With eyes set on power, foes become friends

Political parties are forging alliances ahead of 2019 general elections to walk together as road gets tougher for all the contestants amid unclear public mood, writes BHARAT HITESHI

National and regional parties have started searching for friends and allies ahead of the 2019 general elections, which is expected to be a unique election witnessing Modi versus the rest contests. Alarmed Congress staging a comeback in three major Hindi speaking states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhatisgarh, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has shown alacrity and forged an alliance in Bihar with Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan.

While Bihar saw known NDA allies joining hands, in Maharashtra, after their dismal performance as allies in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that parted ways and contested the assembly elections separately have decided to sew their alliance back. Top leaders of the parties have held several rounds of discussions and even though there has been no official announcement yet, both Congress and Sharad Pawar-led NCP are likely to contest an equal number of seats out of the 48 in the state. They are also reaching out to other “like-minded” parties for a grand alliance.

“Of the total 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, both NCP and Congress may possibly contest on 20 seats each. The remaining eight seats will be allotted to others allies,” NCP leader Praful Patel told. The alliance that aims to defeat the BJP and Shiv Sena, however, has no room for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). In 2014, the Congress had contested 26 seats and the NCP fought on 21. The last seat went to a smaller alliance partner. While the NCP won four seats, the Congress managed to get only two.

Shiv Sena-BJP

The two parties ended their 15-year-old alliance before the Assembly polls that year, in which the Congress won 42 and NCP 41 out of the total 288 seats. The break-up translated into massive gains for the Shiv Sena and the BJP which came together to form a government.  The two parties have since maintained an understanding of sorts in local body and MLC polls in Maharashtra. For the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the NCP, which turns 20 this year, argued that since it had won more seats in 2014, the two allies should contest an equal number of seats if they were to ally again.

Congress-AAP alliance

It’s not only that BJP and Congress have shown eagerness to forge alliances but the Aam Aadmi Party is also equally keen to look for partners. Tehelka had done a story sometime back that the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress are likely to fight the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in Delhi and maybe even in Punjab, together, former journalist-turned-AAP leader-turned-journalist-again Ashutosh has written for a news portal he co-founded.  In a piece that Ashutosh wrote for satyahindi.com, published on January 1, he says that between AAP and Congress, it was Kejriwal who proposed the idea of the alliance first.

Though Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh ruled out the possibility of an alliance with AAP as Congress was going strong in Punjab, the speculation is still rife that Congress high command may eventually prevail upon Punjab CM in “larger interests of the party”. Significantly, Capt Amarinder Singh had met party President, Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on January 7, 2019.

Maken’s exit

Coming to Congress — AAP alliance, Ashutosh added that ‘The truth is that Kejriwal decides what happens in AAP. And Kejriwal wants an alliance with Congress. He has been pushing for it for the past year. Some other parties have also worked as communication channels for AAP and Congress.” He adds that a big impediment to this alliance was Congress’ Delhi unit. It is in this light that another piece published on Friday in the same portal analyses Delhi Congress chief — Ajay Maken’s resignation.

“Congress’ Delhi unit kept telling the party high command that it shouldn’t get into an alliance with AAP that is continually becoming unpopular in the capital.”

Rumours of a pre-LS poll alliance as an offer from AAP to Congress had started doing rounds sometime last year. Maken had tweeted in June last year — ‘On “so-called” offer of AAP to Congress for 3 seats, look at my reply to Kejriwal! When the people of Delhi are continuously rejecting Kejriwal Govt, why should we come to their rescue?

After all, Kejriwal with team Anna supported by RSS, helped in creating this monster of Modi!’  Ashutosh further writes that the alliance could help AAP-Congress combine win all the seven seats in Delhi, whereas failure to join forces will split votes that are common to both parties — Muslims, Dalits, jhuggi dwellers — allowing BJP to win all the seats again. He adds that once the deal is inked in Delhi, it will also pave way for a similar alliance in the 13 seats of Punjab, ruled by Congress with AAP as the main opposition.

With this, the AAP-Congress combine will be able to mount a huge challenge to BJP in 20 seats in the two states where both the parties received a drubbing by BJP in ’14 LS polls. The possibility of similar understanding in Haryana is also not ruled out. Ashutosh has also argued that the alliance may be a bitter pill for the state Congress leadership, who fear that their leaders may end up joining AAP or turning renegades.

Both parties have an experience of being together, if only in the short-lived 49-day government, and this will help them walk together again, he says.

Congress may go alone in UP

Though Congress MPs came in support of Samajwadi Party leader and former CM, Akhilesh Yadav when CBI hinted at probing his role in illegal mining, calling the move as “witch hunting”, indications are that Congress may have to go it alone in the most populated state of country. In Uttar Pradesh, which has the most number of Lok Sabha seats in the country, the Congress might have to fly solo. Political rivals-turned-allies Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj party boss Mayawati had a meeting in Delhi where they discussed the seat-sharing in UP for the national elections. Sources said that the Congress didn’t feature in their formula. The two leaders, reportedly upset with the Congress, don’t seem too keen on allying with the Congress in UP.

P.L.Punia,  MP and senior member of Congress party from Uttar Pradesh indicated they are ready to fight alone in the state. “A coalition is not important. Our workers are ready… We have not spoken to anyone about an alliance.” PL Punia, is a bureaucrat turned politician.

