The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP), two political adversaries in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of members – 80 – to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, announced on Saturday that they have joined forces to weaken the dominant Bharatiya Janata Party’s chances of returning in the 17th parliamentary term.

In the last elections, held in 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) improved its tally in the state to 71 constituencies from 10 in the previous Lok Sabha elections held in 2009. While the SP was reduced to five constituencies in 2014 from 23 previously, the BSP could not open its account despite being the incumbent party across 20 constituencies.

But in terms of vote share, the BSP (20% in 2014) and SP (22.2% in 2014) command a potential threat to the BJP (42.3% in 2014).

With the BJP gaining control of the state as well two years after the Lok Sabha polls, the rivals have realized that their political relevance depends on uniting at the hour to defeat their common competitor, which aims to wipe them out in the state.

‘Alliance of frustration’

Addressing journalists in Lucknow, the state capital, BSP chief Mayawati said the two coalition partners will contest 38 seats each while two seats have been left for other probable coalition partners. Reports have suggested that the third partner in the coalition could be Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), but the two leaders shied from naming any third probable partner. Mayawati added that the SP-BSP coalition will leave Amethi and Raebareli – two Congress bastion constituencies – in order to let the Grand Old Party enjoy its edge on these seats.

Terming the presser a “historic event” Mayawati said it “will give sleepless nights to [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi and [BJP President] Amit Shah.”

“I have cast aside the guest house episode of 1995 to form this alliance in the benefit of the nation,” she said, recalling the bitter feud between the SP and BSP that resulted in Mayawati withdrawing support from the then Mulayam Singh government. She was attacked and abused by SP legislators and workers at a state guest house in Lucknow on June 2, 1995, and was reportedly escorted to safety by BJP legislator Brahmdutt Dwivedi, who used to contest the Farrukhabad assembly seat. A week after that incident, Mayawati offered her support to the BJP and became the first female Dalit chief minister of an Indian state.

However, 23 years down the line, political compulsions have brought the two nemeses together against the saffron front that is increasingly pushing the Hindutva agenda, not just in Uttar Pradesh but across the country.

Calling the coalition an alliance of frustration after facing a big defeat in the last election, Uttar Pradesh BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said, “They both are corrupt. They have many cases of corruption against them and this is nothing but a result of their frustration. The Yadav family could manage to win only five seats [last year] when their family was united, but now Shivpal is not with them,” said Tripathi, adding, “So, you can easily think what results are going to come.”

Mayawati said, “People of the country are unhappy with the BJP because of their fake promises and their arrogance.” Highlighting the demographic target of the coalition, Mayawati added, “This is not an alliance of two parties, but the voice of Dalits, downtrodden, Muslims and backward people.

“This is not an alliance of two parties, but the voice of Dalits, downtrodden, Muslims and backward people” – Mayawati

“We have fought some Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha [State Assembly] elections together and defeated the BJP. Congress contestants were defeated badly in those elections,” she said, recalling the coalition’s success in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections, and went on to criticize the Congress for not having worked towards the welfare of the poor and marginalized despite ruling the country and the state for decades.

“The BJP and Congress have the same modus operandi and there have been scams in defense deals in both their tenures. Congress was thrown out of power over the Bofors deal and now we think the BJP will go out over the Rafale deal,” said the BSP supremo.

Adding that the present political scenario is more dangerous than the Emergency, Mayawati said that the BJP, with the intention of breaking this alliance, had Akhilesh probed by the CBI in an illegal mining case, but the BSP is with the SP, and now the bond between two parties is stronger. “Even the money spent on Shivpal [Singh Yadav] by the BJP went to waste,” she added, referring to Akhilesh Yadav’s uncle and SP leader who had led a separate faction of SP leaders challenging the nephew’s leadership within the party.

Akhilesh cautions cadre

Joining the charge against BJP rule, Akhilesh said, “The atrocities and harassment faced by women, the poor, laborers and even kids during the five-year regime of the BJP is unimaginable. People are asked about their caste before hospitals treat them or police lodge a FIR [police report]. The BJP has started dividing society on communal lines and they have not even spared the gods.”

Adding that the BJP is working only to keep big businessmen happy, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, added, “The SP and BSP have decided to oust the BJP from power and our alliance is not limited to the ensuing election alone.”

Emphasizing that the two rival parties should be considered one force in the state, Akhilesh appealed to his cadres to take Mayawati’s insult as his insult. “I had made my mind to go ahead with this coalition the day BJP leaders made lewd remarks against Mayawati,” he told journalists.

“As we head to the elections, the BJP can try to resort to riots and violence, but we have to maintain peace and harmony among the people and protect social justice in the state,” the SP president cautioned workers of both parties.

The SP-BSP alliance could unite three powerful social groups – the Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims – on one side. Many doubted that the SP votes would be transferred to the BSP and vice versa. However, the Phulpur and Gorakhpur wins show that Dalit votes indeed went to the SP; anecdotal evidence suggests that the Yadavs may be willing to shed their old bitterness and disdain and vote for the BSP.

Saurabh Sharma is a freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.