UP polls: Disputes persist but SP, Congress alliance prospect is not dead
Days after both the Congress and the Samajwadi Party declared that their alliance in Uttar Pradesh was almost done, the deal seems to be facing last minute glitches. Congress General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad is expected to travel to Lucknow Saturday to save the deal. Sources said the Congress will likely agree to the SP's offer of 84 seats.
Insiders say the SP under Akhilesh is unwilling to give more than 84 seats to the Congress, which has been a fringe player in the state for over two decades now. The Congress was asking for 120-130 seats, but as senior leader of the party from UP noted, the demand was unrealistic. "We barely have enough candidates to contest. In the last couple of weeks, the party has inducted so many ticket seekers from the Samajwadi Party," he said.
Earlier, sources had said the Congress would be happy with 105-108 seats, some of which it planned to share with smaller allies such as the RLD. The alliance with Ajit Singh's party, however, could not materialise.
There are other sticking points in the alliance deal as well. The Samajwadi Party has already announced candidates for at least nine seats that are now represented by its prospective ally. These include Mathura, where Pradeep Mathur of the Congress is the sitting MLA, and seats in Amethi and Rae Bareli, which the Congress wants because of their important to the party's first family.
The SP leadership believes ceding too much space to the Congress at the expense of its own ticket aspirants isn't the best option since the grand old party doesn't bring much to the table other than that the alliance may send a positive message to Muslims and sections of the upper caste voters who still vote Congress.
Deal or no deal?
That the deal was not yet done was confirmed on Friday when the SP's vice president, Kiranmoye Nanda, said his party was willing to give the Congress 84 seats though it did not deserve more than 54 seats. While the Congress has 28 MLAs in the 403-member assembly, the party stood second on 31 seats in the last election in 2012. It managed to get a little over 11% in 2012 which dropped to 7.3% in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. This time, the Congress's internal assessment suggests the party may not even get 10 seats if it goes it alone, an insider said.
After Nanda's statement, it seemed the talks had completely broken down as the SP issued a list of 191 candidates for the first three phases of the election. Subsequently, it came out with another list of 18 candidates.
It didn't take long for firefighting to start. First SP MP Naresh Agarwal called Nanda's statement his personal opinion, then Congress state chief Raj Babbar suggested the alliance talks were on. "Alliance should be done taking pride of workers into care. Talks are on for alliance, no obstruction so far," he said.
The happenings of the day had the imprimatur of the Akhilesh Yadav, now firmly in control of the SP. Sources close to the chief minister told Catch thathe was initially reluctant to contest the election in an alliance, but seeing an aggressive BJP, especially after the surgical strike across the LoC, and given the infighting in his own family, he was forced to do a rethink. He started talking about how an alliance led by the SP could win over 300 seats, only for his father Mulayam Singh Yadav to oppose the idea.
Stunned by the release of the SP nominee lists, the Congress swung into damage control mode. Azad and Prashant Kishor, the party's poll strategist, met at the Congress War Room in Delhi to discuss the future strategy. Raj Babbar, who had barely reached the Lucknow airport, was asked to come back to Delhi to attend a 6 pm emergency meeting.
Insiders said the Congress felt slighted by the way the SP had announced candidates on seats where the Congress has sitting MLAs, including in Rae Bareli district, which is represented in Lok Sabha by the Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The Congress had even initiated the screening process of its prospective candidates for these seats.
Finally, Azad called Akhilesh and aired his grievances. Afterwards, he met the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. Babbar, meanwhile, was told to stay put in Lucknow and do the talking with the SP leadership.
Akhilesh Yadav's list
The list is a mixed bag of old timers and new faces. It also does not seem to include all the names the other faction led by Mulayam wanted.
The Yadav clan members have largely been accommodated. Shivpal Yadav will contest from Jaswant Nagar but his son Aditya Yadav's name does not figure in the list. Beni Prasad Verma's son Rakesh Verma has been fielded but not from a constituency of his choice. Both Azam Khan and his son have been fielded from constituencies in Rampur, their stronghold. Some leaders with bad reputations like Mukhtar Ansari, the dreaded Mafia don from Eastern UP, and Ateeq Ahmad, who has several criminal cases against him, have not found space in the list.
On some seats, Akhilesh has taken audacious decisions, apparently to burnish his progressive image. On Thana Bhawan seat in Shamli, he has fielded Prof Sudheer Panwar, a serving member of the UP Planning Commission, to take on Suresh Rana of the BJP, an accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots.