Cracks in INDIA Before Lok Sabha Polls
By RAMA RAO MALLADI
The outcome of the assembly polls on December 3 will not only be watched keenly by the people of India and the ruling BJP but also the INDIA group of opposition parties where cracks have appeared ahead of the on-going elections in five states. The results will have an important bearing on INDIA’s ability to overthrow the mighty BJP in the Lok Sabha polls next summer even though many in the opposition camp dismiss reports that that the current strains in their alliance will have a negative fallout in 2024.
The pre-assembly poll run in between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, both INDIA allies, in Madhya Pradesh was perhaps not entirely unexpected. But the question is could it have been avoided?
The Samajwadi Party had reportedly informed the Congress that it wanted to contest at least six seats in the state. The Congress kept mum. The Samajwadi Party was rightly furious at this snub. It proceeded by deciding to contest many more than the six it had originally decided to contest.
In the midst of all this, the young supremo of the Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav, made some ungainly remarks on a Congress leader in his home state (UP) and the Congress chief and chief ministerial candidate in Madhya Pradesh was rather contemptuous in referring to Yadav.
Intervention at the ‘highest level’ by the Congress cooled Akhilesh Yadav temporarily. But he remains bitter towards the Congress for refusing to accommodate his wish for allotment of a small number of seats. Akhilesh Yadav feigned ignorance of the fact that INDIA alliance was forged primarily for the Lok Sabha contest and was not applicable in the state assembly polls.
He has since announced that his party would contest 65 (of the 80) seats in the Lok Sabha polls from UP. That leaves 15 for other alliance partners which could mean only the RLD which treats the Jat-dominated western UP as its pocket borough. Obviously, Akhilesh Yadav is so upset by his experience in Madhya Pradesh that he would not give even an inch to the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls. His relations with the Congress in the past have not been very cordial either, except for brief interludes necessitated by turns of politics.
Though less publicized, the assembly polls have also highlighted the already existing strain between the Congress and the Aam Admi Party. Arvind Kejriwal, the party boss, declared just after the assembly poll dates were announced that his party would contest ‘with full strength’ elections in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. (The other two states where polls are being held are Telangana and Mizoram.)
Unlike the Samajwadi Party, the AAP did not attack the Congress as it announced its resolve to contest in the three states where Congress is said to be the main challenger of the BJP. But that does not indicate camaraderie between the two parties. Of the two INDIA partners, the Samajwadi Party and the Aam Admi Party, the latter fancies itself to be better poised to be a rival to the Congress as a pan-India or ‘national’ party.
Of course, the Samajwadi Party also wants to spread its wings beyond its traditional home (UP) but lacks leaders to achieve that goal. The AAP does not hide its keenness to leapfrog on to the national scene.
Political parties often like to punch above their weight. Neither SP nor AAP can be expected to lower their sight and would try to improve their reach as far wide as possible—and as fast as possible. That is why their relations with the Congress within INDIA will always be viewed with some reservation and more so when points of conflicting interests become so visible.
Both the SP and the AAP will expect to garner votes from the same pool as the Congress or, for that matter, any other non-BJP party. The SP presence in Madhya Pradesh may be minimal (it has one member in the outgoing assembly) but it does have a vote bank of sorts in some of the MP districts adjoining UP. If the voters in these districts decide to vote for the SP they would be damaging the prospects of the Congress and helping the BJP, though indirectly.
The AAP has rapidly built a following, whether small or big is immaterial, in the country by concentrating its appeal on issues like ‘bijli and pani’ (electricity and water) or everyday issues like children’s education and public health. Arvind Kejriwal has also been shrewdly playing the religious card to ensure that his appeal reaches the traditional BJP voters also.
And, thanks to the paranoia politics of the BJP that thinks that all opposition leaders should be jailed or harassed by agencies like the ED, CBI, and IT, Kejriwal minces no words in criticizing the BJP and its icon. He is constantly on the move even though it appears a bit comical that he always needs to be chaperoned by someone—these days it is the Punjab chief minister with his state aircraft.
Kejriwal does appear to have prepared himself better to establish himself and his party’s pan-India credentials when compared to Akhilesh Yadav who was consecrated as the party supremo by his father Mulayam Singh Yadav before he died. The senior Yadav had upset the rest of the family, particularly his brother, who were expecting to be the inheritors. But a rebellion by the brother failed to do him any good politically and he came round to accepting his nephew as the party boss.
Akhilesh Yadav, however, was no match for his late father who had built the party with his hard work that included touring, contacts with people and street agitations. Akhilesh has shown a puzzling lack of will to lead street agitations and whenever he has to criticize the ruling dispensation, it is almost always either through Twitter (now X) or a Press conference, usually kn Lucknow.
In this respect, he may not be very different from another important politician from UP, Mayawati of the BSP who is even less active than Akhilesh but who has the advantage of a largely secure vote bank of Balmiki Dalits. Akhilesh’s vote bank is drawn largely from the Yadav community. Both the SP and the BSP do attract voters from other communities but it cannot be said for sure that their number is increasing.
So, the discordant noises heard within INDIA, especially from Akhilesh Yadav, may cause some uncertainty for the moment, it will be only after the poll results in December that the extent of the damage that it causes will be known. If the Congress does well, the SP dissent will cease to be a worrying factor, but if the Congress fares poorly both Akhilesh Yadav and Kejriwal will demand their pound of flesh at the time of negotiations within INDIA for the all-important Lok Sabha polls. (SAT)
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