The alliance announced in Uttar Pradesh between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party may have ended the hopes of a mahagathbandhan of opposition parties that would take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, as it has kept out the Congress that would be the fulcrum of any nationwide pre-poll alliance. However, even without the Congress in this alliance, UP will not be easy pickings for the BJP. An alliance between just these two parties in UP makes BJP’s bid for a second consecutive term in power a lot more difficult, as retaining the number of seats it won in just this State in 2014, would now be not just improbable, but border on the impossible. Despite not having fared well in the last Lok Sabha and then the State Assembly elections, the two parties still command a large vote share, and together this makes them a formidable force in the State.
Following the victories in the Rajasthan, Chattishgarh and Madhya Pradesh elections, where Congress returned to power after long gaps and the alliance it had earlier stitched in Karnataka, Congress had appeared as if it would emerge as the pivot around which the regional parties would revolve, as the national party had wrested back a large part of the Hindi heartland from the BJP. Exactly a month later, it is clear that the other parties won’t allow this to happen. With Congress emerging stronger after the State Assembly elections it was to be expected that the regional parties would seek to keep their bargaining power in place.
It is perhaps these victories of the Congress that forced the SP and BSP to join hands in UP, leaving out the national party from the alliance, for two reasons. The first is that it does not give Congress the pre-eminent position in a pre-poll alliance, and the second is that it ensures that the parties do not lose their bargaining power in the event of a hung Lok Sabha that would depend on the regional parties to form a government. The two parties were adversaries in the State Assembly polls, and have a common aim which is to ensure that they are not wiped out from the Lok Sabha in the manner in which they lost their power in the State when they were decimated in the Assembly elections that BJP swept. Coming together ensures that they will survive to fight another day.
This alliance also ensures that the battle for Lok Sabha 2019 will not be between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, but between BJP and Congress with a multiple other smaller parties forcing their way into the ring and getting their voice heard. This will make it a lot more difficult for the BJP to put forward a common national agenda for the polls as it will be facing regional parties with regional aspirations across the State, rather than a single alliance with a common programme. It will also make it much more difficult to predict an outcome and how parties will conduct themselves once the results are declared.
There is a question mark over the grand alliance, but there are still weeks to go before the election dates are announced and re-assessments in the understandings among the political parties cannot be ruled out. Regionalism will always play the larger card in the game and the UP example could spur other regional parties to reach out to each other for an electoral understanding. UP has led the way with two warring parties sharing the stage and finding common ground, other States could follow. The alliances for the battle for Lok Sabha 2019 are far from clear, and it could still be weeks before a clearer picture emerges.