19 - 01 - 2019

Should Cong & allies have a bandhan in UP?

Post December 11, 2018, most regional satraps have become rather wary of the Rahul-led Congress. Collectively, they have no desire to crown Rahul as a prime-ministerial nominee. Also, from within the Congress, there are few takers of the so-called seat-sharing formulae being floated for Uttar Pradesh

Paradoxically, Uttar Pradesh offers both a deadlock and a window for opportunity for the combined opposition against the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance. The Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal may be far more formidable without the Congress and the grand old party may be more better off going solo than getting a seat-share (mostly urban) that it may find difficult to win. 

BJP, Cong on temple issue

Politics in the country's most populous and politically significant state is set to gain momentum around January 14-15 when mala maas (supposedly unclean lunar month where most North-West-Central Indian Hindus shun activities like weddings or moving into a new house due to the inauspicious tag) concludes. From January 15, 2019, the city of Prayagraj will observe its first Ardh Kumbh Mela after its recent rechristening under the direct supervision of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. 

Both the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Akhil Bhartiya Akhara Parishad have given an ultimatum of sorts to the Modi government to either announce a date for the Ram temple construction in Ayodhya or face an aggressive stir. The VHP also plans to gherao the outgoing MPs of the 16th Lok Sabha who are reluctant to support Ram temple construction in view of the pending Supreme Court judgment. 

The Congress has little or no strategy to counter the BJP-VHP onslaught on the vexed Ayodhya issue. Its Ayodhya policy consists of acceptance of a judicial verdict or a compromise between the two communities. Instinctively, it is opposed to any pre-Supreme Court verdict legislation for the Ram temple as politically it brings nothing to its table. 

The Rahul Gandhi-led Congress does not want to take any lead in acting as a peace-maker, unlike his late father who had circulated half a dozen formulae between 1986 and 1989, known as the 'Rajiv formula," Tiwari plan" (ND Tiwari was Congress Chief Minister of UP until 1989) or "Buta Singh formula" [Buta Singh was Rajiv's home minister). In 1989, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had launched his Lok Sabha campaign on the bank of river Saryu in Ayodhya, promising "Ram rajya" and even performed "shilanyas" there. 

Misgivings about Cong bandhan

Also, the Congress is unable to clear some misgivings regarding the proposed mahagathbandhan against the Modi-led NDA. It has failed to spell out some basics. Some of them are:

  • The grand alliance, as and when it comes through, will not centre around a personality.
  • It will not be a national-level accord but seat-sharing, adjustment, tacit understanding spread over 29 states.
  • There will be perpetual differences of opinion and disquiet among the top protagonists, ranging from Rahul Gandhi to Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sitaram Yechuri, MK Stalin and Chandrababu Naidu.
  • Before and during the May 2019 Lok Sabha polls, concerted efforts would be made to undermine prospective allies through poaching, pronouncements, machinations and presence of candidates.
  • The real shape and success of the mahagathbandhan will emerge minutes after the parliamentary poll result of 2019 if Modi-Shah's BJP gets restricted to less than 200 seats and the combined NDA fails to cross the 250 mark.
  • The mahagathbandhan's UP story will be full of contradictions. 

Alliance or not in UP?

Regarding the alliance in UP, it must be emphasised that in politics, two plus two need not translate into four. The outcome of the two Lok Sabha byelections in the state shows that the absence of the Congress had helped the SP-BSP. At another level, the Congress' success in the Assembly polls of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is unlikely to help it bargain a better deal vis-a vis the regional parties. On the contrary, post December 11, 2018, most regional satraps have become rather wary of the Rahul-led Congress. 

Historically, most regional parties have emerged and thrived due to their opposition to the Congress or breaking away from the parent organisation. Collectively, they have no desire to crown Rahul as a prime-ministerial nominee. Rahul's chances of holding on to the pole position within the mahagathbandhan would gain momentum if his party manages to get at least a "half of half." That is, out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, 273 is the half-way mark and the Congress needs to net 137 parliamentary seats from its present tally of 48. 

Interestingly, from within the Congress, there are few takers of the so-called seat-sharing formulae being floated for Uttar Pradesh. In 2014, the Congress had won two seats and came second in Saharanpur, Kanpur, Lucknow, Ghaziabad, Barabanki and Kushinagar. Out of these seats, except for Saharanpur (65,090) and Kusinagar (5,540) the defeat margin was over two lakh votes. In Ghaziabad, Raj Babbar stood second, but vthe ictory margin of Gen VK Singh (retd) was a staggering 5,67,260 votes. In Lucknow, Rita Bahuguna Joshi (now a BJP minister in UP) was humbled by 2,72,494 votes. Similar was the case of Sriprakash Jaiswal at Kanpur and PL Punia at Barabanki. 

Congress sources say if these six seats are handed over to them, in addition to Amethi and Rai Bareli, the final tally of the party's win would not be different from 2019. The Congress vote bank in Uttar Pradesh it such that if it is out of the alliance, it has far more chances of hurting the BJP and helping the SP-BSP-RLD alliance, provided Amethi and Rai Bareli are left "free." The "no-alliance" in UP scenario would help the Congress from accommodating Samajwadi or BSP aspirations in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Lok Sabha seats where the party hopes for major gains in a direct contest against the BJP.