Ever since the Mahagathbandhan, or grand alliance, successfully stared down a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party in the Bihar elections last November, speculation about a possible replication in Uttar Pradesh has been rife. The buzz has grown over the past week, after Congress election strategist >Prashant Kishor’s meeting with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav . Even more recently, at the >SP’s silver jubilee festivities in Lucknow, the air rang with calls for “unity of socialist parties” from assembled fellow-travellers from the Janata Dal days — including Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad; former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, now of the Janata Dal (Secular); Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United); and Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has a significant support base in western U.P. Through all this, Mr. Mulayam Yadav has been enigmatically tight-lipped, as have been Congress leaders. The other two big forces in the State, the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party, have been uninhibited in talking down the threat such a Congress-SP-Lohiaite alliance would pose. This is not surprising as there are big challenges such a grand alliance would face in U.P. as compared to Bihar.
A pattern had taken shape in U.P. over the past many Assembly elections, that of the four main parties in the fray fighting from their corners, with smaller, more fungible parties including the RLD going with the best pre-poll deal they could get. In the four-cornered contest, each political party essentially aimed to maximise its outreach to its traditional vote base, and hoped to strike the best deal in government-formation in the event of a hung Assembly. The previous two elections, in 2007 and 2012, broke this pattern with voters giving one party a clear majority, first the BSP and then the SP. In fact, the Congress and the BJP remained hopeless also-rans in this scenario — in 2012 they won just 28 and 47 seats respectively in the 403-member legislature. In the 2014 general election, the BJP did better than even its most optimistic projections by getting over 42 per cent of the vote compared to 15 per cent in 2012. In Bihar, after the BJP effected a similar sweep in 2014, its two main opponents, the RJD and the JD(U), buried their differences and put up a united secular front, pulling the Congress too in their embrace. In U.P., the BSP and the SP show no signs of striking any working understanding — and in its absence it is unclear how formidable an SP-led alliance can be, especially while the Yadav family feud keeps up the surround sound.