LUCKNOW: Union minister and chief of NDA ally RPI (A) Ramdas Athawale today said the SP-BSP tie-up in Uttar Pradesh might cost the BJP and its partners 25 to 30 Lok Sabha seats in next year's general elections, but asserted that "no one can challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi".
Uttar Pradesh has 80 Lok Sabha seats of which the BJP and its allies had won 73 in the 2014 parliamentary elections. The Congress had won Amethi and Rae Bareli, while the Samajwadi Party (SP) won five seats. After the recent bypolls, SP's tally in the Lok Sabha went up to seven.
"The SP-BSP may damage the BJP and its allies by winning some 25-30 (Lok Sabha) seats. But, the BJP will get more than 50 seats. However, this will not prevent the BJP-led NDA from returning to power at the Centre after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls," he told a press conference here.
In the same breath, the Republican Party of India (A) leader said, "No one can challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi - neither Congress president Rahul Gandhi, nor SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, nor BSP supremo Mayawati."
The SP wrested the prestigious Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats from the BJP when it contested the bye-elections after reaching an understanding with the BSP.
A consolidation of OBC, Dalit and Muslim votes powered Samajwadi Party candidates to victory in Gorakhpur, a seat represented by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for five successive terms, and Phulpur, from where his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya was elected in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Amid Mayawati's ongoing efforts to cobble together non-BJP parties for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the RPI (A) president asked the BSP supremo to join the NDA if her concern for Dalits was genuine.
Seeking to drive a wedge into the new-found bonhomie between the SP and the BSP, Athawale claimed that the BSP candidate lost the Rajya Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh as the SP had "betrayed" Mayawati's nominee by not backing him in return for her support during the Lok Sabha bypolls.
Atrocities were still being committed on Dalits, but the BJP-led government at the Centre was not responsible for it, the Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment said, adding there was need to give more teeth to the law to protect Dalits.