A weak organisation and intense factionalism in Uttar Pradesh has forced the Congress to seek an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to take on the Modi challenge in this crucial state with the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats (80).
Sources in the Congress say the move is being pushed by almost all the 21 MPs from UP who feel they would not be able to retain their seats in the face of a strong challenge from the saffron brigade under Modi. Though no party leader is willing to talk about this, several UP leaders and MPs are known to have conveyed this desire to the party leadership.
Interestingly, union minister of steel Beni Prasad Verma has been the most vociferous in this regard even though he is assured of a comfortable victory in his constituency, Gonda. “Personally, I would prefer an alliance with the BSP rather than the SP. The BSP is a party of Dalits while the SP is a party of goondas,” he told dna.
The main argument that the UP leaders are putting forward is that an alliance with the BSP would help the party not only in UP but across the country.
Very significantly, this is what the BSP also wants. Sources say the BSP has placed the condition that the alliance cannot be limited to UP but should be for the entire country. Sources say Congress general secretary in charge of UP Madhusudan Mistry and Mayawati confidante SC Mishra have discussed this. The deal reportedly is for the BSP to support the Congress in all the 21 seats it won in 2009, while the BSP contests the rest 59, with a target of 40 of the 80 seats.
BSP insiders say the party could agree as it wants to limit arch rival Samajwadi Party (SP) to a bare minimum in UP. It also wants a big tally from UP so that numbers at the Centre do not add up without its support. A powerful presence at the Centre would help the BSP combat the SP in UP, the sources say.
The BSP also knows that after the frequent riots in the SP regime, especially the recent Muzzaffarnagar riots, Muslims are angry with the SP and would vote for anyone who defeats the BJP.
The BSP has already instructed its cadre and leaders to spread the word that there were no riots during the five-year Mayawati rule while the Akhilesh regime has seen over a hundred incidents of communal violence in just 18 months.
The Congress also knows that because of the riots, Muslims may have started looking up to it as an alternative to the SP but won’t vote decisively for it unless it presents a strong picture – a far cry as the party organisation in UP remains in a shambles, none of the six union ministers from UP has made an impact, and groupism is rife.
However, UP Congress chief Nirmal Khatri said, “As of now, we are preparing to contest all 80 seats in UP. Under Rahul ji’s leadership, we are confident of winning at least 40.” Asked about the chances of an alliance with the BSP, he said: “I am not aware of any talks in this regard. We will act if and when the party high command takes a decision in this regard.”
The Congress is wary that a nationwide alliance with the BSP could transfer its traditional Dalit votes in other states to the BSP forever. That is what happened in UP after the Congress-BSP alliance in the 1996 assembly elections. For now, it’s a question of who blinks first.