Mayawati, the wily former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and president of the Bahujan Samaj Party, is a hard bargainer. She can hardly be pushed around or taken for granted. Just when it seemed that she has burnt all boats with the BJP and is firmly on the side of the Opposition, she has fired a salvo at the Congress by not joining the September 10 Congress-sponsored bharat bandh.
On the petrol price hike issue which forms the fulcrum of the Congress campaign against the Narendra Modi government, Mayawati said recently that her party considers both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress responsible for the rise in prices of petrol and diesel.
The BJP, Mayawati said, was implementing a “wrong financial policy” made by the Congress instead of withdrawing it. This, she said, had affected farming. This comes in the wake of sharp differences between the Congress and the BSP on seat-sharing in the upcoming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
The BSP, acutely aware of how the Congress covets an alliance with her party, especially in the northern belt, is ready to extract a good seat sharing deal with it. It is looking for a firmer foothold in the Lok Sabha elections 2019 with representation in more states than just Uttar Pradesh. For that, it sees a declining Congress as a possible stepping stone.
Mayawati knows only too well that in the three states scheduled to go to polls later this year, there is a strong anti-incumbency feeling that devolves to the BJP’s disadvantage. The BSP president reckons that if the party jumps into the fray in these states in a substantial way, riding on the Congress shoulders, it can carve out a niche for itself.
The BSP sees a vacuum in so far as a lot of people do not want to vote for the BJP but are reluctant to go with the Congress because of the way its leaders have carried themselves in recent years.
Mayawati’s calculation is that if confronted with a third choice, many may opt for the BSP. This may substantially prove to be a pipe-dream, but the BSP chief reckons that it is worth a try considering that its base among the scheduled castes is fairly strong.
If the Congress comes around to tying up with the BSP, there could be benefit accruing to both the parties at the cost of the BJP. But if the alliance with the Congress does not come about, it could be ‘advantage BSP’ as a rallying point against anti-BJP forces.
How far the Congress would be willing to let the BSP spread its wings in the three states is not quite known, but there is no better time for the BSP to try than now. But the Congress has seen in the past that wherever it has yielded space to another opposition party it has never been able to recover lost ground. Yet, it cannot but realise that without the scheduled castes and tribes it cannot make much headway in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Besides, in crucial Uttar Pradesh, it is the Congress that needs the BSP more rather than the other way around.
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However, in UP, while the BSP may be willing to accommodate the Congress, the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav is lukewarm to the idea of an alliance with Rahul Gandhi.
It is indeed a jigsaw puzzle to which there is no foolproof solution. Time is running out for any new arrangement and the principal players would have to firm up their strategies fairly quickly and then leave the rest to the electorate. A BSP-BJP tie-up, overt or covert, may seem an impossibility at this stage but politics is a game of various possibilities.