New Delhi: Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has dealt a blow to opposition unity after she declared a tie-up with breakaway Congress leader Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh and announced the first list of 22 candidates for polls in Madhya Pradesh. The move is a setback for the Congress party, which was in seat-sharing talks with the BSP in both states.
Not just this, the Uttar Pradesh satrap had months ago joined hands with the Om Prakash Chautala-led Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in Haryana. In all the three states, the Congress is a key player and is in a direct contest with the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As Congress president Rahul Gandhi attempts to build an alliance, seat-sharing talks are going to be key. Several party leaders feel that Thursday’s development could send a message to other partners over an alliance based on a pre-poll understanding. With 80 Lok Sabha seats, Uttar Pradesh is key to any coalition at the Centre, and the BSP, an important regional player, will be crucial for the Congress, which was decimated in the 2014 polls.
“We were in talks in both Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, more actively in the latter. We are still assessing the situation in Madhya Pradesh and for now we are not ruling out further discussion. Chhattisgarh comes as a surprise because the BSP has gone along with Jogi. We are confident of going alone now," said a senior Congress leader who has worked closely in Chhattisgarh.
For Jogi, who heads the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh, this election is a test for survival. Since he left the Congress, Jogi has been out of the limelight and is making a strong play in the state. Senior Congress leaders feel that Jogi is positioning himself as a third force or king maker in the event of a close verdict.
The bigger worry for the Congress will, however, be Mayawati, who has repeatedly said an alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will shape up only if there is a seat-sharing arrangement in the three states that go to polls later this year: Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
According to a senior Congress leader, talks in Madhya Pradesh are at an advanced stage and the BSP has conveyed its expectation for seats. The Congress had sought time to discuss with its top leadership but was caught off guard when the BSP’s first list of candidates was released late on Thursday evening.
“Of all the three states that are going to polls, Madhya Pradesh was most actively pursued for an alliance with the BSP. We held seat-sharing discussions and some clarity would have emerged in the next week or so. Their first list has derailed talks and we will have to see what call the top leadership takes in this regard," said a senior Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh.
After these two states, the focus will be on Mayawati’s plan for the 2019 elections. Having failed to win a single seat in the previous Lok Sabha polls, the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh faces a tough test. The BSP and its traditional rival, the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP), are in talks for an alliance in Uttar Pradesh that could also include the Congress and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).