In a setback to the Congress’s plan to bring all anti-BJP parties together, BSP chief Mayawati on Thursday announced an alliance with Ajit Jogi’s party in Chhattisgarh and released a list of 22 candidates for poll-bound Madhya Pradesh. The move threw a spanner in the Congress’s efforts to clinch an alliance with the BSP in Madhya Pradesh and cast a shadow on the bid to project a grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh for the Lok Sabha elections.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi had been claiming that like-minded opposition parties would come together to defeat the BJP in the 2019 elections. But Mayawati had given indications that all was not well some days ago, when she declared that the BSP would be compelled to go it alone if it does not get a “respectable” number of seats in the anti-BJP alliance that was taking shape. She reiterated that message on Thursday as well.
According to the seat-sharing formula announced by Mayawati for Chhattisgarh, the BSP will contest 35 seats while Jogi’s Chhattisgarh Janata Congress will contest the remaining 55 seats in the 90-member Assembly. Jogi would be the chief ministerial candidate.
While the BSP has only one seat in the Chhattisgarh Assembly, it has 4.27 per cent of the vote share. The difference between the Congress and BJP vote share last time was just 0.7 per cent. Mayawati said she would soon hold a joint rally with Jogi.
Reacting to the development, AICC general secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh P L Punia said the “BJP is at work”. The BJP, he told The Indian Express, “wants to retain power by hook or crook. They will not succeed though”.
Sources in the Congress said the BSP, which had won one seat and emerged second in two in Chhattisgarh in 2013, had demanded 20 seats initially. “They brought it down to 15 first, then 12 and later nine. But there was consensus in the Congress that too many seats cannot be given to the BSP. We offered them five seats and we were continuing discussions with them at various levels. Three days ago, they informed us that they would get back in three days, and today they unilaterally announced an alliance with Jogi. We never knew this was brewing,” a senior AICC functionary said.
Punia said the Congress has made adequate preparations for contesting all 90 seats in Chhattisgarh.
However, Mayawati’s decision has jolted the Congress, which was keen on an alliance with her in Madhya Pradesh and be part of the grand coalition with the BSP, SP and RLD in UP for the Lok Sabha elections.
Madhya Pradesh Congress president Kamal Nath had been in talks with the BSP. The state Congress was looking for a strategic tie-up with the BSP for seats bordering Uttar Pradesh, especially in the Gwalior-Bhind region. Bhind, Morena and Gwalior districts bore the brunt of violence on April 2 when Dalit organisations called for a protest against the Supreme Court order on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The BSP had won just four seats in the 2018 Assembly elections, but after the widespread support to the bandh on April 2, it started flexing its muscle. Three of its four MLAs figured in the first list of 22 candidates announced by the party on Thursday.
Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh said the BSP could be indulging in pressure tactics by announcing the seats. “There was no formal announcement about tie-up with the BSP, but given our ideological similarities we were hoping to stitch up a strategic alliance,” Congress leader Pankaj Chaturvedi said.
“The unilateral announcement could be a pressure tactic to extract more seats from the Congress. But if the BSP decides to fight separately, it will damage us,’’ a leader said. He said the BSP had done it in the past and may change or revise the list if the alliance talks are fruitful.
In Chhattisgarh, the Jogi-Mayawati alliance could create problems for the Congress. The BJP now holds nine out of the 10 reserved seats and a tie-up between the Congress and BSP would have meant heavy damage to the BJP in those seats and in others with a significant SC voter base. “Now, across the state, especially in those where both Mayawati and Jogi have influence, anti-BJP votes will get divided,” a senior BJP leader said.
Chhattisgarh BJP president Dharamlal Kaushik said, “It is clear the BJP will win the state, with the target of 65 seats. Nobody wants to join the sinking ship that is the Congress.”
The joint statement by Mayawati and Jogi hinted that the alliance will also bring smaller parties into its fold, which is another worrying signal for the Congress.
The alliance has given a new lease of life to Jogi, who was hit by desertions of late.