BSP, SP drive hard bargain with Congress for Lok Sabha seats

New Delhi: The two regional political giants of Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), have struck a tough bargain in seat-sharing negotiations with the Congress for the 2019 general elections, telling the party that any such arrangement must be at the national rather than state level.

Senior leaders of SP and BSP want the Congress to part with some seats in the upcoming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh if it wants to have an alliance with them in 2019.

BSP chief Mayawati insists that her party should get some seats in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, while the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP is keen to expand its political and social base in Madhya Pradesh, especially in the areas neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, said a senior SP leader.

“Talks on seat-sharing for the 2019 general elections would only happen after the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. There will be no talks before the state polls. The Congress has to show some magnanimity and share seats in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. We want to form an alliance with all like-minded political parties for 2019 Lok Sabha elections to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” said the Lucknow-based leader mentioned above.

The demands of the two regional parties are significant as they are testing the ability of the Congress to perform against the ruling BJP governments in the three states. SP leaders are of the view that the performance of the Congress in these states would be an important factor in deciding the number of seats the party would get in Uttar Pradesh.

“The two parties, the Congress and the BJP, are contesting against each other in all the three states. So it would be an interesting political battle and the performance of the Congress would determine how significant a role it can play in bringing together political parties against the BJP. The elections are crucial for the Congress in the state and at the national level,” said the SP leader.

The Madhya Pradesh state president of the Congress, Kamal Nath, has decided to hold discussions with BSP in the coming days on seat-sharing, realising that the SP and BSP are playing hardball. A similar discussion was also held between the BSP and Congress in August, though there has been no decision on seat-sharing so far.

Senior Congress leaders said that the uncertainty and lack of unanimity in its ranks over an alliance in the upcoming state polls had led to a delay in seat-sharing talks. While the party feels that it is strong on its own in the three upcoming polls, it is weighing the proposals of the two regional giants in Uttar Pradesh.

“These are three different states and we have contested them on our own in the past. To have a uniform alliance view for all the three states at this stage is uncertain. SP and BSP have linked it with Lok Sabha elections and we are still weighing our options,” a senior Congress leader said requesting anonymity.

“In any case, we also think that any formal discussion on pre-poll alliances for next year in Uttar Pradesh will not happen before this set of upcoming elections gets over,” said the leader quoted above.

The Congress has to deal with a complex situation. While party leaders in Madhya Pradesh say that informal talks are on with the BSP, those in Chattisgarh say they are talking with smaller tribal parties and their leaders in Rajasthan say the party is confident of performing well on its own.