Daggers Drawn Between SP and Congress over Madhya Pradesh Seat Share

Akhilesh Yadav

The evening skies had darkened over Lucknow as a visibly irritated Akhilesh Yadav strode into the press conference. 

His red cap flashed like a warning signal as soundbites mics were pushed his way by the assembled journalists. “What did the Congress leaders do in Madhya Pradesh?”, they asked eagerly. 

Akhilesh launched into a stinging rebuke of Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh’s backtracking on promises. “They just wasted our time in deceptive talks,” he remarked bitterly.

 Kamal Nath’s comments distorting and dismissing Akhilesh Yadav’s name as “Akhilesh Wakhilesh” are a hugely disrespectful insult that risks escalating tensions further between the Congress and SP. 

Referring to a former CM of a electorally battleground state like Uttar Pradesh and national leader by distorting his name is patronising and contemptuous behaviour. 

 It betrays the arrogance and sense of inflated self-importance that Congress leaders often display towards allies.

After betraying SP’s trust in MP, such taunts will only infuriate Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh and completely damage any chances of rapprochement. 

Needless to say, such sorry spectacle makes the Congress look haughty, authoritarian and unwilling to treat others with basic dignity – driving more parties away.

Contrast this with the BJP’s strategy of forging inclusive alliances respecting even the smallest players.

Kamal Nath has played right into Akhilesh’s hands by validating the growing view that Congress cannot be relied on or trusted.

Unless publicly apologized, this seriously jeopardizes any future coordination between the two key opponents of the BJP, and casts a dark cloud on the prospect of the much fancied INDIA alliance.

It seems Congress continues shooting itself in the foot through loose talk and insults towards regional satraps.

When asked about UP Congress chief Ajay Rai’s derogatory remarks, Akhilesh dismissively called Ajay Rai a “chirkut”, sending reporters into peals of laughter.

But his underlying message was serious – the Grand Old Party was no different from BJP in betraying allies. The secular bloc was unraveling fast.

“Chirkut” is a popular Hindi slang in North India’s cow belt, which is used for someone who is “stupid.” 

As cameramen jostled for a better shot, scowls deepened on Akhilesh’s face recapping the late night negotiation fiasco. 

Behind him, SP workers chanted angry slogans. The mood had turned acrimonious, denting chances of opposition unity in the crucial state of UP where 80 Lok Sabha seats are at stake.

With Lok Sabha polls looming, it seemed secular forces were snatching defeat from the jaws of victory through lack of coordination and trust.

Akhilesh abruptly ended the conference, his frustration summed up in the ominous red canopy leaving in a whirl of dust amid flashing lights. 

While SP’s electoral strength in MP is negligible compared to Congress, Akhilesh is eyeing to expand outside UP in the long run. 

By initially supporting Congress in 2018, SP signalled willingness to align against BJP at the regional level beyond just general elections. 

However, Congress reneging on promises has dented SP’s faith in their reliability as a consistent anti-BJP ally outside their strongholds.  

Announcing candidates in over two dozen seats shows Akhilesh hopes to build a footprint in MP, even if prospects seem modest this time.  

It’s a calculated move to gain greater bargaining power with Congress and avoid being taken for granted as a bystander.

With opposition unity already fractured in several states, individual parties like SP may choose to hedge bets and go solo in some contests.

Meanwhile, in an interesting turn of events, Keshav Prasad Maurya, UP deputy chief minister has tweeted in support of Akhilesh against Kamal Nath’s insulting remarks and raised the political temperature. Maurya’s tweet shows the BJP is keen to exploit rising tensions between the SP and Congress for their political gain.The Congress keeps giving ammunition to the BJP for poaching allies and undermining opposition unity.

 Perhaps the Congress has started feeling overconfident  in its ability to consolidate the anti-incumbency vote in Madhya Pradesh.

The outcome of these assembly polls will influence the prospect of opposition unity in 2024 significantly. Trust-deficit needs urgent resolution.

Congress has often taken smaller allies for granted due to its arrogance of being the “big brother” party. In contrast, BJP has exhibited shrewd political understanding by respecting even the smallest regional and caste parties by giving them due representation and respect. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been aligning with diverse local leaders who boost its social coalition and appeal beyond urban elite. Moreover,  the BJP has been accommodating varied social-political interests in a democratic, inclusive spirit instead of acting high-handedly. They have let allied parties feel empowered stakeholders in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), not just subordinate lackeys.

In fact, Modi and Shivraj Chauhan have been using social engineering more adroitly to penetrate new geographies and vote banks through alliances down to grassroots.

Unfortunately, Congress still behaves with a domineering mindset whereas BJP spreads the message that no group is too insignificant if it can expand support. No wonder more parties feel motivated to align with BJP for a greater say at state and centre.

Unless Congress cultivates humble, people-centric leadership respecting all social segments equally, it won’t attain a pan-India alliance or support base like the meticulously crafted NDA model. Arrogance remains its biggest failure.

On the other hand, Akhilesh is also miffed with Rahul Gandhi’s OBC outreach. 

By embracing the socialist Lohiaite and Ambedkarite agenda of raising critical issues like caste census, Rahul Gandhi seems to be attempting to cut into the core constituencies of regional parties like SP and RJD. Rahul’s OBC and Muslim outreach poses a direct challenge to SP and RJD who have dominated these vote banks in UP and Bihar. By prioritising issues of social justice historically championed by regional parties, Congress aims to displace them as the prime flag-bearers.

Akhilesh can see through this strategy to undermine SP’s support base. He knows these issues are crucial for mobilizing backward communities. Rahul signalled Congress wants to occupy the political space vacated by ideological drift of regional players to opportunistic politics. 

This forces regional satraps like Akhilesh to seriously shore up their socialist credentials and prevent a Congress surge.Inter-party tensions may rise as electoral interests clash. Coordinating an opposition block becomes that much harder.

 Clearly, it’s a high-stakes political game that Rahul is playing to expand Congress nationally at others’ expense. Regional powers can’t afford complacency now. The double whammy of Congress trying to woo both Yadavs and Muslims poses a serious threat to Samajwadi Party’s social base in UP: Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee is reaching out to Yadavas in every district and offering them respectful roles in the organization.Yadavs have traditionally been the core supporters of SP under socialist patriarch and late Mulayam SinghYadav and a huge chunk has sided with Akhilesh too. Congress targeting them aims to disrupt this community’s solidarity with SP.

Muslims, feeling disenchanted with SP’s performance, seem open to Congress’s aggressive outreach amid fears of BJP’s Hindutva agenda. With both communities constituting a significant population in UP (10 percent of Yadavas and 15 percent of Muslims) their shift away from SP towards Congress would be hugely damaging.

Akhilesh can see the writing on the wall and realises he must up his game tremendously on issues of social justice and minority rights. As a consequence, Akhilesh has tossed the slogan of “Pichhda, Dalit & Alpsankhyak (PDA)” to send a clear message to Samajwadi Party’s core constituencies. Merely riding on past glory or dynasty won’t suffice. Concrete actions are needed to reconnect with SP’s traditional vote banks. “PDA harayega NDA Ko” is a constant refrain of Akhilesh’s public speech nowadays. Else, the once formidable SP could lose its primacy in UP politics to a resurgent Congress under Rahul-Priyanka’s new campaign.

Clearly, some serious strategizing and course correction is the need of the hour for Akhilesh to stave off the Congress offensive in UP.

Frank Huzur is an author and journalist.

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