By deciding to go her own way in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, BSP supremo Mayawati fired the first salvo and punctured the whole idea of a mahagathbandhan or grand alliance of opposition parties at the national level. Her decision to go it alone in the key assembly elections by contesting all seats does not help the opposition’s idea of presenting a united front to take on prime minister Narendra Modi. This is the second setback in quick succession to the possibility of a national alliance of opposition parties. The BSP chief had recently dumped the Congress in Chhattisgarh by tangoing with Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress of Chhattisgarh (JCC) and fringe partner Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of Arvind Kejriwal. This is certain to send confusing signals to the voter and upset the winning chances of Congress candidates in all three states where the ruling BJP, facing anti-incumbency and farmers’ distress, is fighting with its back to the wall.
Mayawati’s BSP and its alliance partners’ together command 3.5-7 per cent of the votes in the three states. In Chhattisgarh, the split in anti-BJP votes with Jogi as a strong third pole vis-à-vis Congress has the potential to adversely impact the opposition camp. The BSP chief’s move ahead of the 2019 general elections could possibly be to test her popularity or acceptability as a national leader of stature. What her move does is to pitchfork herself at the forefront of national politics. She is an ambitious political leader and could have been uncomfortable with the fact that she was not being portrayed as a possible prime ministerial candidate in the opposition alliance. Of course, this is also interpreted in opposition ranks as just a bargaining chip to get more seats for her party in the final seat sharing amongst opposition parties in both assembly and Lok Sabha polls. Meanwhile, the sudden move has triggered speculation of a back channel deal with the BJP, considering that the heaviest damage for her actions would be borne by the non-BJP alliance.
Mayawati, known for being impulsive, is also shrewd with her political calls. She seems to have led the Congress leadership to rethink its strategy in these states that will be going to the polls soon. What turned out to be a rude shock for the Congress was the insinuation – calling especially Digvijay Singh a ‘BJP agent’ and closing the door to further negotiations. Meanwhile, her uneasiness with the Samajwadi Party and its leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav was clearly articulated in the last fortnight. Though the BSP-SP combine had given the BJP a run for its money in two rounds of by-polls in UP, the latest developments do not augur well for opposition unity. If the BJP were to do well in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and MP, its Lok Sabha battle would get a perfectly timed boost.
There is no denying that the Congress managed get its act together, sunk internal bickering and put up a united show. Even though both Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath aspire to become chief ministers in MP, at least for the time being they seem to be working together and keeping the peace in the state unit.
In Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot have been working as one unit to dislodge Vasundhara Raje. Though Pilot has left the door open for all anti-BJP parties, Mayawati decision has put paid to his efforts to forge a larger opposition alliance. Opposition parties have to quickly get their act together as in Telangana where the Congress, Telugu Desam and CPI sunk their differences to take on the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) led by K Chandrasekhar Rao. Deal making in the opposition camp has to pick up pace to mount a challenge to the BJP juggernaut led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.