SP-Congress alliance: Will ‘hand’-shake warm up UP voters? (News Analysis)

Lucknow, Jan 20 (IANS) The electoral pact between the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress is a done thing now. But as both parties work out the finer details of the alliance, likely to be announced any time now, the winnability of the combination in a state as complex as Uttar Pradesh is in question.

Will the combination keep the Muslim vote in toto? Will the alliance’s premise of preventing fragmentation of Muslim votes not polarise the Hindu community in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? Will Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati be a mute spectator and allow her minority vote bank to slip out of her hands?

The jury is still undecided on the likely effects of the alliance. Though it has raised many questions, it has, nevertheless, given a head-start to both the beleaguered parties caught in problems of their own.

While SP national president and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, through the tie-up ,has emerged as the new strategist in his party and also as a “largely acceptable leader” in the political spectrum, the Congress, which has been pushed to the sidelines of the state’s politics since 1989, has come back into the reckoning for some consolation returns.

The Congress, after ruling the state for many decades, had the alarm bells first ringing in 1989 when its tally from a majority party dropped to 94 seats in the then house of 426. The number further dwindled to 46 in 1991, 28 in 1993, 33 in 1996, 25 in 2002 and 2007 (when the house had 403 seats after the creation of Uttarakhand) and 28 seats in the 2012 assembly elections.

The voting pattern over these years suggests that the traditional supporters of the Congress — Dalits, Muslims and upper castes — have deserted it and shifted to parties like the SP (Muslims) and the BSP (Dalits), while the upper caste Thakurs and Brahmins have moved to the BJP. The party’s high command has failed to inspire the state unit or allow a strong local leadership to emerge.

The Congress has been relegated to the fourth position in the state and its influence has been restricted to pocket boroughs like Amethi, Rae Bareily and Sultanpur. In these three districts too, the SP won 12 of the 15 assembly constituencies in 2012. The Peace Party — a regional outfit — won one and the Congress just two. This was after an extensive campaign by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and other Gandhi family members.

In the past few months, the Congress seems to have gained some ground through its various missions like the “Kisan Yatra” undertaken by Rahul Gandhi and “27 saal, UP Behaal”, which sought to send out a message to its traditional voters that the state has been ruined by BSP, SP and BJP governments. Of these 27 years, the SP ruled for a good 15 years under Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Now, to tie up with one of these, that too with a party which has a fairly strong anti-incumbency factor, party insiders aver, was going to hurt the party’s “anticipated acceptance and upswing”.

“It is a bad compromise, piggybacking Akhilesh Yadav will help him but not us,” a senior UPCC member contended.

The Congress organisational structure, which was in tatters over the past two decades, was shaken up this time, largely due to intervention of election strategist Prashant Kishor and his innovative ideas. The number of people seeking the Congress ticket too had swelled this time.

“The party has decided to go with the “cycle” to stop the forward march of the BJP; let’s see how much we succeed with the idea,” said a worried veteran who remained edgy about the ability of both the parties to transfer their votes in bulk to each other.

The state unit of the BJP said it is ecstatic about the SP-Congress coming together.

“We have always been saying that SP is the B team of a thoroughly corrupt Congress, we have just been proved right,” said state BJP General Secretary Vijay Bahadur Pathak. “People have still not forgotten the 2G, 3G, JijaG scams and are opposed to anything and everything that has to do with Congress,” he added.

A western Uttar Pradesh stalwart of the BJP said the coming together of the “two minority-appeasing parties” will also have a “polarisation of Hindus in its favour, specially in western Uttar Pradesh which will set the poll pattern in the state in the first phase”. For the combine to come anywhere near the finishing line, the traditional vote banks of these parties must transfer en masse to each other and also rally behind them, said a political observer here.

State unit leaders of the Congress, especially state unit chief Raj Babbar, is said to be not-too-comfortable with the alliance as he was once in the SP and thereafter had a frigid relationship with Akhilesh Yadav after he defeated his wife Dimple Yadav in a by-election for the Firozabad seat.

For the SP too, the situation seems to have stemmed out of a compromise formula and a desperate bid to regain power, specially after the bitter feud in the party. SP traditionally has been an anti-Congress party and its senior leaders like Mohd Azam Khan will find it difficult now to canvass jointly with Congress leaders.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at mohit.d@ians.in)

–IANS

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