Post-poll alliances between parties, shaped as they are by intractable realities, are easier to form than pre-poll alliances that have to reconcile competing expectations of the prospective partners. Soon after the results of the Assembly elections were out, the Bahujan Samaj Party, which had played hard-to-get with the Congress in pre-election alliance talks, announced its support to the party in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Congress is just short of a majority in these two States, and the BSP’s support was more than welcome. But the Congress leadership may now well pause to consider the huge number of seats that would have been reaped if a pre-poll tie-up with the BSP had materialised, especially in M.P. With 5% of the total vote, the BSP won only two seats; but a pre-poll alliance would have delivered a total of 143 seats for the two parties in the 230-member House. In the first-past-the-post electoral system, a seat-sharing arrangement, though difficult to realise, holds more benefits than a post-poll understanding. Both the Congress and the BSP may therefore be tempted to think ahead on seat adjustments for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to beat back the BJP’s challenge. For the BSP, the stakes are higher in Uttar Pradesh than in the rest of the Hindi belt. The BSP’s reasoning would be that in M.P., Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the Congress needs it more than it needs the Congress. It is for the senior partner with higher stakes to be more accommodative to a junior partner that has nothing to lose and little to gain.
In Chhattisgarh, where a huge swing away from the BJP enabled the Congress to win a two-thirds majority, an alliance may seem unnecessary. But the third front of the BSP and Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh got more than 11% of the vote. Given this, the Congress may have to forestall any attempt by Mr. Jogi to link hands with the BJP. In the Lok Sabha election, it will be critical for the Congress to maximise the yield from M.P. and Rajasthan, both big States, in order to squeeze the BJP at the national level; it may not be enough to just nose ahead as it did in the Assembly elections. If it has learnt from its experience in the Gujarat election last year, the Congress may be persuaded to be more accommodative to prospective partners in the other States where it is in direct contest with the BJP. Every victory not only adds to its own tally, but also denies the BJP. The Congress lost Gujarat despite its alliances, and it won Chhattisgarh, M.P. and Rajasthan without any major allies. But the lesson is that it will have to repeat Gujarat, where it adopted a good strategy, and not Chhattisgarh, where it deployed indifferent tactics.