UP polls: Rahul and Akhilesh firm up alliance, hint at long-term partnership
In an atmosphere of bonhomie, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav came together on Sunday to formally launch their alliance to take on the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
The coming together of the two young leaders was historic as political expediency made Akhilesh move away from his father Mulayam Singh Yadav's non-Congressism of earlier years. Since Mulayam was not in favour of the alliance, the Congress had to wait until Akhilesh consolidated his grip over the party.
Indeed, in keeping with his traditional stance, Mulayam told the media that he was always against an alliance with the Congress. The angry margdarshak of the SP even said he would not campaign for Akhilesh's candidates in the impending election.
In his opening remarks at the joint press conference with Akhilesh in Lucknow Sunday, Rahul said their alliance was an answer to the BJP's politics of hate.
The two scions did not give any indication if their alliance was based on a quid pro quo, with Akhilesh supporting Rahul for the prime ministership in 2019 in return for the Congress accepting him as the chief ministerial candidate now. "That is yet to be worked out," Rahul said. "We cannot spell out details at this juncture," replied Akhilesh.
Until recently, the Congress was attacking the SP with the slogan "Pachees saal, UP behaal", essentially claiming that under the rule of non-Congress parties, including the SP, UP had been reduced to a poor state in the last 25 years. The party has changed its tune now and is praising the chief minister; Rahul described him as a well-intentioned achha ladkaa who was "doing good work but he was not allowed to".
In reply to a question on comparing five years of the Akhilesh government with that of UPA-2, Rahul talked about his friendship with Akhilesh and said, "We have to look at the next five years." As for UPA-2, he said UPA-3, 4, 5 will come but UPA-2 won't.
Dismissing talk of the alliance hitting a roadblock over the sharing of seats in Rae Bareli and Amethi, Rahul said it was a minor issue and discussions were on to resolve it. He explained that both sides played hard ball and the alliance was the result of tough negotiations, which included a lot of posturing. "It's not a central issue but a peripheral one," Rahul said but refused to share the modalities being worked out.
The haggling is over 10 seats in the two Congress pocket boroughs. The Congress doesn't want to let go of the seats given their symbolism for the Gandhi family while the SP has to accommodate people such as Gayatri Prajapati from there. The SP has named candidates for five of these seats, and has so far refused to withdraw them. At stake is the seat of Ameeta Singh, wife of Congress's Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh.
Asked what was the need to forge an alliance with the Congress when his refrain had been "kaam bolta hai (performance speaks)", Akhilesh replied with the example of a sportsperson who enters the field fully prepared and leaves nothing to chance: "Khel me aa hee rahe hain to koi chook naa rah jaae isliye saath aaye hain"
Akhilesh, whom Rahul described as his friend, spoke of his party's manifesto which was "from the heart", and said even the BJP's manifesto resembled his party's.
Rahul took the media by surprise when he showered praise on Mayawati. "I respect Mayawatiji and Kanshi Ram. Don't compare the BSP with the BJP. The BSP's ideology is not dangerous for the country while the BJP spreads hatred," he said.
The two leaders carefully avoided talking about their parents, Mulayam and Sonia Gandhi. While Rahul refused to disclose if Sonia would participate in the campaign, Akhilesh said the campaign will have the blessings of all.
The two leaders went on a long roadshow in Lucknow, which winded its way through the narrow and crowded roads of Kaiserbagh, Aminabad, Moulviganj and Nakhas, before culminating near Hussainabad clock tower.
These localities have predominantly Muslim populations, and Rahul was visibly impressed with the crowd, which was Akhilesh's way of showing his strength.