Monday, November 7, 2016

Walking alone healthier for Congress

Pankaj Sharma
7 November 2016

Can an alliance be a win-win situation for Congress

After witnessing the personal rifts within the Samajwadi Party (SP) while it celebrates the 25th year of its inception, the scope of a grand alliance doing wonders in Uttar Pradesh seems rather distant. There have been some unauthorised efforts by individual non-party actors on behalf of the Congress to explore the possibility of an alliance with SP but the question remains whether Congress should even think of joining a sinking boat hoping to puncture the chances of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in the state? Can the alliance, which may be anything but “grand”, be a win-win situation for the Congress?

Next year’s election battle in UP will be a game changer. If BJP wins the state assembly, there would be no going back for it till the next parliamentary elections. But if it loses in UP after Delhi and Bihar, the chances of its defeat in Gujarat will also increase. This slide is bound to make an adverse impact on BJP’s chances in 2019 general elections. It, thus, becomes more important for the secular forces to come together in UP’s battleground.

To get together to defeat BJP could be the demand of the time. But Congress must realise that it has contributed to this jargon from time to time and, in return, always lost its base to other political parties. Third front parties had taken birth to oppose the Congress. There was the time when they used to come together raising anti-Congress slogans, and now they are replaying the same music in the name of stop BJP. Most of the third front parties are certainly not the friends of Congress. They have helped BJP form its governments here and there from time to time.

Those lobbying for an alliance argue that the grand old party will benefit from the cadres and grass-root workers of SP and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). They feel that it will also help the alliance consolidate its Muslim vote base which otherwise is confused after the recent upheaval within SP. Political analysts are predicting a hung Assembly in UP this time as it is going to be a three-cornered contest because Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is not inclined to either join any grand alliance or shake hands with Congress. Mayawati expects a huge windfall of Muslim votes in her kitty this time. In a three-cornered battle, SP obviously has an eye on Congress’ significant vote share of 10-12 percent which has big chances of significant improvement this time.

In last two elections for UP Assembly, it was predominantly a two-way contest in which it was possible for a party to win if it secured 30 percent of the votes. But in 2017, the same share of votes may not guarantee the victory for a party. About half the votes SP and Congress get are from the Muslims and Other Backward Communities (OBC). Most of the Yadavs vote for SP and a sizable chunk of Brahmins vote for Congress. Congress gets marginal Yadav votes, and SP gets negligible Brahmin votes. Thus, the chemistry of Congress-SP-RLD alliance is not that favourable for the Congress.

Muslims account for 20 percent of UP’s population, and they are the kingmakers for the forthcoming elections. Muslims have significant influence in 143 of 403 seats. They would vote for a party or an alliance which is in a position to beat the BJP. Congress has been getting 15 percent of Muslim votes in past five elections despite the fact that it was not seen playing on the front foot. This time the situation is different. Without the Congress party's support, no government will be formed in UP, according to many commentators. Therefore, a large chunk of Muslim votes is shifting towards Congress. BSP is another party that is attracting a major portion of Muslim votes this time. Therefore, if at all Congress opts for an alliance, it must go with BSP. But would it be easy for Congress to align with Mayawati who is facing allegations by her party colleagues that she distributes party tickets in consideration of money?

Congress, in my opinion, must go all alone in UP as the ground situation is such that even after aligning with SP or BSP, it will not gain any additional advantage. No alliance can improve Congress’ chances of winning seats by more than 15 percent. There has been a tendency in other parties to offer Congress the seats with less winning potential. The transferability of the core votes of regional parties has also been in question in past elections. Same stories are bound to be repeated early next year in UP despite a common anti-BJP plank.

Rahul Gandhi has done such an intense exercise in the state. Congress workers have been actively preparing the ground in all 403 constituencies for six months. There are plenty of applicants everywhere, and half a dozen of them in each constituency are quite capable of giving a strong fight to their nearest contestant. Any alliance will deprive Congress of fielding its candidate in around 300 Assembly segments. Is being absent from three-fourth of the ground in the battle for UP a wise step?

Congress is certainly is in a position to acquire some seats that no secular government could be formed without its support. Any pre-poll alliance will harm the principle interests of the Congress. More so, because Rahul Gandhi had begun his UP campaign with the slogan “27 Saal, UP Behaal”, and during these 27 years, Mayawati became Chief Minister 4 times, and Mulayam also headed the state four times. His son Akhilesh has been ruling UP for five years. Congress must not allow anyone to blemish it by joining hands with one of the political suckers of UP. Walking alone only can protect the primary interests of the Congress party and can produce required results. It still has miles to go. But so be it. The spring of 2017 won’t be the same for Congress.

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