The shock value of the Bahujan Samaj Party's open embrace of the Congress in the Lok Sabha notwithstanding, the indication so far is that it is a standalone rescue act rather than any kind of long-term rapprochement between the two bitter rivals.
The turf war between the BSP and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh has gone too far for either side to retreat now. Earlier this month, Ambedkar Jayanti became the backdrop for yet another re-enactment of the long-running Mayawati-Rahul Gandhi public feud.
The face-off was typically packed with drama, with the U.P. government refusing Mr. Gandhi permission to garland Ambedkar's statue in Ambedkar Nagar (a district created by Ms. Mayawati in Bhim Rao Ambedkar's memory), and Mr. Gandhi pointedly garlanding Dr. Ambedkar's photograph in the Central Hall of Parliament before departing for Ambedkar Nagar.
In the district, the Congress and the BSP addressed rival rallies where each poured scorn on the other. Mr. Gandhi, who used the occasion to flag off 10 simultaneous Congress yatras, teased and taunted the BSP, which, he said, was running scared of the Congress. BSP leaders addressing the parallel rally retaliated by calling Mr. Gandhi's programme a “flop show.”
The BSP has since seized upon reports that the Congress yatras have fallen short of the anticipated response. This has left the Congress in a quandary. Either it presses Mr. Gandhi vigorously into the campaign, or it backs off in the interest of keeping “new friend” BSP in good humour.
The second option will mean the Congress loses face on a prestigious campaign. It will also push the party back in a State that it has coveted since the '80s, when it last ruled U.P, and which finally seems within its grasp. On the other hand, once Mr. Gandhi takes charge, the two sides can only get more combative — more so given the bristling chemistry between Ms. Mayawati and the Congress general secretary.
The nature of the BSP-Congress fight is such that there cannot be a longish cooling-off period between them. As long as the Congress was a minor player in U.P., the BSP could afford periodically to dally with it.
For its part, the Congress played on-again, off-again by turn with the BSP and the Samajwadi Party. When the SP was in government, the Congress officially supported it, yet cosied up to the BSP from time to time. The equations changed once Ms. Mayawati trounced Mulayam Singh in the 2007 Assembly election. The Mayawati-Rahul Gandhi war was now official.
To the delight of the Congress, the BSP finished third behind the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In the days since, the SP's graph has visibly declined, with the fight now seeming to have narrowed between the BSP and the Congress. So whatever the real story behind the BSP's sudden change of heart towards the Congress, it is a fair bet that there will be no ceasefire in battleground U.P.