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The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has never had a pre-poll alliance with another political party ever since Mayawati succeeded Kanshi Ram as the party chief in 2003. That is set to change during the Karnataka assembly polls in April-May, and could be a precursor to the BSP willing to have an alliance with other parties in Uttar Pradesh for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
On Thursday, Janata Dal (Secular) and BSP announced a pre-poll alliance of the two parties for the Karnataka assembly polls. Karnataka assembly has 224-seats. The polls are scheduled for April-May.
The agreement was jointly announced by BSP national general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra and JD (S) national general secretary Kunwar Danish Ali. According to the agreement, BSP will contest 20-seats and the JD (S) rest 204-seats.
Mayawati will attend a public rally with JD (S) chief and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda in Bengaluru on February 17 to officially begin the election campaign of the alliance, Ali said. Mishra said the alliance would continue in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as well. Mishra said the alliance was only for Karnataka, and not for UP. On whether this alliance could pave the way for BSP entering into alliances in other parts of the country, including UP, Mishra said: "You would come to know if it happens."
Ali said Mayawati and Deve Gowda had met in New Delhi on February 1 to finalise the agreement. Neither the BSP nor JD (S) had attended the meeting of the opposition parties that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had convened in New Delhi that day. While Mishra hinted that the news of the alliance would influence UP politics as well, Ali indicated that the Dalits upset with the Congress would now have an option other than the BJP.
In the 2017 UP assembly polls, Mayawati-led BSP had performed poorly, winning a mere 19-seats. While it maintained its core vote share, the BSP had failed to find support from other caste groups. The BSP’s willingness to have a pre-poll alliance has much to do with its dipping fortunes in UP.
The BSP and Samajwadi Party had an electoral alliance for the 1993 assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. The two parties had formed a coalition government, but it had ended with the infamous ‘guest house’ incident in 1995. In 1996, BSP and Congress had an alliance for that year’s UP assembly polls. The BSP could win only 67 of the 296-seats it contested, while the Congress won 33 of the 126-seats it contested. The then UP assembly had 425-seats. The BSP leadership had then concluded that it could successfully transfer its votes to Congress candidates, but the Congress couldn’t return the favour.
In Karnataka, the Dalits comprise 18 per cent of the electorate and are the most influential caste group, followed by the Lingayats and Vokkaligas. However, the Dalits are not a homogenous community, and consist of 101 castes, broadly categorized in five groups – touchables, or ‘right hand’ to signify they are touchables, untouchables, or Madigas and called ‘left hand’, Bovis, Lambanis and 97 other smaller groups.
The JD (S) is a party whose primary support base comprises the predominantly peasant Vokkaliga community. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is led by Lingayat leader BS Yeddyurappa, gets the support of that community and the upper castes. The Congress finds the support from ‘Ahinda’, which is a Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits.
In its heydays, the Janata Dal had reached out to the ‘left hand’ Dalits, realizing that the ‘right hand’ Dalits supported the Congress. After the Janata Dal disintegrated and JD (S) increasingly came to represent only the Vokkaligas, the ‘left hand’ Dalits went over to the BJP. The old Janata Dal could also count on the support of the backward Kuruba community, but its Kuruba leader Siddaramaiah left for the Congress and is currently the chief minister of the Congress government.
The Congress has a strong Dalit leadership in its state unit chief G Parameshwara and Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge. However, the JD (S) believes the Dalits are upset with that party as Siddaramaiah has worked to reduce the influence of Parameshwara and Kharge. It also hopes that an alliance with BSP could help it recover the Dalit support base of the erstwhile Janata Dal.
The JD (S) and BJP each won 40-seats in 2013 assembly polls. The Congress formed the government with 124-seats. The JD (S) had 20.19 per cent vote share, the BJP 19.89 per cent and the Congress 36.59 per cent. Currently, the BJP has mounted a tough challenge on the back of its Hindutva plank to the Congress.
However, JD (S) claims it lost 20-seats by a margin of less than 5,000 votes in 2013. It hopes an alliance with the BSP would bridge this gap and help it become the kingmaker if there is a hung assembly.
In the recently concluded Gujarat elections, the Congress had lost at least eight seats to the BJP with vote margins less than what the Nationalist Congress Party and BSP candidates had received.
It remains to be seen if the JD(S)-BSP alliance in Karnataka might end up hurting the Congress more than the BJP.