Union minister and chief of National Democratic Alliance partner Republican Party of India-A Ramdas Athawale said on Friday that the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party tie-up in Uttar Pradesh might cost the Bharatiya Janata Party and its partners 25 to 30 Lok Sabha seats in next year's general elections, but asserted that 'no one can challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi'.
Uttar Pradesh has 80 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP and its allies had won 73 in the 2014 parliamentary elections.
The Congress had won Amethi and Rae Bareli, while the SP bagged five seats. After the recent bypolls, SP's tally in the Lok Sabha went up to seven.
"The SP-BSP may damage the BJP and its allies by winning some 25-30 (Lok Sabha) seats. But, the BJP will get more than 50 seats. However, this will not prevent the BJP-led NDA from returning to power at the Centre after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls," he told a press conference in Lucknow.
In the same breath, the RPI-A leader said, "No one can challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- neither Congress president Rahul Gandhi, nor SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, nor BSP supremo Mayawati."
The SP wrested the prestigious Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats from the BJP in the recent bye-elections after reaching an understanding with the BSP.
A consolidation of OBC, Dalit and Muslim votes powered the Samajwadi Party candidates to victory in Gorakhpur, a seat represented by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for five successive terms, and Phulpur, from where his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya was elected in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Amid Mayawati's ongoing efforts to cobble together non-BJP parties for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the RPI-A president asked the BSP supremo to join the NDA if her concern for Dalits was genuine.
Seeking to drive a wedge into the new-found bonhomie between the SP and the BSP, Athawale claimed that the BSP candidate lost the Rajya Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh as the Akhilesh Yadav-led party had "betrayed" Mayawati's nominee by not backing him in return for her support during the Lok Sabha bypolls.
Atrocities were still being committed on Dalits, but the BJP-led government at the Centre was not responsible for it, the Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment said, adding there was need to give more teeth to the law to protect the Dalits.
Athawale welcomed the Uttar Pradesh chief minister's announcement of exploring the possibility of reservation to the most backwards communities and Mahadalits (most deprived) and that a committee in this regard will be set up to look into the issue which will submit a report soon.
The announcement made by the chief minister on the floor of the state assembly was being viewed as an attempt to counter the changed caste equations which have emerged following new-found SP-BSP closeness and its debilitating effect for the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The Union minister also hailed the decision of the Yogi Adityanath government to introduce B R Ambedkar's middle name 'Ramji' in all references to him in official correspondence and records, and said there should be no politics over such issues.
The government order did not go down well with the opposition ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, with the BSP and the SP seeing vote-bank politics behind it.
Hours after the decision, Mayawati had said, "The state government's move to change the name of Ambedkar is a drama aimed at getting cheap popularity... The BJP and its government has been taking the name of Babasaheb these days for the selfish motive of gaining the votes of Dalits and indulging in all kind of dramas."
The government's decision also drew flak from the SP and the Congress.
As the matter got embroiled in political hullabaloo, UP Cabinet Minister Swami Prasad Maurya had said there was no politics in the government decision and no motive should be attached to the order.
Another senior state minister and spokesperson of the Uttar Pradesh government Sidharth Nath Singh said the BJP has only seen to it that the name of Baba Saheb is written correctly.
On Friday, Athawale, who is from Maharashtra, said in his state, father's name is mentioned in the middle of the son's name.
In December last year, a campaign to write Ambedkar's name 'correctly' was initiated by Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik, citing the manner in which Ambedkar signed on the pages of the Constitution.
The spelling of Ambedkar in English will remain unchanged, but in Hindi it will be spelt as 'Aambedkar'.
The governor had written to the prime minister, the chief minister and also to Babasahib Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Mahasabha, expressing concerns over the prevalent 'incorrect spelling' of Ambedkar.