The much-vaunted idea of a united Opposition in Uttar Pradesh is going into a tailspin, with top Opposition leaders — including Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Chaudhary — likely to skip the Congress’ Bharat Jodo Yatra when it enters the State next week.
The Congress said it had invited several leaders of non-BJP parties in Uttar Pradesh to take part in the yatra, which will pass through three districts in the State — Ghaziabad, Baghpat and Shamli.
No invite: Akhilesh
“Our party has a different ideology. The BJP and the Congress are the same. If you have an invitation on your phone, please send it to me,” said Mr. Yadav, when asked by reporters about joining the yatra. However, in the same conversation, he added, “Our sentiments are with their yatra”, although he denied receiving any invite. Both the SP and the RLD have maintained that their leaders have their own engagements and are focusing on strengthening their respective parties.
The SP and RLD leaders also say that the Congress is not a player on the State’s electoral chessboard, nor a vote multiplier for any prospective future alliance, while its claims of being a fulcrum in any pan-India Opposition alliance are doubtful. Hence, they are keeping a distance from the yatra, so they are not seen as being in the Congress’ shadows.
In the case of Ms. Mayawati, she has long been critical of the Congress, accusing it of being anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit.
“The yatra is not a political yatra. It is for saving the ethos and tradition of a pluralist and democratic India. We welcome all those who are joining it and also those whose sentiments are with the Bharat Jodo Yatra,” senior All India Congress Committee functionary Surendra Rajput told The Hindu.
Muslim voters at stake
It is also believed that the route of the yatra which passes through the sensitive districts of Shamli and Bhagpat, both of which have sizeable Muslim populations of about 30%, has also caused concern. The other Opposition parties feel that through the yatra, the Congress is somehow trying to make inroads among the minority community which the SP-RLD alliance consider as their core voter base. The BSP is also eyeing the Muslim vote, particularly in western UP. The recent induction of influential Muslim face Imran Masood into the BSP is being seen as a step to reach out to Muslims in the region.
“It is certain that the other Opposition parties are wary of the yatra passing through these districts and think that it if strengthens the grand old party, it will be at the cost of weakening other Opposition groups, hence they are not interested,” said Manindra Nath Thakur, a political scientist teaching at the Centre for Political Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The yatra will enter Uttar Pradesh through Loni in Ghaziabad district on January 3 and head to Mavi Kalan in Baghpat. It will pass through Sisana, Sarurpur and Barot in Baghpat on January 4, after which it will enter Shamli district’s Kandhla, Uncha village and Kairana before crossing over into Haryana.
Divided Opposition weaker
Analysts also feel that in the politically crucial State which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, such skepticism and narrow considerations may harm the Opposition’s prospects to defeat the BJP. Only a united front can pose a challenge to the saffron party in view of results from the past two polls where the gap in vote share between the BJP and its principal challenger was at least of 10%.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s vote share was about 49%, which was 10% more than the SP-BSP alliance. In the 2022 Assembly elections, the difference in the vote share of the main Opposition alliance led by the SP and the ruling party was 10%. In the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections, the BJP won 11% more votes than the SP-Congress alliance.
“Only a united Opposition has the potential to emerge victorious in Uttar Pradesh against a robust social and caste combination of the BJP,” added Mr. Thakur.