In a state where the BJP has relegated every other party to the sidelines, the BSP is as much on the back foot as the Samajwadi Party. From the way they have responded to Lalu Yadav’s suggestion that they tie up, however, Mayawati clearly reads her situation in Uttar Pradesh as less desperate than Mulayam Singh Yadav’s.
Having tied up with Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Lalu had suggested Mulayam and Mayawati do the same in UP. “If Laluji takes the initiative and brings Mayawati, then I have no issues joining hands with Mayawati,” Mulayam responded, only to be rebuffed by Mayawati: “We cannot compromise on our maan aur samman; the SP is hand in glove with communal forces. The BSP will contest on its own.” Since then, SP leaders have been saying Mulayam had made his statement in jest while Rajendra Choudhary, state spokesperson, has hit back at Mayawati, saying, “It is like ulta chor kotwal ko daante [a Hindi idiom that conveys broadly the same message as the pot calling the kettle black]. She has become CM thrice thanks to the BJP and has repaid it by campaigning for Narendra Modi in Gujarat.”
The poll calculations that went into the Lalu-Nitish alliance don’t appear as strong in favour of an SP-BSP combination in UP. While the two Bihar leaders with their respective allies had outvoted the NDA by 46 per cent to 39 in the Lok Sabha polls, their two UP counterparts if counted together would have still fallen marginally short of the NDA. The SP polled 22.2 per cent and the BSP 19.6 per cent, a total of 41.8 per cent, while the BJP alone polled over 42 per cent and its ally the Apna Dal one per cent. In assembly segments, the BJP led 328 of 403, way ahead of the SP’s 42 and the BSP’s nine.
For Mulayam, joining hands with Mayawati would have spared the SP government much of the onslaught it is facing on account of various failures, but for Mayawati it would, consequently, not only have denied her the opportunity to continue those attacks but also have linked her party to those very government decisions. History, which she has invoked, too has shown that the two parties don’t easily click together.
In 1993, the fledgling BSP had joined hands with the SP for an alliance that aimed at combining the OBC, Muslim and Dalit votes but crumbled within two years. The BSP, formed in 1984, had by then influenced a large section of the Dalit vote but it wasn’t yet starting to translate into seats.
Veteran BSP leaders recall the strategy Kanshiram had laid out: contest the first election to lose, the second to make others lose and the third to win. And Mulayam, having won only 27 seats in 1991 in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, teamed with Kanshiram on the slogan “Jab mile Mulayam, Kanshiram, hawa mein udh gaye Jai Shree Ram”.
The SP went on top win 109 of 256 seats and the BSP 67 of 164, their combined 176 one seat short of the BJP’s 177 seats — and 21 lakh votes fewer — but Mulayam managed support from smaller groups and went on to head the government. Though Kanshiram was seen as being in charge from behind the scenes, Mayawati too had her sights set on the chair.
The breakup came in what is today referred to as the “guesthouse incident”. Amid allegations about Mulayam poaching on BSP MLAs and reports about the BJP having struck a deal with Mayawati, the latter was holding a meeting with BSP leaders at the state guesthouse in Lucknow when several SP leaders and their supporters barged in and came to blows with the BSP men. The alliance snapped, Mayawati became CM and she accused Mulayam of a conspiracy to murder her. The Crime Branch-CID probed the incident and has filed a chargesheet in a Lucknow court, where the case is pending.
Today, Mayawati cites the guesthouse incident among her reasons for not allying with Mulayam. Not many on either side are convinced. Since the attack, Mayawati has welcomed one of the SP leaders accused, Arun Shanker Shukla alias Anna, into her party.
As in 1993, the BSP and the SP are once again fighting a rejuvenated BJP but the SP is looking weaker than any majority government has ever looked in Uttar Pradesh. Mayawati did even worse than the SP did in the Lok Sabha elections, winning no seats as compared to the SP’s five, but would rather pitch herself in a direct fight against the BJP than give the SP her shoulder to lean on until the 2017 polls. Besides, ties between Yadavs and Dalits have suffered in the years since 1993.