Just two weeks after the election results were announced, BSP chief Mayawati has admitted that her party’s gathbandhan with the SP did not work on the ground. On Tuesday, she declared that the BSP will fight the upcoming 11 bypolls in UP on its own. Though Mayawati did not rule out the possibility of the two parties working together in the future, she has claimed that the SP, in the present state, is incapable of holding to its core vote or transferring it to its ally. In short, Mayawati has said that caste arithmetic need not always add up and triumph over political chemistry to produce a winner in an election.
The BSP supremo’s candid admission that her tactic for the election was not successful and hence she is moving on, is in sharp contrast to other opposition parties that have refused to reconcile with defeat. The Congress, for instance, has yet to recover from the shock of the drubbing it received. Rahul Gandhi, who led the Congress campaign, has withdrawn into a shell while the rest of the leadership is busy blaming each other for the debacle. As in 2014, the party is in a state of denial and has refused to introspect on its failures, including in states where it had won assembly elections less than six months before. The gathbandhan constituents in Bihar — Lalu Prasad’s RJD and the Congress among others — have been silent since their wipe-out. As much as the absence of a strong Opposition is worrying, the refusal of parties to debate the causes of their defeat too is disturbing. It, of course, allows the ruling party to set its own course and narrative and avoid scrutiny of its actions at any fora. The unravelling of gathbandhan in UP is hence refreshing for it may trigger new conversations within, and among, opposition parties. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who without rancour accepted the BSP decision to quit the alliance and announced that his party will rethink its priorities, and Mayawati may have unwittingly initiated a debate about the nature and course of opposition politics, especially the viability of electoral alliances of convenience. The BSP-SP split also brings into sharp relief the future of social justice politics and its overt reliance on caste alliances: The UP results challenge the notion that caste groups constitute a monolithic transferable vote bank and are immune to the influence of broader narratives based on faith, nationalism and even welfare.
The SP-BSP gathbandhan was the big idea that the Opposition said will influence the electoral tide. Its spectacular collapse should resonate across India, where similar alliances came about ahead of the elections, and encourage political parties to reflect on their agendas and tactics. That would be a promising beginning towards building a strong Opposition.