The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strong, common enemies engender powerful and unlikely alliances. One plank of the new-found friendship between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party is the presence of the Samajwadi Party. The latter’s interests and aspirations are seen as running contrary to those represented by the BJP and the BSP. Representing the other backward classes, strident and upwardly mobile in Uttar Pradesh, as well as the Muslims, the Samajwadi Party is perceived as being hostile to the BSP, representing the Dalits, and the upper castes, represented by the BJP. This is what brings a party of the Dalits and a party of the upper castes — not natural bedfellows — together on a honeymoon in UP. The public manifestation of this love affair was the joint rally by the two parties in Lucknow. This public display tried to paper over the previous breakdowns between the two parties, and the presence of Mr L.K. Advani on the dais seemed to suggest that this time round, the two parties are playing for higher stakes. Ms Mayavati, the chief minister of UP, has more or less swept under the carpet the case against Mr Advani regarding the Babri Masjid. Mr Advani returned the compliment by being present at the rally which from all accounts was completely orchestrated by Ms Mayavati, and the BJP played second fiddle to the BSP.

The alliance, tinged with opportunism, is not without significance. It says more about the position of the BJP in UP than about the BSP. The BJP is obviously not in a position of strength in UP. If it were, there would have been no need to accept a subordinate position under the BSP. The alliance underlines the importance of the BSP in the fractured polity of UP, where politics is divided along caste lines, and caste dominates all political calculations. This explains the importance of the Dalits who are the natural numerical majority. Control over the Dalit vote-bank determines success in the elections. It is a matter of simple arithmetic. The BJP cannot ignore this and hence its eagerness to be the BSP’s tail. An alliance with the BSP has other dividends for the BJP at the level of national politics. The gimcrack coalition called the National Democratic Alliance which the BJP leads is no longer as stable as it had once appeared to be. The support of the BSP members of the Lok Sabha is now crucial for the survival of the NDA government if and when it faces a vote of confidence. The marriage between the BJP and the BSP has opportunism as the witness, and the lure of power as the sanctioning authority. It is by no means a marriage made in heaven.

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