Congress hopes to field upper caste candidates to eat into BJP voter base while SP-BSP focuses on consolidating Dalit-OBC votes in their favour.
Archis Mohan reports.
The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party seem to have snubbed the Congress by keeping it out of their putative grand alliance for the 80 Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh.
However, Congress and SP leaders say the Opposition parties are working to a plan whose primary objective is to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party.
SP President Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati met in New Delhi on Friday, January 4, evening to seal their seat alliance in UP for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The two parties will contest 37 seats each. Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal will contest the three seats of Kairana, Mathura and Baghpat, while one seat will go to the Nishad Party.
The alliance will not field any candidates in the Gandhi family pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli.
The SP-BSP keeping the Congress out of the alliance could be a jolt to the political ambitions of such leaders close to Congress President Rahul Gandhi, as Jitin Prasada, R P N Singh and others like Nirmal Khatri, P L Puniya and Annu Tandon.
All were part of the list of 21 Congress candidates to win from UP in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
However, Congress sources say they are working to a plan. The party's analysis of the recent assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan has convinced it that a pre-poll alliance with the BSP might actually hurt the Congress instead of working to its advantage.
According to Election Commission data, the BSP lost its vote share in its core Dalit voter base for a second successive election in both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
In MP, the BSP's seats have dropped from 7 seats in 2008, to 4 in 2013, and to 2 in 2018. Its vote share has declined from 8.97% in 2008 to 5%.
In Rajasthan, the BSP vote share has increased marginally by 0.63% to 4% from 3.37% in 2013, but is much lower than the 7.6% in 2008.
The Congress has also assessed the BSP hurt the BJP in more seats than the Congress in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the just concluded assembly polls.
According to Congress strategists, the BSP's alliance with Ajit Jogi's Janata Congress Chhattisgarh benefitted the Mayawati-led party more than Jogi's party.
Congress strategists argue that an SP-BSP alliance in UP without the Congress would help better consolidate the Dalit-OBC votes in favour of that alliance, while the Congress will eat into the BJP's upper caste support base, thereby helping the BSP-SP alliance defeat the BJP in a majority of the seats in UP.
The Congress strategy is based on enlightened self-interest, party sources said. They believe a pre-poll alliance with the BSP would upset Congress supporters among upper caste Hindus, sections of the OBCs and an aspirational urban voter base.
This would primarily be since the BSP's improved performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls could make Mayawati a prime ministerial candidate of a Third Front government.
The Congress is apprehensive that the BJP would exploit this sentiment among the Hindu upper castes in the Hindi heartland, including the states the Congress won recently, if the party were to ally with the BSP.
The Congress has attributed its improved performances in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to urban voters, as also OBCs, having shifted to the party. The party has also learnt its lessons after its alliance with the SP in UP in 2017 assembly polls backfired.
The party strategy in Uttar Pradesh, therefore, would be to field Hindu upper-caste candidates in a majority of the seats to eat into the BJP support base.
For the seats where the Congress hopes to win in UP a 'Jangipur model' is being explored with the SP and BSP, to persuade these two parties field weak candidates in seats other than Amethi and Rae Bareli.
The 'Jangipur model' refers to the 2004 Lok Sabha polls on the Jangipur seat in West Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress and Communist Party of India-Marxist fielded weak candidates to help the Congress's Pranab Mukherjee win.
Finally, the Congress believes that in the Hindi heartland outside of UP and Bihar, the Congress and BJP will be the key players and the BSP's vote share, therefore, is bound to go down. The Congress believes it needs to regain its upper case support base if it has to have any hopes of reviving itself in the Hindi heartland.
In 2014, the BJP won 71 of UP's 80 seats, while its ally the Apna Dal won 2 seats. The SP won 5 seats and the Congress won the 2 seats of Amethi and Rae Bareli. The BSP could not win any seats. In the 2017 assembly polls, the BJP repeated its sweep.