Mayawati on Wednesday called “strike two” on the Congress as she ruled out any alliance with the party in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, two of the four states where elections are due in the year-end. Last month, she had ditched the party in Chhattisgarh. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief, however, left the window open for a tie-up in the 2019 national election, for which the opposition plans to join forces against the BJP.
“We will not fight the elections with the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan at any cost…We will contest on our own,” Mayawati said in a sharp attack that stunned the Congress.
“I don’t know why Mayawati did what she did…We were in discussions with her till day before yesterday,” Kamal Nath, the Congress chief and main negotiator in Madhya Pradesh, told NDTV on Wednesday.
Mayawati’s comments on the Congress’s two top leaders indicated that she hasn’t slammed the door on the party for the national polls just months away, even though other parties like Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party are seen as less-than-keen on yielding too much to the Rahul Gandhi-led party.
“Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi both want that the BSP and Congress party should have a tie-up for the state and Lok Sabha polls. I feel that their intentions for Congress-BSP alliance are honest… but some leaders are sabotaging it,” said the Dalit powerhouse, photographed five months ago holding hands and affectionately knocking foreheads with Sonia Gandhi at the Karnataka oath ceremony.
That event was meant to be a show of strength, a preview of an opposition “maha gatbandhan” or grand alliance of opposition forces ranged against the BJP in 2019.
Mayawati, 62, was widely seen as the x-factor in any opposition grouping after she made a winning combo with Akhilesh Yadav to snatch key BJP seats in the Uttar Pradesh by-polls.
But the math was harder across the negotiating table, as, over the past weeks, it became increasingly clear that the Mayawati-Congress seat-sharing talks were a no-go.
“We did not want the vote against the BJP to be fragmented…There is no possibility of an alliance with the BSP now,” said Kamal Nath.
Mayawati ripped into the Congress, saying it was because of its “laughable” arrogance that it had been out of power for so long in states like Gujarat.
“The Congress is not even willing to form a proper coalition, it doesn’t look ready. The question is whether the Congress even wants to defeat the BJP. It is because of this attitude that we went with others in Karnataka and Chhattisgarh,” said the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
The Congress saw hope in Mayawati’s words for Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. “At times, out of emotions, sweet and bitter things are said. But in the end, if Mayawati ji holds absolute trust in Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, then other creases can be ironed out,” said Congress leader Randeep Surjewala.
Last month, Mayawati announced a tie-up with Congress rebel Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh. The move was mostly read as a warning for the Congress, which had refused to accept the BSP’s demand for 50 of Madhya Pradesh’s 230 seats.
Mayawati even released names of 22 candidates in Madhya Pradesh.
The BSP chief’s attempt to throw Rajasthan into the mix made it untenable for the Congress, which hoped to make a solo comeback in the 200-seat assembly, in which it currently holds 26 seats to the BJP’s 160. Rajasthan has always oscillated between the two main rivals.
To part with seats in Rajasthan was seen by the Congress as a big price. A BSP going it single, however, could damage the Congress in the eastern parts of the state bordering UP.
Congress leaders like Digvijaya Singh suggested Mayawati was under intense pressure from the BJP not to join any opposition alliance because of a CBI investigation against her brother.
Furious at Digvijaya Singh, a former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mayawati called him a “BJP agent” and rubbished his allegation.