By Amita Verma
Lucknow, Feb 5 (IANS): Aspirations need wings but, unfortunately, alliances clip them - at least this is what is happening in Uttar Pradesh.
Opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh - despite repeated efforts - remains a distant dream and is likely to remain so in the next Lok Sabha elections.
Even as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party reiterate their commitment to defeating the BJP, they fight shy of forging an alliance with the Congress, the only national political player which could offer an alternative to the BJP.
And the reasons are more than evident.
Both the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) were born from the vote base of the Congress -- the BSP with Dalits and the SP with Muslims.
Muslims, Dalits, along with Brahmins, were once the mainstay of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh.
A veteran SP leader puts it rather clearly when he says, "Aligning with the Congress at this point when the party is looking towards a revival after the Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) would amount to hara-kiri. We cannot give our own vote bank (Muslim in this case) a political option. What is the guarantee that Muslims will not return to the Congress if we forge an alliance with them?"
The SP leadership, after several brainstorming sessions in the party and the family, therefore decided that it would be a better idea to continue projecting themselves as the only alternative to the BJP and use the 2022 assembly results to push the point.
SP president Akhilesh Yadav has consciously avoided being seen in the frame with Rahul Gandhi. Even though several top Congress leaders visited his Saifai home to offer condolence when his father Mulayam Singh passed away in October last year, Akhilesh did not soften his stand and refused to join the BJY.
Similarly, Mayawati, who suffered a major erosion of her vote bank in the last assembly elections -- with a large part of her Dalit vote bank shifting to the BJP -- is now wary of the Congress which is blatantly targeting the Dalits.
The Congress leadership in Uttar Pradesh now comprises of leaders culled from the BSP -- from Brijlal Khabri to Nakul Dubey to Naseemuddin Siddiqui -- all of whom are using their previous connect with the BSP to bring Dalits closer to the Congress.
Mayawati now claims that the Congress is following the culture and ideology of the BJP and hence, she is maintaining a safe distance from the party.
Interestingly, the Samajwadi Party has also started gnawing at the BSP's Dalit vote base and the recent controversy over the use of the word 'Shudra' in Ramcharitmanas is an example.
By supporting Swami Prasad Maurya who created the row, Akhilesh wants to pull back state politics into casteism and dilute the BJP's 'Hindu First' card.
Moreover, there is a strong belief in the state's political circles that whenever a larger party allies with a smaller one, it is the latter which fattens up and leaves the former leaner and weaker.
"This is a time-tested belief and similar to the 'leech technique'. The BJP allied for the first time with BSP in 1995, supporting the first Mayawati government. The party rapidly lost ground and remained out of power for 14 years till it made a comeback in 2017. Similarly, when the BSP allied with the Congress in 1996, it was the BSP which gained while the downfall of the Congress began. In 2019, the SP allied with the BSP and it was the BSP that gained while the SP lost ground," said a SP leader.
The Congress, for apparent reasons, is now considered 'small' in UP and parties are naturally wary of joining hands with it and losing their own ground.
Another factor that is obstructing alliances in UP is the aspiration of both, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, to attain the status of a national leader.
Both the leaders have been unsuccessfully trying to find a toehold in other states but have not got much success so far.
As the countdown begins to the 2024 general elections, it is clear that the Samajwadi Party will contest the polls in alliance with Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) which is gaining strength in western UP. Another addition to the alliance may be the Azad Samaj Party, popularly known as the Bhim Army.
Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar is known for his proximity to RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary and the latter could help in cementing the alliance between the SP and the Bhim Army which is looking to make inroads in the BSP's Dalit votes.
The BSP, as in the past, will go it alone in the Lok Sabha polls.
Interestingly, both the SP and the BSP are supremely confident of faring better in the 2024 polls and feel that the BJP will lose ground due to the anti-incumbency factor.
However, the BJP is not perturbed and is working, in fact, to improving its numbers in Uttar Pradesh.
As a senior party functionary says, "A divided opposition suits us perfectly - just like the fable about a woodcutter's sons being unable to break a bundle of sticks tied together. These parties have no common programme or ideology and are driven by giant-sized egos. UP will, once again, catapult the BJP back to power in 2024."