New political alliances

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Defeat of Bhartiya Janata Party and its allies in the parliamentary by-elections on Wednesday in both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar should start ringing the alarm bells for ruling NDA government at the centre. The party which is aiming to expand its base in the southern states has already lost in Andhra Pradesh where its alliance partner Telugu Desam Party has parted way and withdrew its ministers from NDA while its presence in other states is minimal. The victory of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party cannot be ignored if the BJP is looking forward to consolidate its gains and power at the centre and other states in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which are almost a year away from now. It appears that BSP leader Mayawati was conducting a political experiment while announcing her support for the SP in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha constituencies, to test whether her party could effectively work with the SP, until recently her principal rival. By all estimates, the experiment has been a striking success. Poll calculations were important reasons for the reversal of fortunes of the BJP in the two constituencies, especially Gorakhpur, which Yogi Adityanath had won five successive times, beginning in 1998. Given this, the loss is an embarrassing political setback for the chief minister and is likely to be perceived as the squandering of the goodwill built up by successive heads of the Gorakhnath Math. Phulpur, vacated by Keshav Prasad Maurya when he teamed up with Yogi Adityanath as his deputy CM, is also a shameful defeat. That a chief minister and his deputy have lost in their own home segments is, to understate the point, hardly a good advertisement for the BJP’s popularity or that of its state government. Arguably, it is the BJP’s very success that has brought its rivals together. The BSP, which has been averse to political alliances, had offered support to the SP unconditionally without committing to a formal tie-up. The question now is what this successful experiment will engender. Will the success of the experiment convince Mayawati to move farther, confident that her support base is not averse to a larger alliance between the two parties? The fate of the 2019 elections may well depend on the answer to this. To a large extent, the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav helped seal the SP-BSP understanding. Mayawati found it easier to jettison the baggage of the past now that her bitter rival and SP founder Mulayam Singh has receded to the background. The young scion Akhilesh has been open to alliances, displaying a willingness to rise above the clannishness of the previous generation. What Gorakhpur and Phulpur demonstrate is that the BJP is not invincible in the face of a new social and political electoral regrouping and fresh alliances, something that the SP and the BSP must be fully aware of. Such an experiment can also be conducted by other political parties in rest of the country where fresh voices have been raised for a non-BJP and non-Congress Third Front. The by-elections in Bihar’s Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad Assembly constituencies have shown that the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad will not be wiped out with the return of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) to the BJP-led NDA. The results of the by-elections show that Lalu Prasad continues to be a force to reckon with in Bihar whatever may be the regrouping of change of alliances. Although the results in Bihar, unlike those in UP, may not lead to a realignment of forces, the RJD and the Congress can hope to gain some political momentum on the back of the BJP’s loss. The RJD may not have fully recovered from the collapse of the grand alliance with the desertion of the JD(U), but it knows it is not out of the political equation completely at this stage. Together with the Rajasthan by-election results, these losses have created doubts about the strength of the BJP’s hold in the Hindi heartland, and given its rivals some reason for cheer and some cause to believe in the arithmetic of alliances in the changing political landscape of the country.