Seat-sharing negotiations between the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party were almost over. The BSP wanted 40 seats, the Congress was offering 25; both would have settled in the vicinity of 30. But then came the interview by Congress leader Digvijay Singh which so infuriated BSP chief Mayawati that she called off talks and broke the negotiations with a furious statement.
Singh, who has by now acquired a reputation for queering the pitch often and without provocation, told local media that Mayawati was under pressure from the BJP government and the Central Bureau of Investigation not to clinch a deal with the Congress party. Singh is one of three Congress leaders entrusted with the forthcoming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh – the other two being Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia – and is a key negotiator for the proposed alliance with the BSP.
Kamal Nath has said that Mayawati is welcome to leave, but Scindia has kept his counsel.
Mayawati, in withdrawing from the table, has taken care to leave the door open for Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi to mend fences, by making it clear that she had no hard feelings against them. But emphasising also that she was not going to take any lip from the others, and wouldn’t hesitate to break not just the state alliance but the mahagathbandan (grand alliance) for the Lok Sabha polls if push became shove.
Digivijay Singh, of course, has not made it any easier with his assertion that he has no ED or CBI after him.
The Congress’ state leaders are proving difficult to contain. Rahul Gandhi had to step in to keep the Janata Dal (Secular) on board despite his then chief minister Siddaramaiah. The alliance almost broke and ironically now JD(S) leader Danish Ali intervened to advise BSP top brass not to shut all doors, but to keep the enablers for Rahul Gandhi to intervene. In Madhya Pradesh it is Digivijay Singh who has fired the first salvo, with the Congress there clearly not in a mood to give up seats for the BSP. More so, as the three leaders in MP all have their own areas of influence in the state, and given their rivalry with each other, are particularly possessive about these. According to sources they have all been visibly reluctant to concede seats to the BSP.
For Mayawati it is a ‘can’t lose’ position really, as the Congress needs an alliance with her to sew up the Dalit vote in key constituencies in the state. She does not have a big presence in Madhya Pradesh, but will bring weight to any alliance.
In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati’s alliance with the Samajwadi Party for the Lok Sabha is on firm ground, with the two parties together holding the key to possible victory in this crucial state. The Congress barely has a presence, and will not make a major difference to the final outcome, in or out of the alliance. In short, to win some seats in U.P. the Congress is dependent on a coalition with the SP-BSP, not the other way around. And if the state alliances do not work out right now for MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the Congress will not be welcomed by its regional partners into the coalition in U.P.
Sources said that Rahul Gandhi is expected to intervene and sort out the problems. However, Mayawati is not particularly happy about the Congress’ enthusiasm for the Bhim Army and its just released leader Chandrashekhar in U.P. And has made this clear by refusing to entertain Chandrashekhar who has tried to contact her. This despite the fact that Bhim Army influence is limited to some pockets in western U.P., for the maverick BSP leader has zero tolerance for what she regards as possible competition. And prefers to go it alone, as the sole representative of the Dalits in U.P.
Although this is not the issue at present, it could flare up later. As an Opposition leader said, “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, there will be many hurdles believe me still.”