The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party enjoys a clear edge in Uttar Pradesh now that Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has said no to an alliance with any other political party for next year’s Assembly elections.

The ruling party’s decision to go solo, announced by Yadav at a press conference in Lucknow on Thursday, means that there will be three claimants for the anti-BJP vote. The Congress, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and the Janata Dal (United)-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance will all be pitching for the minority, Dalit and Other Backward Classes vote. This will predictably lead to a division in the secular vote, which means advantage BJP. Though the BJP is already ahead in the race in Uttar Pradesh, this development will further boost its chances.

After walking out of a grand alliance on election eve in Bihar last year, Yadav surprised everybody when he approached his erstwhile socialist friends earlier this month and suggested that the Janata Parivar come together to fight communal forces (read BJP) in Uttar Pradesh. He also deputed his brother Shivpal Yadav to call on JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Ajit Singh and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular) with personal invitations to his party’s silver jubilee celebrations on November 5. Yadav also called up Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to invite him, but was told he would not be able to make it. The Samajwadi Party chief followed this up with several meetings with his former socialist colleagues even as he met Congress poll strategist Prashant Kishor amidst reports that he was exploring a tie-up with the grand old party.

As it happens, after the outreach, Yadav lived up to his reputation of being unpredictable and undependable. In a repeat of what had happened in Bihar, the Samajwadi Party chief suddenly pulled out. “There will be no alliance for the UP Assembly polls,” he told the media on Thursday, adding, “There may be only a merger.”

Akhilesh Yadav’s opposition

One factor that may have influenced his decision is the resistance put up by his son, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, to any partnership. The younger Yadav is of the view that the Samajwadi Party will be perceived as weak if it agrees to an alliance so close to elections. Moreover, he believes that a poll pact with the JD(U) will not serve any purpose as the party has no presence in Uttar Pradesh. And Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal is not known to be a dependable ally as he is quite capable of pulling out if he manages to strike a deal with the BJP.

But above all, Akhilesh Yadav was opposed to the idea of an alliance as it was being pushed by his bête noire, Samajwadi Party member Amar Singh, and his uncle Shivpal Yadav, with whom he is locked in a fierce battle. The chief minister felt that a poll pact would undermine his position just when he has emerged as a leader in his own right.

Troubled alliance

Janata Dal (United) leaders said they had been wary of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s offer from the very beginning, because of his walkout before the Bihar elections. Moreover, the Samajwadi Party’s outreach to other parties had come at a time when its internal battle was at its peak and its leadership needed to change the political narrative to divert public attention from this crisis. It was also meant to reassure the party’s minority support base that the secular front was united.

Nevertheless, the JD(U) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal responded positively to the Samajwadi Party offer. “We were open to an alliance because we believe Uttar Pradesh is in greater need of such a partnership than Bihar,” said JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi. “Communal polarisation is at its peak here. All elements are present here... love jihad, ghar wapsi and gau rakshaks. The prime minister is an MP from this state, so is the home minister. The RSS is active here. They are all pushing their Hindutva agenda here.”

Despite its reservations about Mulayam Singh Yadav, the party agreed to pursue an alliance in Uttar Pradesh as it would help Nitish Kumar, who is eyeing a bigger national role for himself in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This alliance, according to JD(U) calculations, would have set the stage for an extended partnership with other like-minded parties in the run-up to the next general elections.

However, the alliance being pushed by Mulayam Singh Yadav was always a flawed one. If he wanted to replicate the Mahagatbandhan of Bihar, it was necessary for the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to sink their differences and agree to a tie-up. In fact, Nitish Kumar said as much on November 2. “Any grand alliance in UP can only take place if the SP and the BSP are together,” the Bihar chief minister said, stating that a poll pact without the BSP would not be a grand alliance but “merely an alliance”. In this context, he pointed out, the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar had proved to be a success only because arch rivals JD(U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal had joined hands.

Congress confusion

While the Janata Parivar has failed to stitch up an alliance, the Congress finds itself in a dilemma. Party cadre in Uttar Pradesh are pushing the leadership to consider a poll tie-up as they feel the Congress will be routed if it goes it alone. But there is also a large section in the Congress that believes the party should go solo if it is serious about rebuilding its organisation in the state, where it has been out of power for 27 years.

Congress insiders admit that a partnership with the BSP would prove to be formidable as it would consolidate the Dalit and minority vote, but Mayawati has never favoured a pre-poll alliance. The Samajwadi Party, on the other hand, is deeply divided because of the ongoing power struggle in its first family. Also, since the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh is facing massive anti-incumbency, it does not make sense for the Congress to be burdened with this baggage.