Why Didn’t Akhilesh and Mayawati Openly Support the Bharat Bandh?

The Congress’ Bharat bandh was unsuccessful in the sense that it exposed the weak links in the Opposition alliance.

5 min read
SP and BSP chiefs Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati.

Why did Mayawati not support the Opposition in the Bharat bandh called against increased petrol and diesel prices? Why did Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party not come out openly in its support? The attitudes of both these parties are confusing – are they with the larger Opposition, or not? Are they afraid of something, or is this just part of negotiation game?

The Bharat bandh called by the Congress was supported by 21 groups. It can be said that this bandh indicates the strengthening of the anti-BJP coalition, and also the Congress getting back into action. But the attitude of the two main parties in Uttar Pradesh – the same state which saw the birth of this new alliance – seems iffy.

While the Samajwadi Party observed the bandh only for formality’s sake, the BSP didn’t take part in it at all. A day after the bandh, Mayawati came out and said she did not support it. So the question arises: why are the SP and the BSP showing reluctance?

An Attempt to Bargain Within the Coalition, or Fear of BJP?

Although Congress had called for the bandh, it was seen as the anti-BJP mahagathbandhan’s (grand alliance) show of strength. It was meant to demonstrate the mahagathbandhan’s power and unity among the disparate parties. It was successful in doing that – as many as 21 groups supported the bandh, and all of them are being considered part of the coalition against the BJP.

Opposition leaders in Delhi during Bharat Bandh. 
Opposition leaders in Delhi during Bharat Bandh. 
(Photo: PTI)
But the SP-BSP not openly coming out in support of the bandh revealed the weak link in the alliance. In a state with 80 Lok Sabha seats, facing the BJP will be difficult if these parties don’t come together. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the SP and the Congress could only get seven seats, while the BSP couldn’t even open its account.

The BJP even wiped them out in the 2017 Assembly elections. But just a few months after these elections, the SP-BSP alliance managed to snatch Gorakhpur and Phulpur from BJP in the Lok Sabha by-elections. This win gave much-needed hope to both parties, which are fighting to keep themselves relevant.

Lok Sabha - 2014

  • SP - 5
  • Congress - 2
  • BSP - 0

Assembly - 2017

  • SP - 47
  • Congress - 7
  • BSP -19

This coalition formula was successful in Uttar Pradesh’s Kairana Lok Sabha seat as well. In Karnataka too, Congress formed government in alliance with the JD(S). All these developments have raised hopes that the BJP can be defeated if the Opposition organises itself well.

But remember, this is politics, where two plus two doesn’t usually equal four. That is why the coalition’s victory in 2019 will largely depend on it performance in UP, where Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav are big players.

The BJP will be faced with tough competition in UP if these two come together. But in order to stop the division of votes, the Congress too has to get on board. All three of them understand this, and talks about seat-sharing are on privately. Perhaps that’s the reason all three of them want to shore up their bargaining power.

Now, in order to understand this game, let us first talk about Akhilesh Yadav.

What if Rahul Takes the Credit?

Why Didn’t Akhilesh and Mayawati Openly Support the Bharat Bandh?
(Photo: PTI)

During the Bharat bandh, the Samajwadi Party staged demonstrations against corruption, anti-farmer policies, and various other issues in several districts. By doing so, they seemed to be associated with the bandh, even while not being completely involved. But there is no doubt that if the SP had openly joined the bandh, UP would have dominated the headlines, especially because SP workers are usually more aggressive when they take out bandhs.

But on 10 September, contrary to its nature, the SP exercised restraint. Clearly, the Congress would have gotten all the credit for the bandh’s success as they were the ones who called for it in the first place. If that had happened, it would have given the Congress, which is barely visible in the state, a major boost. This would not augur well for the SP-BSP – both of them know that the stronger the Congress gets, the more it will aspire to a higher number of seats.

Why Has Mayawati Gone Against the Congress?

The BSP was totally absent from the bandh. To be fair, the BSP seldom takes issues to the streets. The last time BSP demonstrated on the streets was around two years back to protest BJP’s Dayashankar Singh, who had made derogatory comments about Mayawati.

So it wasn’t surprising that the BSP did not join the protests. What was surprising though was that Mayawati openly opposed the bandh on its second day, 11 September. This does not bode well for the alliance’s future. The question is: Why did Mayawati do this?

The Reason for Mayawati’s Anger

  • Congress’ dilly-dallying attitude to the coalition: Before the general elections, assembly elections are to be held in three major states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. While there are talks of a coalition going on between the two parties in these states, the Congress’ attitude is not believed to be up to the BSP’s expectations.
  • UP’s political landscape: The BSP and the SP enjoy equal status in UP. Meanwhile, the Congress is close to non-existent. If the Congress manages to increase its strength with the support of the BSP and the SP, then its bargaining power will increase. Mayawati doesn’t want that happen.
  • The fear of CBI: The BJP is also well aware of the fact that if they want to come back to power in 2019, then Mayawati needs to be kept away from the opposition coalition. That is probably why her old files have been opened.
When Mayawati was the chief minister, a scam worth Rs 1,179 crore came to light which involved the sale of 21 sugar mills in 2010-11. On 12 April this year, the Yogi government handed over the case to the CBI for investigation. An FIR against Mayawati could be filed anytime now.

All in all, it can be said that the Congress’ bandh was both successful as well as unsuccessful – unsuccessful because it has exposed the weak links in the alliance forming against the BJP.

(This story was originally published on Quint Hindi. It has been translated by Mariam Shaheen and Kabir Upmanyu.)

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