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Will I.N.D.I.A unite in Uttar Pradesh to fight BJP?

The Congress fears that competition with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh to woo the OBCs and the Muslims may work to the BJP’s advantage.
Last Updated : 23 December 2023, 06:11 IST
Last Updated : 23 December 2023, 06:11 IST

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With the Opposition alliance I.N.D.I.A determined to stop the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s juggernaut in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, all eyes are on Uttar Pradesh, the state which sends the maximum number of MPs to the Lok Sabha, 80.

Major Opposition players in Uttar Pradesh are finalising strategies, and weighing options for forging alliances to arrest the BJP's dominance in the state, which has become a ‘New Hindutva' — a blend of aggressive Hindutva, hyper-nationalism and welfarism — laboratory under Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

In a recent meeting with the party high command, a section of Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders pitched for an alliance with the Samajwadi Party for the general elections, arguing to push caste census as the main agenda to counter Hindu consolidation and welfarism in favour of the BJP.

The move, which comes after the 'Akhilesh-Vakhilesh’ and 'Chirkut' feud with the SP in the runup to assembly polls in five states, is to placate the dominant regional player in UP, which is also a key I.N.D.I.A partner.

This is also seen as the Congress’ desperation to counter the BJP by joining hands with the SP and dropping its plan to go alone in UP. This is after the failure of many electoral experiments failed to catch the imagination of voters in the 2017 and 2022 assembly elections, and in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls in the state. 

The grand old party was politically upbeat after the success of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and the assembly election win in Karnataka in May. The Congress wanted to reinvent itself and win back seats in UP almost three decades after it lost its support base to the Mandal era parties, the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The decline in the BSP's hold over the Dalits and the Muslims looking for an alternative to the SP made the Congress strategists ambitious.

A social base comprising the Dalits, a section of the OBCs and the Muslims were with the Congress until the 1990s, and their unity restricted the pro-Hindutva BJP to only two seats in the Lok Sabha. Now most of it has slipped away to either the SP or the BSP and a significant chunk to the BJP. 

Following the rout in the Hindi heartland in the recent assembly polls, the Congress seems to have dropped its plans to go solo and to repeat at least the 2009 Lok Sabha tally of 21 seats in UP. What is forcing the Congress to fight the BJP in UP under the SP's umbrella is the hope that the two parties joining hands could dent the saffron outfits' massive Hindutva consolidation and counter the social engineering working against the SP.

The Congress fears that competition with the SP to woo the OBCs (who make up 40-45 per cent of UP’s electorate) and the Muslims (who constitute 19.5 per cent of the state’s population) may work to the BJP’s advantage as the saffron party has made significant inroads into non-Yadav OBC groups using Hindutva, hyper-nationalism, and ‘beneficiary’ politics along with micro social management and caste-based political outfits such as the Apna Dal or the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party. The saffron party has also wooed a section of Pasmanda Muslims along with women through measures such as the abolishment of triple talaq.

Congress’ strategy makers are faced with the dilemma to choose between SP chief Akhilesh Yadav

Or BSP chief Mayawati, who has decided to fight the 2024 polls alone after the SP-BSP 'mahagathbandhan' failed to make any impact in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in UP; the BJP and its ally Apna Dal(S) won 64 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats, demolishing the SP-BSP alliance to 15 seats between themselves.  

The BJP won an unprecedented 49.6 per cent vote share, while the SP managed to win 18.11 per cent, and the BSP 19.4 per cent.

All the eyes are on BSP's new heir apparent, Akash Anand on whether he will have a rethink on Mayawati's plan to fight the general elections alone. At a time when a large chunk of the Dalits, particularly non-Jatavs, have moved to the BJP due to Mayawati’s political inactivity creating a vacuum in Dalit politics and disillusionment in the community, the challenge for Anand is to win back young Dalits who are looking for other political alternatives by launching an aggressive Bahujan mobilisation.

The BSP’s vote share has dipped persistently in UP. The party got 22.24 per cent of the votes in the 2017 assembly elections, but its vote share dipped to 12.81 per cent in 2022. In its worst performance, the BSP bagged only one seat in an assembly of 403 seats in the 2022 elections. 

It’s tough for the Congress now that Akhilesh Yadav has already announced to contest elections from 65 Lok Sabha seats, leaving just 25 seats for I.N.D.I.A. partners, and Mayawati has declared to go alone.

‘Perform or perish’ or the fear of the BJP are the two factors that are uniting anti-BJP political parties in the I.N.D.I.A alliance, which is inherently contradictory, and in which allies are contesting among themselves for the same social base in the Hindi Heartland.

(Mahendra Kumar Singh is a political commentator and teaches Political Science at DDU Gorakhpur University, Uttar Pradesh. X: @MKSinghGkp)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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Published 23 December 2023, 06:11 IST

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