Although ostensibly temporary, the SP-BSP break-up could signal the growing erosion of identity politics in UP
The Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) electoral alliance in Uttar Pradesh (UP) had an air of unreality about it from the outset. Apart from their conflicting vote banks, the parties shared a bitter history. It was inconceivable after the violence against Mayawati that the two parties could ever close ranks and fight another election together. But the near-hegemony gained by the BJP in the 2017 Assembly election and the rising charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a national scale compelled the two regional party supremos to bury the hatchet and make a joint bid to upstage Modi at the pan-India level. That was, in any case, a tough call as neither UP-based party possessed a countrywide footprint. Further, the duo steadfastly refused to associate the Congress with the gathbandhan and consequently failed to build a mahagathbandhan that could have become the core of a nation-wide Opposition alliance. In other words, the so-called Bua (Mayawati)-Babua (Akhilesh) equation got off to a crippled start. However, despite all handicaps, the gathbandhan fared worse than expected. Following their success in alliance with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in three by-elections last year from Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana, it was widely expected that the Opposition combine would wrest at least half of UP’s 80 Lok Sabha seats. In the event, the two big partners, BSP and SP won just 10 and 5 seats respectively.
Although an unpleasant fallout was natural after the gathbandhan’s unflattering electoral performance, it happened sooner than anticipated. Mayawati rarely agrees to a pre-poll tie-up, waiting to maximise her own seats before bargaining for the best possible terms for her party after the results. But her virtual washout in 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 Assembly polls persuaded her to go for a pre-poll alliance with her erstwhile bitter enemy. For once, Bua-Babua’s successful joint rallies suggested the alliance was working. But now, Mayawati may be regretting her strategy for the Parliamentary polls although it seems that contrary to her claims more Yadav votes were transferred from SP to BSP, giving her double the number of seats wrested by Akhilesh Yadav. But in a fit of rage, she has decided to not continue the alliance for the 11 Assembly by-elections due in the near future. At the same time, she has kept all options open, suggesting that the parting of ways with the Samajwadis could be “temporary”.
Successive poll results have reinforced that Mayawati’s once-upon-a-time iron grip on Dalit voters is slipping as more and more educated Dalits switch to the BJP to fulfill their aspirations. Identity politics in UP is clearly in decline causing damage to both SP and BSP. If this turns out to be true yet again, the gathbandhan parties would need to swim or sink together to remain relevant in the face of the BJP’s speeding juggernaut. On the face of it, Mayawati’s decision to break the deal with SP appears premature as she took the bigger slice of the cake. As long as the SP retains the larger quantum of Yadav-Muslim votes, its future will remain brighter that the Jatav-dominated BSP whose support base is fraying at the edges.