THE BSP has lent support to bitter rival Samajwadi Party to defeat the BJP in the coming bypolls to two crucial Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, in a move that the SP called the beginning of “a larger Bahujan secular alliance”.
The announcement, made via Twitter by SP spokesperson Pankhuri Pathak, came a day after results were announced to the three Assembly elections in the Northeast, further establishing the BJP as a force that the Opposition has few answers to.
The bypolls will be held on March 11 at Phulpur and Gorakhpur, both high-stakes BJP seats. While Gorakhpur is the traditional constituency of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Phulpur has been vacated by Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
In her tweet Sunday morning, SP spokesperson Pathak said, “BSP to Support @samajwadiparty in the LS By-Polls in Phulpur & Gorakhpur. Much awaited decision by Mayawati Ji. Looking forward to contesting together & creating a larger Bahujan secular alliance.”
Hours later, she repeated, “BSP and @samajwadiparty to fight by-polls together. It’s official… Time to score that win.”
Given the political signal of the coming together of the two rivals, BSP supremo Mayawati sought to downplay the bypoll decision, while admitting a trade-off with the SP for the coming Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council elections.
In a statement to news agency ANI, she said, “Regarding the question of BSP voters in Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats, media should know that our party, as in times before, has never fielded candidates for bypolls. But that does not mean our party’s people will not go and vote… Our party’s people, according to my directions, will vote especially to defeat the BJP candidates. They are going to vote for the strongest candidate who looks strong enough to defeat the BJP candidate. So what is wrong in that?”
She dismissed speculation that the understanding indicated a grand alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “Besides Uttar Pradesh, the BSP has not got into an alliance with any party in any other state. In the media, regarding UP, many misleading reports have been doing the rounds about the Lok Sabha elections, about a mahagathbandhan between the BSP and SP, which are not true. If an alliance is to happen for the Lok Sabha elections, it won’t be in a secretive manner. It will very open.”
Instead, Mayawati admitted a deal with the SP over Rajya Sabha seats. In a statement, she said, “In UP, for the Legislative Council elections and Rajya Sabha elections, if votes are transfered between the SP and BSP to defeat the BJP candidate, it does not mean this is an electoral alliance. My party does not have enough legislators to elect a Rajya Sabha candidate. Neither does the Samajwadi Party have enough legislators to elect a second candidate to the Rajya Sabha after it elects one member. That is why our party has discussed with the SP and decided that our votes will go to the Samajwadi Party for the Vidhan Parishad elections, and they will transfer votes to us to enable us to send a member to the Rajya Sabha.”
The term of 10 Rajya Sabha MPs from Uttar Pradesh is ending on April 2.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who had expressed his willingness to tie up with the BSP last month, did not issue any statement on Sunday. SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said a statement was not needed. “Yes we are getting (BSP) support, and it will help us. The strong image will especially attract Muslims and Dalits. I cannot say much, but this much I am sure, that we will win both the seats,” he added.
About whether the arrangement indicated a larger alliance in 2019, Chaudhary said, “It is too early, let these elections be over at least. Who can say what will happen in 2019?”
Sources said Mayawati’s non-committal strategy was a calculated move to project the understanding reached in Phulpur and Gorakhpur as a decision of the local leadership of the BSP. Party leaders said negotiations have been on for long, and that the BSP finally gave the go-ahead after Saturday’s results taking the BJP to power in Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland.
Sources in the SP also clarified that while talks with the BSP will continue, for now the arrangement is restricted to the two bypolls. And that the local BSP leaders had been authorised by Mayawati to talk to their SP counterparts.
SP sources said it was the party that had reached out to the BSP, keeping the 2019 general elections in mind. And that unlike at the time of the 2017 Assembly elections, when Mayawati had rebuffed talks of a grand alliance against the BJP, the BSP had been receptive. The 2017 polls had been swept by the BJP, with the BSP reduced to just 19 seats in the state.
By keeping the talks restricted to the local level, sources in the BSP said, Mayawati has kept open the option of backing out at any time, and second, given a signal to all opposition parties, including the SP, that it is open to an anti-BJP coalition. Thirdly, by giving local units responsibility for such a decision, the BSP has presented a possible model of ‘friendly contests’ on seats for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Lastly, it shields Mayawati from any backlash from her Dalit base over the decision to support the SP.
In another hint of a new openness, Mayawati also made the Congress an offer regarding a Rajya Sabha seat from Madhya Pradesh. She said the BSP would support the Congress in the Rajya Sabha elections in MP if the seven Congress MLAs in UP supported the BSP Rajya Sabha candidate in UP. “Iss haath de, uss haath le (Give and take),” she said.
Ashok Kumar Gautam, the BSP zonal in-charge, Allahabad, told The Indian Express, “We are working with the SP to defeat the BJP. Behenji had last week said we have to decimate the BJP, which means we will do anything that is needed for this. Currently, the SP is fighting the BJP, so we will make it win to ensure the BJP’s defeat. Though we are political rivals, this alliance is the need of the hour and we will work together. In politics, things change with time and political situations.”
The BJP, which expects an effortless win in the two seats, played down the development. Expressing confidence that the BJP would win, CM Adityanath said, “Kaho Rahim kaise nibhe ber-ker ka sang (how can two fruits that are so vastly different stay together).”
The BSP and SP last came together during the 1993 Assembly elections, held after the Babri Masjid demolition. They had won 176 seats, limiting the resurgent BJP at the time to less than majority. The SP and BSP had formed the government with the support of other smaller parties, but the alliance had fallen in June 1995 on a controversial note, after Mayawati was detained at a state guesthouse, ostensibly by SP supporters.
The incident had marred any prospects of a rapprochement between them since.
The seat arithmetic
2017 Assembly polls
Gorakhpur: SP, BSP got more votes in four of its five Assembly segments than BJP
Phulpur: SP, BSP got more votes in four of its five Assembly segments than BJP
2014 Lok Sabha polls
Gorakhpur: BJP vote share 51.80%; SP+BSP 38.60%
Phulpur: BJP vote share 52.43%; SP+BSP 37.38%