CBI trouble for UP’s ex CM

However, as Uttar Pradesh’s political rivals-turned-friends Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) appear to be in the final stages of sewing an alliance ahead of the national elections due in a few months, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav is likely to be probed by the CBI.

The opposition parties have termed it blatant misuse of the investigation agency. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is probing the illegal sand mining that took place between 2012 and 2016 in Uttar Pradesh, may examine Akhilesh Yadav’s role as he was the chief minister during this period and held the mining department for a year, agency sources said.

“It’s an old case, but I am ready to face the investigation,” the former UP chief minister told. The ruling BJP is leaving behind the culture and it should be ready to face the same in the future, warned Yadav. “We are making efforts to win maximum Lok Sabha seats. Those who want to stop us, have the CBI with them. If the CBI wants to question me, I will answer (them). But the BJP must know that people are ready to give an answer to them,” the SP chief said.

The reports that Akhilesh Yadav’s role will be probed in the scam emerged after SP and BSP indicated their intend to join hands to counter the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. Yadav quipped that it was the Congress that had earlier sent the CBI and now the BJP, and he is ready to cooperate. “Now we have to tell the CBI as to how many seats we have distributed in the gathbandhan. I am happy that at least the BJP has shown its colours. Earlier, the Congress gave us the chance to meet the CBI, and this time it is the BJP, which has given us this opportunity.”

Opposition parties have come out in support of the Samajwadi Party leader and claimed that the CBI investigation is in line with the alleged trend of using the central agencies against
political opponents. The Congress, which reports suggest has been left out of the alliance in UP by the SP-BSP, said the raids shouldn’t come as a surprise. Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said, “Now that the reports of SP-BSP alliance have come, raids have started against Akhilesh Yadav. This was expected, whoever speaks against them (BJP) is raided, that’s how this government is running.”

However, the BJP, however, said that it’s the standard procedure and the investigation agency is just doing its job.  The CBI had conducted searches at 14 locations in UP and Delhi in connection with its First Information Report (FIR) against 11 people. Yadav, who was the chief minister between 2012 and 2017, held the mining portfolio between 2012 and 2013. He was succeeded by Gayatri Prajapati, who was arrested in 2017 following a complaint of rape by a woman residing in Chitrakoot.

The CBI carried out searches at different locations on in connection with its FIR against 11 persons including IAS officer B Chandrakala, Samajwadi Party MLC Ramesh Kumar Mishra and Sanjay Dixit (who unsuccessfully contested the 2017 assembly election on a BSP ticket) to probe alleged illegal mining of minor minerals in Hamirpur district during 2012-16. Minor minerals are like sand, gravels etc. Others named in the FIR include Dinesh Kumar Mishra, brother of SP MLC Ramesh Mishra; Ram Ashrey Prajapati (then mining clerk), Ambika Tiwari (who is related to Mishra brothers), Sanjay Dixit’s father Satyadev Dixit, Ram Avtar Singh (retired mining clerk), Karan Singh (lease holder) and Adil Khan, the illegal excavator. Khan was allegedly given work on the recommendation by Gayatri Prajapati, the mining minister who took charge in 2013.

The searches at different in Uttar Pradesh’s Hamirpur, Jalaun, Lucknow, Noida, besides in Delhi, led to the recovery of cash over 12.5 lakh, property documents, 1.8 kilogram gold etc. Chandrakala, who is on study leave nowadays, is one of the most talked about officers on social media because of her purported anti-corruption drive videos on various platforms. Her social media videos lashing out at government officials earned her a title of ‘Lady Dabang’. A UP cadre IAS officer of the 2008-batch, Chandrakala was the district magistrate of Hamirpur during 2012-14 when she allegedly violated e-tender system of allotting mining contracts in her district, the FIR said.

“The role of the then mining ministers concerned during the relevant period may be looked into during the course of investigation of the case,” the FIR said. This is a third FIR pertaining to illegal mining cases which were registered by the agency on January 2, 2019, nearly two-and-a-half year after it was directed by the Allahabad High Court to probe the issue.

The CBI was directed by the High Court on July 28, 2016 to probe illegal mining in the state following which it had registered seven preliminary enquiries out of which two pertaining to Shamli and Kaushambi districts were converted into FIRs in 2017. Senior officials said cases pertaining to Fatehpur, Deoria, Saharanpur and Siddharth Nagar districts will be filed soon. The agency is probing the illegal mining during the period of 2012 and 2016.

The searches of the agency took place on a day the Samajwadi Party and the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party gave contours of an electoral alliance ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.  The coming together of the two arch rivals may spell trouble for the ruling BJP which had a home run in 2014 elections when it won 71 out of total 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

The FIR also states that it was the Uttar Pradesh government under Akhilesh Yadav that had introduced e-tendering process to grant or renew mining leases on May 31, 2012, a move ratified by the Allahabad High Court in 2013. It is alleged that Chandrakala in criminal conspiracy with other officials illegally granted fresh leases, renewed existing ones and permitted obstructed period to the existing leaseholders in violation of e-tendering process initiated by the government. The FIR also accused her and other suspects of allegedly allowing illegal mining, extortion from the leaseholders and drivers of the vehicles transporting minerals.

While there would be allegations and counter allegations, Mayawati has offered full support to Akhilesh Yadav and the alliance seems to have already been sewed. Similar alliances are on the cards in other states with elections nearing.