The Samajwadi Party and the Congress are keeping political watchers guessing about their possible pre-poll alliance in Uttar Pradesh.
While one "good boy" (Akhilesh Yadav) exudes confidence that the alliance was possible, the other "good boy" (Rahul Gandhi) is playing hard to get despite being on a weak wicket.
In the case of SP, Mulayam Singh Yadav's word on the alliance will be final and the wily Netaji is keeping his cards close to his chest.
Both the parties are worried about the 18% Muslim votes drifting towards the Bahujan Samaj Party as the family feud in the SP had eroded their trust in it. At present the Muslims seem to be veering towards the BSP but, observers feel, that a SP-Congress alliance would reverse the trend.
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav predicts 300 plus seats if the alliance does take place. That would make him chief minister for a second time. The Congress top leadership is silent on the issue, while the party's state president Raj Babbar said in an interview that the mere talk of an alliance was demoralising party workers.
There was no word yet from the party high command about any possible alliance, Babbar was reported to have said.
Party spokesman Virendra Madan stuck to the party line that the Congress will go it alone in the 2017 elections with the objective of winning enough seats to be able to form a government.
That would sound like a pipe-dream to many as the analysts see Congress ending as an also ran with the Bharatiya Janata Party, SP and the BSP placed miles ahead.
Yet, the talks for an alliance which were initiated by strategist Prashant Kishor some months ago have not gone cold. One party official said on condition of anonymity that the talks were very much on but seat sharing was becoming a hurdle.
According to this official, Congress initially wanted 125 seats and was ready to settle for 92 but the SP was not ready to part with more than 70 seats. The advantage of an alliance would be that "Muslim voton ka bantwaaraa nahee hoga (Muslim votes won't be divided)".
Another source said that the Congress had been demanding the deputy chief minister's chair.
In the short term the Congress stands to gain from this alliance but in the long run it would be as detrimental as was its alliance with the BSP in 1996 when the party had contested on 125 seats, with the BSP keeping 300 seats for itself - Uttar Pradesh Assembly had 425 seats then.
A political scientist, Prof Ripu Daman Singh of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University said that both the Congress and the SP were in a weak position because of which the minority vote was drifting towards the BSP. He said that for the SP which has been weakened by the family infighting, alliance with Congress will work as a medicine and revive its fortunes. In his view, the Congress will be the bigger gainer in case of an alliance. That could help stop the BJP as the two per cent vote gain for the Congress in 2012 assembly elections was BJP's loss.
In 2007, the Congress had polled 8% votes and won 22 seats while in 2012 its vote percentage rose to 10 and helped the party win 28 seats.
Former Congress spokesman Ramesh Dixit said that while the SP will be the bigger gainer, for Congress the move will be politically suicidal, especially if the party has its eyes on the 2019 elections.
"The only gainers will be the individuals who get elected as legislators as they will be in a position to share power. But what will the party workers in the seats left untested do?" Dixit asked.
These workers will move away from the Congress, he said. In Dixit's opinion, if the common goal was to stop the BJP from coming to power then Congress alone must not bend.