A formidable opposition, a coalition of the regional Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), has been announced by the leaders of the two parties to challenge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the general elections due in a few months.
India’s politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh sends 80 MPs to the lower house of parliament and has produced nine prime ministers.
At a news conference in state capital Lucknow on Saturday, the SP headed by the young satrap, Akhilesh Yadav, and the BSP led by Dalit (lowest Hindu caste) leader Kumari Mayawati announced they are entering into an alliance where they will contest 76 seats as a team.
“Today’s press conference is one which will give sleepless nights to Modi and the ruling BJP party chief, Amit Shah,” the BSP chief said.
Mayawati, former chief minister of the state and an icon to millions of Dalits, described this as a “new political revolution in the country”.
India’s lower castes, especially the Dalits, face continued social discrimination and even untouchability, despite the practice being outlawed by parliament in 1955.
Both Yadav and Mayawati took digs at Modi repeatedly.
This is a game-changer. It poses a big challenge to the BJP. This would also be a serious setback to the rise of Hindutva.
“To hide their failures, the ruling BJP has actively spread an atmosphere of fear and terror by fuelling enmity among different communities… We have decided to come together today to fight the injustice perpetrated by the BJP,” Yadav, also a former chief minister of the state, said.
SP and BSP have a large support base of lower castes and are in a position to be able to manipulate the social arithmetic of elections in the state. Some analysts say it is a “killer-alliance”.
“This is a game-changer. It poses a big challenge to the BJP. This would also be a serious setback to the rise of Hindutva, a radical ideology of self-avowed Hindu nationalists at the national level,” Ashutosh, senior journalist and founding editor of SatyaHindi.com, told Al Jazeera.
“This is an alliance that brings together castes that were long oppressed by the upper castes of Indian society for thousands of years. This consolidation electorally will bring great benefit. In terms of votes, if the backwards and the Dalits come together, they cross more than 50 percent in the state,” he added.
The BJP is currently ruling the UP state with a Hindu nationalist monk Adityanath as the chief minister.
Human rights campaigners say frequent military-style police operations and extrajudicial killings of alleged criminals are becoming common since the installation of the right-wing Chief Minister, Adityanath.
The ruling BJP has attempted to appeal to its hardcore Hindu nationalist base in the most politically important state ahead of a national election by promising a “grand” statue of the Hindu God Ram and erasing Muslim names of towns, roads and railways stations.
On Saturday, the BJP dismissed the prospects of the opposition alliance saying there is no contest.
“This alliance is not likely to be accepted by their social base because there are a lot of political and historical contradictions between the two parties,” BJP MP Rakesh Sinha told Al Jazeera.
“BJP is not threatened by any such alliance because this election is going to be a contest about who is going to lead the nation. Modi as prime minister and as a face remains the tallest and nobody can compete with Modi,” Sinha added.
Prime Minister Modi had said in a recent interview that the ruling BJP is confident of doing well in this year’s general election despite the party’s recent losses in state polls.
Although Hindu nationalist Modi remains popular, the 2019 election is slated to be a tough battle, with some voters feeling let down by his inability to create jobs and battle rural distress.