Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati’s announcement ending her party’s alliance with the Samajwadi Party is an acknowledgment of the failure of the much talked about ‘mahagathbandhan’ on the ground in Uttar Pradesh. She has said that her party would contest the coming by-elections in 11 assembly constituencies in the state on its own. Though she did not rule out the possibility of the two parties working together in the future, it is clear that in the present circumstances, the alliance did not help either party in the elections. Mayawati felt that the SP could neither retain its core vote nor transfer it to the BSP. Though such breakdowns of alliances are usually marked by bad blood, the parting in UP has happened peacefully. SP leader Akhilesh Yadav has accepted Mayawati’s decision without rancour, though his reading of the reasons for the failure of the alliance is not yet known.
In retrospect, the collapse of the alliance is not a surprise. The logic of the SP-BSP alliance was the numerical aggregation of their respective vote banks of the backward castes, mainly Yadavs, and the scheduled castes, mainly Jatavs, which was expected to trump the BJP. But, as is well-known now and as Mayawati too implied, the lack of chemistry between the parties made the arithmetic irrelevant. The BJP presented an overriding narrative based on Hindutva, national security, welfare populism and the personality of Narendra Modi, which appealed to people across castes and reduced the efficacy of caste-based politics. The BJP also worked out a caste combination of forward castes and some segments of the backward castes and scheduled castes which fell outside the pale of the SP and BSP. The alliance could not also match the organisational strength, which was seen even in effective booth-level planning, and the financial resources of the BJP.
Apart from this, the social justice politics which these two parties claimed to have represented has lost some of its credibility because of the aberrations in its practice. Much of the politics which empowered large sections of people has degraded because it came to be appropriated by families and personalities for power and pelf. This gave the ‘mahagthbandhan’ the image of an alliance of convenience and opportunism. Voters may also have thought that alliances had to be more credible and substantive in a national election. Alliances made by rival parties came to grief elsewhere also, Karnataka being another prime example. Opposition parties in all states are facing new political situations and changed electoral realities. A strong opposition is essential for democracy, and so these parties have to learn their lessons from their defeat and reshape and reorient themselves to stay relevant.