The Samajwadi Party (SP) is willing to offer 70-75 of Uttar Pradesh’s 403 assembly seats to the Congress and 20 seats to Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal to take forward the proposal to put together a “mahagatbandhan (grand alliance)” before the assembly elections.
SP sources, privy to the developments related to the alliance, said that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had “sounded” out Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on the seat-sharing. The Congress had insisted on contesting 100 seats to begin with. But an SP source said, “There is no way we can give away that many to the Congress and another 20 to the RLD,” stressing that these parties must remember that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party had won as many as 224 seats in the last polls.
Asked if the possibility that the Congress and to an extent, the RLD, might still try and drive a hard bargain that could unsettle the prospect of the “grand alliance”, the source said for the SP, three circumstances had to be factored in while taking the negotiations forward.
One, yielding 100-plus seats might demoralise the party cadre and create an impression that fearing a defeat, the SP was making compromises to strike an alliance. “Even if we give away 90 India News, we will have to explain at length to our activists as to why the alliance is important,” a source said.
Two, the SP’s Uttar Pradesh president and Akhilesh’s uncle, Shivpal Singh Yadav, is said to be not in favour of the mahagatbandhan and has been advising the Yadav patriarch, Mulayam Singh Yadav, against it. On the record, Akhilesh, asked about the prospective alliance last week in Lucknow, told Business Standard, “‘Netaji’ (Mulayam Singh Yadav) will take a final call.”
Shivpal is actively jousting to give tickets to his loyalists. He is pre-empting the formation of a “secular coalition” by identifying seats that the Congress and the RLD would insist upon by giving those away to his nominees. “So, Akhileshji will have to tread cautiously. He cannot give away too much to the Congress and the RLD,” the source said.
Three, in handing out seats, the Congress may have to settle for a majority from the western districts, those to the west of Badayun, where the SP has traditionally been weak. The RLD has its base in the Jat-dominated areas of this region and virtually no presence outside of it. The Samajwadi considers west central Uttar Pradesh (Agra, Etah, Mainpuri and Etawah), Rohailkhand (Badayun, Bareilly, Gajraula, Amroha, Moradabad and Aonla), central and east Uttar Pradesh as its reigning strongholds. Indeed, it picked up most of its seats in the last state election from these parts.
Asked why Akhilesh was keen on the alliance, Samajwadi sources cited three reasons:
One, to beam a positive message to the Muslims that the secular spectrum was intact and was keen to emulate the Bihar template that saw former adversaries Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar re-unite and defeat the BJP with the Congress.
Two, claim the winning space against the BJP from the Bahujan Samaj Party that was also working hard to bring the Dalits and Muslims on its side. “If this ‘gatbandhan’ materialises, the floating votes should gravitate towards it,” a source said.
Three, to position Akhilesh as a pivotal player in a prospective secular front that can be replicated in the next Lok Sabha election, if it succeeds in Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi’s assessment was while there was a degree of anti-incumbency against the party because of the family conflicts and the perception that the law and order scenario was bad, Akhilesh’s image remained relatively untainted. “We have come across voters who say ‘we will not vote the Samajwadi but we will vote Akhilesh’,” a source claimed.
“Therefore, we are looking at 2017 as well as 2019 and at a larger role for Akhileshji,” an aide of his claimed, emphasising that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar-who, the aide said, had staked claim to fronting such an alliance had himself undermined his chances after seeming to be on the same page as the Centre on demonetisation-was “not the only occupant of the secular and anti-BJP space”.
Like the Bihar coalition, the Samajwadi-Congress-RLD could add up to a winning combination, at least on paper, if the data of the 2012 assembly election was a determinant.
The Samajwadi polled 29. 13 per cent votes, the Congress 11.65 per cent and the RLD, 2.33. The BSP had secured 25.91 per cent and the BJP, just 15 per cent, according to Election Commission statistics.
The picture changed unrecognisably in the 2014 election. The BJP netted 42.63 per cent of the votes polled, followed by the Samajwadi at 22.35 per cent, the BSP at 19.77 per cent, the Congress as 7.53 per cent and the RLD at 0. 86 per cent.
Asked how he would read the figures, Akhilesh’s aide replied, “In a triangular contest, every one per cent counts and a margin of two or three per cent can make the difference between winning and losing. So, we are not looking at the Congress and RLD’s vote per centages in isolation because combined with our projected tally, the total can be quite big.”