Pivot of Opposition Unity

BSP supremo Mayawati has a great chance to become axle of opposition unity in UP  

By Anil Anand

It will not be out place to say that the route to grand opposition unity ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls begins or passes through Uttar Pradesh. This is for simple reason that the state accounts for 80 seats and that BJP won 71 of these Lok Sabha segments in 2014 with two more going to its ally Apna Dal. For opposition to stop Narendra Modi juggernaut it will be imperative for them to close their ranks and bring the BJP tally to as low as possible in UP.

The onus for this unity, elusive so far, lies on arch rivals BSP supremo Mayawati and young Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav. There is some urgency for the two leaders to come together if they are to secure their political future after having faced three successive drubbings in Lok Sabha, assembly and lately civic body elections. The multi-million question is if Mayawati-Akhilesh combo can become a reality in that event the Congress joining them later.

The 62-year old Mayawati is perhaps passing through the worst phase of her political life with massive erosion in her UP support base. Slowly and steadily the time is running out for her not only because Lok Sabha elections are approaching fast but much more due to the fact that a new wave of Dalit politics and a new line-up of young Dalit leadership are on the emergence.

Should she become the harbinger of young dalit politics or allow the others to take the lead? She will have to find an answer to this question as well.

So is Mayawati  ready to grab an opportunity coming her way when Election Commission of India declares bi-elections to two important Lok Sabha seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur in UP? The two seats have fallen vacant after Yogi Adityanath and Keshav Prasad Maurya resigned from Lok Sabha on becoming UP chief minister and deputy chief minister respectively.

There are reports that Mayawati could contest from Phulpur constituency which is politically significant in many ways. What added to the significance of this bi-poll was the subsequent offer made by Akhilesh to support her candidature or even ensure that she re-entered Rajya Sabha with Samajwadi Party and Congress support. It is another matter that Mayawati is still to respond to this offer despite reports that SP-BSP quarters are in touch over this issue. 

The question arises if Phulpur could lay the foundation for opposition unity if Mayawati agrees to become a united opposition candidate? It has the potential because of its political history and developments generated by the recent scrapping through of BJP in Gujarat assembly elections despite being the home state of Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.  

After Gujarat now all eyes are riveted on Phulpur and how Mayawati reacts to the situation. Having been politically decimated beyond her expectation it will not be easy for her to spurn Akhilesh’s offer of support. Much will depend on how much the two sworn political enemies, particularly Mayawati, will trust each other as there is a past history to their animosity and who is mediating to bring them together. The only silver lining is that Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav the one who was in direct clash with Mayawati that even led to certain unsavoury developments, will now have no direct involvement.

The Phulpur seat has a rich political history. Decidedly if Mayawati accepts this offer there is a strong chance of the history recreating itself and the area returning to good old days. The country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had represented this seat in Lok Sabha a couple of times. A number of other political heavyweights had also contested from here and that included socialist Ram Manohar Lohia and, BSP founder and Mayawati’s mentor, Kanshi Ram. It is another matter that both Lohia and Ram lost.

The SP- BSP- Congress coming together in Phulpur will make a strong statement. At a micro level the 2017 assembly election figures show that the three parties put together had collectively garnered a vote share of 1.50 lakh more than that of the winning BJP candidate. With this backdrop and Modi-factor on wane from what it was in 2014, Phulpur bi-election has the potential to set a new trend before 2019 Lok Sabha elections. 

The question arises if Mayawati would accept the offer to become a united opposition candidate on way to facilitating a ‘mahagath bandhan’ ahead of next Lok Sabha elections? On the face of it the offer seems lucrative on which would hinge her own political future as well. But on the hindsight given the sordid history of SP-BSP or to be more precise Mulayam-Mayawati relationship the latter is rightly treading with care and caution.

One confirmed option available to her is to sit on the sidelines of all opposition unity efforts and watch it without being in the centrestage, and at the same time concentrate on rebuilding BSP organizationally. Remaining a silent spectator will not bring her any political capital in the unity efforts and time is too short for her, with Lok Sabha elections just over a year ahead, to only concentrate on rebuilding the organization from a scrap.

She will have to take a decision either to contest the bi-election or re-enter Rajya Sabha with the support of Samajwadi Party and Congress. It will be interesting to see how Mayawati would plan her political survival if she decides to reject both these options. In that event it will be an even a tougher call for her given the fact that many leaders of consequence have already deserted BSP and the cadres are helter-skelter after electoral defeats.

Phulpur could provide her an opportunity to become a pivot of opposition unity for which she will have to shed many inhibitions and overcome skepticism. It cannot be one-way-traffic as it always takes two to tango. The other part of the opposition particularly Samajwadi Party will have to go an extra mile to create a congenial atmosphere to give her confidence and for her to act accordingly.