The Alliance Trap: What Akhilesh Can Learn From Karunanidhi


In every media interview, Akhilesh Yadav does not tire of boasting about how the Samajwadi Party-Congress combine will win over 300 seats in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh Assembly. For that to happen, the slogan of "UP ko yeh ladke pasand hai" -- that celebrates the Akhilesh-Rahul friendship -- has to click.

The Congress is contesting 105 seats as part of the alliance and will bank largely on the Muslim consolidation in favour of the alliance, mobilising the Brahmin vote and transfer of the Samajwadi Party vote into the kitty of Congress candidates.

Though easier said than done, the momentum seems to be slowly shifting from the BJP to the SP-Congress alliance. That is also because the Akhilesh-Rahul duo is occupying more media space and mind space compared to the BJP, which in the absence of a chief ministerial candidate, seems to be in a state of confusion.

Karunanidhi had described the DMK's association with the Congress as "kooda natpu kedai mudiyam (a bad friendship causes utter ruin)"

It is quite obvious, that for the alliance to conquer Lucknow, the Congress has to ensure a handsome strike rate. That is when one wonders whether Akhilesh has repeated the mistake committed by DMK chief M Karunanidhi during the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu in May last year.

The DMK had given the Congress 41 out of 234 seats as part of an alliance that was weakened by the exit of the GK Vasan faction. The Congress won only 8 of them, a strike rate of less than 20%. In contrast, the DMK won 89 of the 176 seats it contested, which translated into winning one in every two seats it contested.


In a sense, Akhilesh's predicament is similar to that of Karunanidhi's. The DMK patriarch had been more keen on an alliance with Vijaykanth, but since the temperamental actor-turned-politician did not play ball, Karunanidhi had cozied up to the Congress as its main alliance partner. This was ironical because in 2014, Karunanidhi had described the DMK's association with the Congress as "kooda natpu kedai mudiyam (a bad friendship causes utter ruin)".

A post-election analysis showed that the Congress tally could have been 14, but for half a dozen seats sabotaged by locally powerful DMK leaders.

Similarly, Akhilesh realised that the alliance helped creating the perception and the narrative of a mini-gatbandhan. It has also been widely known in Lucknow's political circles that Rahul Gandhi was also trying to woo Mayawati, in a bid to stitch together a front that the Muslims and Dalits would vote for. But with the BSP playing hardball, Rahul and Akhilesh decided to strike a deal.

For the SP-Congress alliance to work, the party managers would do well to study what went wrong in Tamil Nadu. A post-election analysis showed that the Congress tally could have been 14, but for half a dozen seats sabotaged by locally powerful DMK leaders.

Local politics for instance, led to the defeat of ST Ramachandran, son of the present Congress chief S Thirunavukkarasu in Aranthangi in the Pudukottai district. Thirunavukkarasu had represented Aranthangi without a break six times between 1977 and 1996 and came in second in 2011. In fact, when MK Stalin came visiting, the largest crowd of nearly 70,000 people was mobilised at the election meeting in Aranthangi. Yet Ramachandran lost his debut election by just 2,000 votes. Sources say local DMK leaders, who do not get along with Thirunavukkarasu, ensured there was no 'son-rise' in his family.

In at least one-third of the 105 seats it is contesting, many 'bahubali' SP aspirants have been denied the ticket.
Similarly, in Ambattur, a constituency abutting Chennai, Hassan Moulana, the son of former Congress MP JM Aaroon Rashid lost the election. The defeat by 17,000 votes was attributed to the unhappiness of DMK's local chieftains in Ambattur. It rankled because the DMK had done much better than the AIADMK in Chennai, winning 10 of the 16 seats in the city.

The Congress is more than likely to face a similar risk in Uttar Pradesh. In at least one-third of the 105 seats it is contesting, many 'bahubali' SP aspirants have been denied the ticket. They have no reason to be happy with a Congressman's victory and with their money and muscle power, could sabotage the Congress' chances. In tightly contested seats, even if these SP local leaders go into a silent mode and not support the Congress candidates, it can mar their chances.


Another learning from the Tamil Nadu experience is that the Congress is not good at transferring its vote to its alliance partner, reducing the supposedly symbiotic relationship to a farce. In Tamil Nadu, many a traditional Congress local leader and voter nursed the grudge that it lost 2014 general elections because of allying with the 2G-tainted DMK.

In Uttar Pradesh, the caste factor will come into play. Will a Dalit Congress supporter vote for the SP, given the Yadav-Dalit animosity or will he press on the elephant in the privacy of the EVM booth? The risk of the Congress vote migrating elsewhere due to different motivations is something Akhilesh Yadav will have to be wary of.

At the same time, the Congress has everything to gain. If it had contested on its own in Tamil Nadu, it would have found it difficult to win more than 3-4 seats. If it went by its original plan of fighting with Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial face in UP, it would have found it tough to get into double digits. Now it is hoping to convert, despite all the fears of sabotage, one in every three seats it is contesting.

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