Lucknow: The ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, already grappling with anti-incumbency sentiment among the people, has received another jolt with the election result in neighbouring Bihar. The party’s alliance not only failed miserably in the battle for Patna, its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav now faces isolation for having quit the Janata Dal(U)-Rashtriya Janata Dal alliance shortly before the elections.
Leaders of the JD(U) and the RJD are not even invoking his name to credit him with the initiative to bring estranged leaders Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav together in the first place. “Mulayam cannot hope to head a national anti-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance now, since the lead has already been taken by Lalu and he announced it in Patna in so many words,” said a Congress leader in Lucknow. Mulayam had broken away from the alliance in September apparently to show his dislike for the inclusion of the Congress in it, and to show his displeasure at the party being given more seats than the SP for the Bihar election.
“If Mulayam had remained in the Bihar grand alliance, today he would have been sitting in Patna and making the announcement of government-formation in Bihar, but the error of judgment has isolated him among non-BJP parties,” said a UP Congress leader.
While Mulayam’s move has had its impact on the equations he enjoyed in the past with Nitish and Lalu, the SP is set to rethink its strategy for the 2017 Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh. According to sources, the party might soon announce some populist measures as well as schemes for minorities’ welfare. Already, the induction of former Akali Dal leader Balwant Ramuwalia and a few Muslim politicians into the Akhilesh Yadav ministry has set the trend.
At the same time, the SP’s bitter rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has acquired the significance as a strong would-be challenger to the SP in the 2017 Assembly election in UP as the rout of the BJP in Bihar has a rub-off in UP. “The people now perceive the SP to be indirectly helping the BJP, and when they want to choose an alternative to the SP government, the BSP is the only option,” reasoned Raj Kumar Singh, a political commentator in Lucknow.
In fact, with the electoral success of the once-bitter rivals, the JD(U) and RJD combine tasting success in Bihar has led to the exciting but near-impossible speculation about whether the SP and BSP could also come together to stop the BJP in the 2017 election.
In August last year, when Mulayam’s efforts to bring together the constituents of the erstwhile Janata ‘parivar’ had been at their peak, he had responded positively to a suggestion by Lalu that the SP and Bahujan Samaj Party should join hands to strengthen non-BJP forces. Mulayam had also said that Lalu could explore means to do so.
However, the BSP was quick to put an end to any such discussion by saying that the SP was a “covert partner” of the BJP and the party would fight the 2017 UP Assembly elections alone. SP and BSP had jointly contested the 1993 Assembly election and had formed a government as well, but the alliance did not last, with the SP chief later calling it a political mistake.
The SP and the BSP represent two different and rival castes, and the two have traditionally been at loggerheads. While Mulayam has the backing of other backward castes and his party is dominated by the Yadavs, Mayawati represents Dalits and of late has attracted the attention of other MBCs and Muslims, as has been evident in the recent Panchayat election results. Also, the OBCs are big land owners in rural UP and also control a majority of agro-industries such as dairy and sugarcane farming. As a caste group, they often face allegations of suppressing Dalits.
UPCC president Nirmal Khatri, however, said that the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party had “tried every trick” to ensure the victory of the BJP in Bihar. “The people of Bihar have struck a resounding blow to these tricks and the people of Uttar Pradesh will give a befitting reply to the two parties in the 2017 election,” he added.
“The Bihar result has also shown the faith of the people in good governance measures by the erstwhile Nitish government. In UP, the SP government faces growing anti-incumbency feelings. The Akhilesh government is seen as being lax on crime control and law and order enforcement,” says Athar Husain, a social scientist heading the Centre for Objective Research and Development (CORD). “On the other hand people still remember how the BSP government headed by Mayawati had kept the crime situation under control during her tenure,” he said.
“The BJP in UP suffers from almost the same weaknesses that hurt it in Bihar, and it does not appear to be prepared to strengthen itself in the next few months for the battle of 2017,” said Singh. In that event, the ruling SP has to prepare itself for a bitter political battle with an aggressive BSP in the coming days.