Teaching one another a lesson is all very well, and it is certainly part of the political game. But cutting off one’s nose to spite the face is hardly a reasonable target of such games. This is exactly what the Congress and the Samajwadi Party seem to have done in Uttar Pradesh by allowing the Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party combine to bag the legislative council seat that was up for a byelection recently. To go by their professions, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have a common electoral aim, to defeat the BSP-BJP combine in UP. The ideological gloss on this is anti-communalism, but this umbrella is not always wide enough, because the BSP’s “communalism” has more to do with its alliance with the BJP than anything else. So, for the Congress and the Samajwadi Party, it is more a matter of widening their backward classes, minorities and disaffected higher castes vote banks. Apparently, a common aim need not be a shared one. Ms Sonia Gandhi and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav can manage at best to be distantly polite to each other, socially and politically, and both their parties are vying for a major role in UP. Strength lies in perceptions, therefore it is all-important to prove that one can do without the other. So, when the Samajwadi Party fielded its candidate for the byelection without consulting the Congress, the Congress abstained from voting. It was raring to prove that the Samajwadi Party’s boast about it being sufficient unto itself to beat the BSP-BJP combine was false. Hence the Congress let the BSP-BJP win, just to show the world that the Samajwadi Party could not do without it. To keep the books clean, the Congress has also said it would vote against the confidence motion should Ms Mayavati’s government be put through that.
Perhaps the Congress will be able to make its point and also help in overturning the Mayavati-led government. Or maybe equations will change and dissidence among the UP BJP smoothed over. All this is in the realm of speculation. The point at issue is whether this game of one-upmanship by two parties professedly on the same side is not defeating its own purpose. The legislative council byelection was being seen as a test of Ms Mayavati’s hold on the government: had the BSP-BJP combine lost, the opposition could have seized a chance while the going was good. It is now possible that the Samajwadi Party will be undermining the Congress’s chances in Gujarat by suggesting that it helped the BJP in UP. The so-called communalists are unlikely to be intimidated by such a divided opposition.