only Gorakhpur Urban. In Phulpur too, the combine would win 4:1, with only Allahabad North going to the BJP. (However, the SP and Congress were in alliance in the 2017 elections, so the SP vote share includes the Congress’s.)
Is there a larger political message behind this understanding?
It is not just the specific statistics on these two seats that is guiding the two parties, but also the politics. Mayawati has zero MPs in the Lok Sabha now and won just 19 seats in the 2017 state elections.
SP, in the Lok Sabha, is down to just being a family party. The larger political message in their position now is to demonstrate that they are serious about opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s most populous state (BJP and allies got 72 seats of the 80 seats in 2017).
As BJP is the dominant party in the state, both the SP and the BSP realise they have nothing to lose by trying to pull out all stops. BJP’s 2019 comeback plans rely on a near-repeat of their performance in 2014. So any Opposition space, conversely, would mean upsetting its applecart there.