Even at this early stage of the UP elections, a few predictions
can still be made with reasonable certainty. One is the results
will produce a hung assembly with neither of the two major parties
- the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) that
happen to be regional and not national ones - getting a majority
of its own.
The second safe forecast is that the SP will align with the
Congress. The two were allies in the state when the SP was in
office before Mayawati swept into power in 2007. The Congress and
the SP came even closer together when the latter left the company
of the Communists and decided to support the Congress in
parliament on the nuclear deal in 2008.
The episode in 1999 when the SP had scuttled the Congress' chances
to form a government at the centre even after Sonia Gandhi had
declared that the Congress had the support of 272 MPs has been
forgotten in the hurly-burly of swift-moving events. However,
their relations have never been very warm.
The third fairly safe assumption is that the BSP and the Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) will hastily try to reach an agreement to
prevent the SP-Congress alliance staking its claim to form a
government. The party of the Dalits and the party of the "Manuvadi"
upper castes - to use Dalit czarina Mayawati's familiar word of
disparagement for Brahmins - have been allies twice before. But
their bitter parting of ways on both the occasions is unlikely to
deter them from trying to tie the knot again.
Since much will depend on the number of seats won by the four
aspirants - and the perception of the governor - it will no longer
be safe to hazard a guess about the ultimate winners. But it is
possible to anticipate the impact of the opportunism of at least
two of them.
For instance, the unabashed expediency of the BSP and the BJP in
trying to strike a deal will hurt both. This charge cannot be
levelled against the SP and the Congress because they have been
allies for several years. Even then, Rahul Gandhi's assertion that
his party will not tie up with "goons and thieves" may come to
haunt the heir- apparent.
True, it is customary for the main contenders to brag before the
votes are counted that there will not be any need for an alliance
since each one of them will gain a majority of its own. While the
BSP and the SP have been making such claims, the Congress or the
BJP obviously cannot do so because it will sound absurd. But what
Rahul's statement implies is that the Congress will prefer to sit
in the opposition instead of teaming up with the SP which has long
had the reputation of harbouring anti-socials.
Why Rahul stressed this point is understandable because it was the
volatile law and order situation when the SP was in power which
helped the BSP score such a massive victory. Since people are
unlikely to have forgotten those days, the Congress general
secretary is clarifying that he is aware of the unsavoury
reputation of his party's prospective ally.
In fact, the SP itself has been somewhat defensive on this count.
Hence, the assurance given by Akhilesh Yadav - he will be more
believable on this point than his father Mulayam Singh Yadav -
that there will be no return to the bad old days if his party
comes to power. At the same time, it is noteworthy that the former
chief minister had no hesitation in holding out an olive branch to
the Congress even after Rahul's criticism.
The reason is that both sides - or, at least, their senior leaders
- are aware that neither is an angel. So do the voters. In India
it is the party which holds power that is rejected even if the
alternative is not everyone's favourite. For the electorate, it is
usually a choice between the devil and the deep sea. However, the
expectation is that the years out of power will have taught the
loser a lesson and that it will behave better the second time
There have been exceptions, of course, notably Nitish Kumar in
Bihar and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa, whose performances in office
have enabled them to beat the anti-cumbency factor. Or Tarun Gogoi
in Assam, who has been chief minister thrice because he doesn't
face a credible opposition. But, otherwise, anti-incumbency is the
norm in India.
The belief is that the high turnout of voters in UP does not
portend well for Mayawati because people are more keen to throw
someone out than to usher someone in. But whoever wins or loses,
it is difficult to see the state itself being the victor,
especially if no party gets a clear majority.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org