UP polls: Congress got the alliance with SP, but won't get campaign spotlight
The alliance between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party is firmly in place for the Uttar Pradesh election. But Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav might not give much space to Congress leaders in the campaign.
Strategists running the SP campaign believe Akhilesh is a big enough brand to bring in votes on his own. "There will be some joint campaigning though just for the sanctity of the alliance," a key strategist in Team Akhilesh says. "Since UP is a big state, leaders of both parties may share the stage at five-six rallies," claims another SP leader.
Senior SP leaders confirm that some of the party's leaders will contest the election on the Congress symbol, as reported by Catch earlier, adding that this arrangement is part of the alliance deal. No leader from either party is, however, willing to concede this on record. "This was one of the reasons why the CM agreed to give 105 seats to the Congress," a leader close to Akhilesh says.
The Congress, which has long been on the wane in the country's largest state, could not convince the SP leadership that it has enough candidates of its own to contest over a hundred seats, insiders claim. Exactly how many SP leaders will be fielded by the Congress will be known once the party releases its list of nominees.
The SP had been stumped by reports in sections of the media about a joint campaign in which the alliance would portray Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi as "UP ke ladke" and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an "outsider". Sources in the SP say they haven't been told about any such campaign plan. Not that they are keen to take the campaign forward on these lines anyway. They feel that the SP's punchline "Kaam bolta hai" should be enough to take the party past the majority. As a key member of Akhilesh's team puts it, "Development will remain the key message of our campaign. We don't need to campaign on these lines when we have our work to show."
"We do not know about any such proposal by Prashant Kishor. Our campaign will focus on the work done under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav," says the SP spokesman Udaiveer Singh.
Udaiveer explains that with "Kaam bolta hai", the thrust is not just on development but also on the space created for the common man in the politics by Akhilesh. "While Akhilesh Yadav has given tickets to some party workers from ordinary background, he has also negated the influence of musclemen and mafia in the party," he claims. This is not entirely true for people like Raja Bhaiyya continue to be close to the SP leadership.
Udaiveer, however, cites the examples of Lucknow University professor Sudhir Panwar who has been handpicked by Akhilesh to contest against the BJP's Suresh Rana in Thana Bhawan, western UP. And Mahendra Chauhan, the son of a bicycle mechanic who has been fielded as the candidate from Zahoorabad.
Akhilesh and his team are said to be happy that Mukhtar Ansari, who has serious criminal charges against him, may eventually join the BSP. Akhilesh has also denied tickets to other infamous politicians such as Atiq Ahmad to shore up his party's image, which in the past was seen as patronising criminals.
The campaign idea to portray Rahul and Akhilesh as "UP's own boys" as opposed to Modi apparently came from the team of Prashant Kishor, the pollster who is managing the Congress' campaign in UP, Punjab and to an extent in Uttarakhand. Kishor is said to have been instrumental in stitching up the alliance with the SP. When contact by Catch, Kishore didn't respond.
After the alliance was announced, there was speculation that Kishor may manage the joint SP-Congress campaign as well. SP insiders rule out that possibility, however.
They point out how Akhilesh already has three-four different teams working on different aspects of the campaign for more than a year now. Apart from the Harvard University professor Steve Jarding, who was roped in by the chief minister along with the consultant Advait Vikram Singh, to help devise the campaign strategy, there is a full-fledged political team, one that takes care of the campaign on Facebook and another dedicated to Twitter.
The SP has set up a war room in Lucknow to oversee the campaign. It is headed by another professional political consultant, Ashish Yadav. "Data from the ground is constantly being fed to local leaders and candidates," a leader close to Akhilesh told Catch, explaining the role of the war room.