Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) chief Mayawati’s decision to skip Sunday’s “BJP Bhagao, Desh Bachao’’ rally, organised by Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD) in Patna as a show of Opposition unity, is an indication of the huge hurdles that lie in the way of non-BJP alliance for 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Mayawati’s refusal to send a representative to the rally comes just over a month after she had resigned from the Rajya Sabha accusing the BJP government of not allowing her to speak on issues concerning Dalits. Lalu Prasad was one of the first to express support for her, offering to send her to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar. Later, Mayawati had also termed the CBI raids on Lalu Prasad and his family as “misuse of government machinery” by the BJP government against the opposition parties.
However, on Thursday, she announced that no one from her party would share the stage with any opposition party until a decision is taken on division of seats among the parties for coming electiosn. She said seat-sharing talks often lead to the last-minute collapse of coalitions and her party could not think of being part of any alliance without being given “respectable number of seats”.
Mayawati’s posture on seat-sharing, nearly two years before the Lok Sabha elections are due, is an indication of the hard task before the strategists of the Opposition to manage the egos of leaders like her. In Uttar Pradesh, BSP sources said, Mayawati is unlikely to settle for fewer seats than the SP and may also seek a few seats in neighboring Madhya Pradesh where party has some base. Accommodating the Congress, the largest party in the alliance but with little base in UP, will also be tricky.
BSP sources explained that the participation of the BSP in any Opposition rally could influence the party’s Dalit support base even though there was no final alliance in place for the 2019 elections. The decision of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to shun Lalu Prasad and join hands with the BJP is also being seems to have influenced Mayawati: like Kumar, she has allied with the BJP in the past and also sees the SP as her main rival in the state. She could keep her options open for both sides.
Mayawati has been against forging any electoral alliances before elections as she believes they benefit only the BSP’s alliance partners. It was the party’s poor performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 2017 UP assembly elections that has forced her to rethink her position.
Mayawati’s skipping of the rally has also sent signals to the strategists of the SP and Congress. While Akhilesh Yadav has given several indications that he is willing to ally with Mayawati, there is a section in the SP that thinks that only the SP and Congress, together, should fight the BJP by presenting itself as the strongest claimant for anti-BJP votes. They argue that if BSP contested alone it will only cut into the votes that would have gone to the BJP.