The BSP has recently been conspicuously absent from joint activities of the opposition. The party’s sudden decision to keep an arm’s length from these activities has surprised the opposition, particularly the Congress, which has been hoping to bring opposition forces together in Uttar Pradesh for the next Lok Sabha elections.
No one from the BSP attended a meeting of opposition parties convened by Sonia Gandhi last week. Its leaders or members were not to be seen when the opposition parties announced a half-day boycott of Rajya Sabha earlier this week. And today, BSP MPs were not signatories to a memorandum submitted to the President on the Judge Loya issue by 15 opposition parties.
So what is BSP supremo Mayawati’s game plan? Only on Thursday, the party announced that it would fight the Karnataka elections scheduled in April in alliance with H D Deve Gowda’s JD(S). The alliance will be pitted against the Congress, which is locked in a battle with the BJP. “Will it divide the anti-Congress votes or eat into our votes remains to be seen,” a senior Congress leader said.
But it is not Karnataka but the situation in politically significant Uttar Pradesh that is worrying the Congress. Although the BSP did not fare well in the last Assembly elections, it still has a vote bank of nearly 20 per cent. In fact, though the BSP could win only 19 seats, its vote percentage was 22.23 per cent.
Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, on Thursday said that the party will work with “like-minded” parties to ensure the defeat of the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. In fact, she signalled that she would play a role in discussions with like-minded parties.
A section of the Congress had been arguing that the party should tie up with the Samajwadi Party and the BSP to replicate the grand alliance experiment in Bihar to stop the BJP in its tracks. Mayawati had surprisingly decided to skip a meeting of opposition leaders organised by RJD supremo Lalu Prasad at Patna in August last year. In fact, she had made it clear that no one from her party would share the stage with any opposition party until the seat-sharing arrangement for elections in the future is chalked out.
She had said seat-sharing talks often lead to last-minute collapse of coalitions and her party could not think of being part of any alliance unless it is given a “respectable number of seats”. Opposition leaders are wondering whether the BSP’s decision to distance itself from opposition activities is a bargaining tactic.
The first test of whether the Congress, SP and the BSP can join hands against the BJP will come in the next two months when elections to 10 Rajya Sabha seats in UP will be held. The BJP with 312 seats in the Assembly is in a position to win eight seats. The SP, which has 47 MLAs, can win one. The Opposition could bag the tenth seat if they join hands and field a common candidate.