Mayawati, BSP Chief
The battlefield of Hindi heartland now resembles a minefield. The contenders seem more keen in inflicting blows, but hope they do not end being fatal. The fight in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, which was viewed as tussle for supremacy between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now wide open.
The decision of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to close doors on the grand old party makes it difficult to surmount a combined challenge to the BJP, which has been ruling the states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for the past 15 years. BSP has significant pockets of support in the Bundelkhand and Gwalior region of the State, where BJP has been on the backfoot for past several months.
Mayawati, however, remains a shrewd tactician, who plays with a gambler’s instinct. While blaming former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh for failure to reach an understanding with the Congress, the mercurial BSP leader has kept options for an alliance in the general elections of 2019 open. She has said that Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were sincere about an alliance that did not fructify due to manipulations of local leaders.
The game plan is obvious. If the Congress is unable to wrest Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the grand old party’s ability to bargain for seats in Uttar Pradesh is substantially reduced. Otherwise, Mayawati has the fallback option of reaching out to the Congress top brass and concede ground to the grand old party. It is a ruthless manoeuvre solely guided by realpolitic.
The only hope for the Congress is now to reach out to other smaller parties in Madhya Pradesh, some of which have shown inclination to join hands with it to defeat the BJP. It may help the Congress to minimise the damage failure of alliance may cause electorally. The bigger blow, however, is psychological as the setback to any talk of ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) against the BJP is substantial.
By aligning with Chhattisgarh Janata Dal (CJD) of Ajit Jogi, the BSP leader is testing the political waters in State for the first time. It may give her dividends as her alliance with Janata Dal (S) in Karnataka demonstrated. Mayawati was able to get her sole legislator a ministerial berth in the JD(S)-Congress government of HD Kumaraswamy.
Rajasthan, however, is a completely different ballgame. The State has since 1977 seen Congress and BJP forming alternate government. Incumbent governments have been voted out for the past 40 years. BSP presence in the State has been minimal as the Dalit largely remain in the Congress camp.
The failure of the Congress and the BSP is a major boost to the BJP, which had felt the pressure of combined opposition challenge undermining it in three by-elections in Uttar Pradesh. Defeats in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana Lok Sabha elections had left the BJP shell shocked. The BJP can hope that the present distrust among its rivals persists till the Lok Sabha elections.
The elections to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Mizoram and Telangana are expected to be announced soon. The results of Assembly elections, likely to be held in the second week of November, will set the mood for general elections of 2019.
Interesting days ahead for politicians and poll pundits.