The Bharatiya Janata Party may describe it an “unholy alliance”, but the political pact sealed by the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party in Lucknow on Saturday has put a big roadblock before the saffron party in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Saturday’s events make it clear that both Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati have paid attention to the details. The chemistry between their parties appears to be perfect, which is key to a lasting alliance.

To begin with, Lohia Path, the road leading to the Taj Hotel in Lucknow where Mayawati and Yadav announced their alliance, was lined with hoardings of both parties. Every hoarding of the Samajwadi Party was followed by one of the Bahujan Samaj Party. This is a minor but significant detail. Supporters of both parties lined the road till the hotel. They shouted slogans that included the names of both parties and leaders. The banners lining the route had photographs of both BR Ambedkar and Ram Manohar Lohia, leaders of both parties.

The chemistry between Mayawati and Yadav was evident even during the announcement. Mayawati welcomed Yadav with a bouquet wrapped in blue (her party’s colour) while Yadav reciprocated with a bouquet wrapped in red (his party’s colour). The flowers in both bouquets were yellow. The backdrop continued this focus on equality between both leaders and parties. It displayed each party’s flag, election symbol, photos of both leaders, and party colours in equal proportion.

All this may appear immaterial to a distant observer, but for the political workers of the Hindi belt, these are important issues. In any alliance, no party worker wants to be taunted that their party or leader is playing second fiddle.

Both parties are also contesting an equal number of seats – 38 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha constituencies – though Yadav had earlier hinted that he may settle for less.

At the press conference, Mayawati addressed two issues that their oppponents are expected to raise – the state guest house incident of 1995 and the formation of a separate political party by Akhilesh Yadav’s uncle Shivpal Yadav. The guest house incident refers to events that took place in Lucknow a day after Mayawati pulled out of the state’s coalition government led by Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1995. That day, Mayawati was forced to spend hours confined in a VIP guest house fearing for her life, as irate Samajwadi Party workers gathered menacingly outside. After this episode, Mayawati formed the state government with the help of the BJP. She later described the incident as the “most humiliating experience” of her life.

Mayawati stated that the alliance was made keeping in mind public aspirations. She added that the BJP had wasted its money on Shivpal Yadav, implying that the saffron party was behind his move to float a separate party. Akhilesh Yadav reciprocated saying, “Mayawatiji ka apmaan, mera apmaan hain.” Any insult to Mayawati is an insult to me.

Both leaders read out written statements. Though Mayawati already adopts this practice, the fact that Akhilesh Yadav did so too this time indicates that both the leaders must have shared their statements with each other.

The 1993 alliance

The last time both parties had joined hands was about 25 years ago, when Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kanshi Ram brought them together. Though the alliance won 176 seats, the BJP, riding the wave of the Ram temple movement, bagged 177. But the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance managed to form the government with the help of 28 seats of the Congress and 27 of the Janata Dal. At that time, the state had a total of 425 Assembly seats (now 403).

The alliance, however, lasted only two years, culminating in the guest house incident.

It will be foolish to draw parallels between the 2019 alliance and the 1993 alliance between the two parties. For one, the last alliance was for Assembly elections, this is for parliamentary polls.

What is clear, however, is that by coming together, both Mayawati and Yadav can only win. The Bahujan Samaj Party did not win a single seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and though Samajwadi Party won five seats, they were all bagged by members of the Yadav family. Any victories by either party in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections will therefore only be an improvement.

The BJP, however, has everything to lose. It bagged 71 seats in the state – its highest ever – and had two more from its alliance partner, the Apna Dal.

Mayawati and Yadav tested the waters in March, when the Bahujan Samaj Party supported the Samajwadi Party in the bye-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. The Samajwadi Party wrested these two prestigious seats from the BJP, indicating that voters and workers of these two parties could work together to defeat the BJP. Both parties also supported each other in the Rajya Sabha elections that month.

Though some alliances are made because of compulsion, this time there has been warmth in relations between Yadav and Mayawati. For instance, after winning the bye-polls, Yadav visited Mayawati at her home – the first time a Samajwadi Party leader had done so in 25 years. Similarly, when the CBI conducted raids last week in connection with an illegal sand mining case during Yadav’s tenure as Uttar Pradesh chief minister from 2012-2017, Mayawati called him up and pledged her support.

Elation on the ground

But no alliance is effective solely because of the leaders involved. It is workers on the ground who help make these pacts work.

On Saturday, it was evident that workers of both parties also want this alliance to succeed. Outside the Taj hotel, party workers exchanged flags and shouted slogans of unity – Awaaz Dou, Ham Ek Hain [Go tell everyone, we are one]; and Baspa Sapa aayi, Nayi Kranti Layi [BSP, SP are coming, bringing in a new revolution].

The message swiftly percolated to other parts of the state. Within an hour, flags of both parties came up in most districts. Vehicles flaunting flags of both parties could also be seen. Social media was abuzz with Mayawati’s and Yadav’s supporters speaking positively about the alliance. No such reaction has been so visible on the ground in the past.

“Not only hearts but it is an alliance of ideology of OBC [Other Backward Classes], Dalits and minorities,” said Sunil Singh Sajan, Samajwadi Party MLC.