The SP and BSP may be happy to be able to stitch together an alliance in UP but keeping the Congress out could hobble them in the LS polls

The confirmation of a Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance sans Congress in Uttar Pradesh that sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha does not augur well for opposition unity. On the face of it, leaving the Congress in the lurch may look advantageous for both SP and BSP that propose to take on the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine in the general elections. The two regional satraps, Behen Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, may have surpassed one hurdle by agreeing to fight together and equal numbers. But, leaving out Congress in the anti-BJP alliance is bound to split opposition votes. Not fielding their candidates in Rae Bareli and Amethi may not suffice in the effort to build a larger ‘mahagathbandhan’ or grand alliance. The Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan results showed that these victories for the opposition against the BJP could have been more decisive had the SP and BSP been part of the pre-poll alliance.

One explanation for the manner in which the two Uttar Pradesh parties have ignored the Congress is that they were retaliating against it for giving them short shrift in the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan polls. It could also be that the SP and BSP think that the Congress is no longer capable of influencing the electoral outcome in Uttar Pradesh. Thirdly, SP-BSP may have kept the Congress factor for negotiation at a later date thinking it was first necessary to smoothen out differences between their own parties and candidates. They may think of giving up a couple of seats from each side for the Congress before the elections. Fourthly, both the regional parties may be looking at a post-electoral equation where they could strike a big bargain if the opposition was in a position to trim BJP numbers.

Given that the next round of elections would be a perception battle of sorts, it is very important to include the only party with a pan-India presence in the alliance. The BJP may have suffered a setback in three key northern states in the recent legislative assembly polls but it continues to be the largest political formation. Riding high on the twin strategy of development and Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and bolstered by the personal popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP remains a formidable political foe. A split in the opposition camp would also mean that the UPA may have to face the spectre of dissent and rebel candidates virtually in every constituency across Uttar Pradesh. Finally, having no deal in Uttar Pradesh would also dim the chances of Congress president Rahul Gandhi being declared prime ministerial candidate before the elections.